Looking after yourself physically whilst you grieve
tips for looking after yourself after a bereavement
When someone dies it’s considered normal to cry and feel sad. It’s alright if you don’t, it’s equally fine if you do.
Our emotional needs usually come first at this time and it’s important to recognise what you need and don’t need from others. But what you might be surprised to hear is that your physical needs are important too. By staying active and healthy you can actually deal with the mental and emotional side more easily.
While you're grieving, you might experience physical symptoms. Examples:
- Fatigue or exhaustion due to not getting enough sleep
- Sleeping too much
- Changes in appetite – either eating too much or too little
- Being more susceptible to viruses or illnesses such as flu or colds
- Aches and pains, especially headaches and backaches
This is a time to look after yourself. It's important to eat balanced meals and avoid junk food, drink only a moderate amount of alcohol – if any, stay clean, and get enough rest.
If physical symptoms persist, it may be wise to get assistance from a doctor or other medical professional.
Some people find physical exercise a great way to relieve the tension after someone has died. Focusing on something other than your emotions, sweating it out, can often be a very cathartic experience.
One person we spoke to said that hiking was a great way to connect and relax at the same time:
“I have found that taking note of beautiful small things helped make dealing with the daunting dark things just a bit easier. After my grandfather — with whom I was incredibly close — died, I went on my first hike. Every day I see a bird or flower or sunset, something that reminds me of him, and I know he has directed that beauty my way to give me some comfort when dealing with the oft-overwhelming pain of loss.”
Try to exercise every day. A simple walk, a bike ride, yoga, or a harder workout can ease agitation, anger, and depression. Exercise can serve as a distraction when you need a break from your grief, or offer you time to meditate on your loss. Make a plan with a friend to walk a few days a week, or go for a swim. At home or in the office, take a break to do some stretching or stair walking.
Eating healthily is difficult when you’re grieving
Eating is hard when you are in shock, and when you are grieving. Later when the shock has subsided, it's easy to get into bad habits as you might not be bothered to cook healthy food. But it’s important to try.
Overeating when grieving is also common. It is comfort food eating, especially when you’re feeling lonely, down and bored. So keep lots of fruit and healthy foods around for these moments, because there will be many. It’s important to watch your weight and eating properly is a major part of this.
But also not eating can be a problem. You must make sure that you’re eating enough to keep going. If you notice that you’re losing a lot of weight, take a look at what you’re eating. A doctor will be able to help you if you don’t feel like eating anything.
One person we spoke to about eating properly and exercising had this insight about their own ways of coping:
“When heartbroken, I can’t control me on the inside, but I can control me on the outside. I change my diet, maybe try vegetarianism for a while (that takes a lot of control and planning), change my routine to add dog-park visits or exercise. I try to get to the gym after dinner to clear my head, which also exhausts me and helps me sleep. I used to deal with pain in unhealthy ways until I was forced to get creative.”
Don’t fall into bad or dangerous habits
Dangerous coping strategies, such as drinking too much alcohol, abusing drugs, or engaging in impulsive or risky behaviour, may blot out or numb pain temporarily. But they derail healthy grieving and can have other unwanted consequences. Substituting safer behaviours when these impulses arise - such as seeking solace with other caring people, exercising, writing in a journal, or trying stress-relief techniques - will serve you better. If you are finding yourself drawn to risky behaviours, you may want to contact a grief counsellor or mental health professional who can help you make healthier choices as you grieve.
Make sure you get enough sleep
Grief is exhausting. Nap if you need to and go to bed early if you can. If you're having trouble sleeping, try exercising more (but not too close to bedtime). Avoid drinking anything that contains caffeine after 2 p.m., and don’t drink alcohol for at least two hours before bedtime.
But be aware of over-sleeping. If you’re finding yourself in bed for most of the day, with no energy or inclination to get up, you may be at risk of over-sleeping and becoming bed bound. If you’re worried, seek medical advice. In the early days, being in bed for a while longer than usual is okay, but if you’re staying in bed all day every day over an extended period of time, it’s best to get help.
Losing someone is a shock to the system. No matter how you’re managing to cope with the emotional side, you need to ensure that your physical health is looked after. If you look after your body, you may find it easier to cope. It will be hard, but worth it in the long run.