When I think about grief and self-care, I immediately think back to 2018, the year I experienced numerous losses. In early January, my maternal grandmother died, in mid March I had a personal health crisis, and in late September my father died.
These losses came one after another, and each one drained me physically, emotionally and spiritually. As soon as I thought I was back to normal, the next loss hit me, and I felt the avalanche of grief consume me.
Grief arrives without an RSVP
The metaphor I like to use for grief is that it is an uninvited guest in your life.
It comes when you least expect it, and brings along with it a myriad of emotions. Sometimes you will feel numb, and that you are living in a dream like state. Other times, you will feel devastated and cry uncontrollably.
The stages of grief that you will experience are unpredictable. This uncertainty of what to anticipate can be overwhelming and exhausting.
Believe me, there were moments that I felt so sad that I had a hard time catching my breath. Grief sat heavy on my heart. I was very depressed and I simply wanted to crawl into bed and stay there forever. To read more about this topic, read my article on coping with grief and loss.
When you are grieving, there will be moments where you will briefly feel content or laugh because of something funny around you.
Your emotions will range and you will wonder if you’re ok or if you are going crazy. You will ask yourself and wonder, “when will I feel like myself again?”
I was not prepared for any of the losses that hit me in 2018. The sadness, emotional and physical pain I felt were visceral and deep. I felt overwhelmed, and I was unsure how to cope with my feelings, let alone practice self-care.
Shortcut for grief
I wish I could tell you that I know the short cut for grief, and if you follow the self-care tips below, you will not grieve for long.
Unfortunately, there is nothing out there that will make this difficult time go by any faster. The stages of grief are not linear.
What I can guarantee you is that healing does come with time and patience.
I also know that practicing self-care is vital in helping reduce your suffering.
When you are grieving a significant loss, there is a lot of energy that is used by your mind, body and spirit. You will feel depleted and exhausted.
Incorporating these 7 self-care tips will help you get through this experience a little easier.
1. Stay hydrated
When you’re grieving a loss (whether it’s a death, divorce, job loss or break up) you will cry…a lot.
Tears are a healthy way for your body to release pain and stress. Check out this article on Lifehack by Daniel Wallen if you want to learn more about the benefits of crying.
When you cry, there’s a lot of water leaving your body, therefore, it is important to replenish that resource by drinking water. Not soda, juice or caffeinated beverages, but pure water.
Carrying around a water bottle helps you stay hydrated. I use my Lifefactory bottle because it’s made from glass and better for my body. I keep drinking throughout the day and carrying around a bottle is a good reminder to drink water.
2. Stay connected
It’s very easy to isolate yourself when you’re grieving. I remember there were so many days when I wanted to stay in bed and crawl under my sheets.
It felt a lot safer and more comfortable to stay inside, in bed, rather than face the outside world.
Experience has taught me that it’s okay to do that for a short while, but it is easier to cope with grief when you have company.
Connecting with close friends and family helps immensely. Whether you meet for a cup of tea, a short walk or even for them to come sit with you while you talk about what happened.
Staying connected helps you get through each day a little easier. Having your loved ones close by helps you realize that you are not alone during this painful time in your life.
3. Get nourished
When you are grieving, you will either eat a lot, or not have much of an appetite. I remember that food did not appeal to me, and I was not interested in eating.
Fortunately, I was surrounded by my family, who reminded me that it was time to eat something because they were hungry. So I ate with them, and after a few spoonfuls, I realized that I felt better.
Each of us has a different reaction to stress and loss. The important thing to try to remember is to eat nutritiously.
Your body is your only vessel and taking care of it and feeding it healthy, nutritious and nourishing food will help you get energy and stay physically well in the days ahead.
4. Go outside
Sunlight is important for your physical, emotional and psychological well-being.
I feel like grief is a dark place.
Exposure to sunlight will help you feel a little bit more alive. What’s even better is taking a short walk.
I’m not talking about running a 5k or hiking up a steep mountain (emotionally you are already doing that). I’m simply talking about opening the front door, walking outside, maybe around the block a few times and that’s it. If you want to learn more, check out my article on mindful walking.
I remember after my father died, my friend came over and encouraged me to go on a walk with her. I immediately started feeling better when I got fresh air, sunlight and noticed a beautiful butterfly.
Going outside helped me realize that there is still life around me, even though I was consumed with darkness and despair.
5. Face your feelings
Allow your emotions to surface and get to know them. Suppressing your emotions will only delay and prolong your grief. Don’t hide them, let them show up and acknowledge whatever comes up. Check out this amazing article by Nick Frye who wrote about The Myth of Keeping Busy and how he dealt with his feelings of grief.
When you’re grieving you will feel a rollercoaster of emotions. You may not even recognize some of the feelings that come up. That’s normal, this is a new experience for you and it will take time to adjust to the feelings.
If you’re sad, allow yourself to feel whatever comes up. Perhaps you need to cry? Allow those tears to flow as long and hard as you want and need.
If you’re angry, notice where the anger is in your body and scream into a pillow. Or take a shower and just scream and cry for as long as you want. You will probably notice that you feel lighter afterwards.
6. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness practice encourages non-judgmental awareness, seeing things exactly as they are, with openness and curiosity.
When you’re grieving, your thoughts and emotions are erratic. That is normal.
Practicing mindfulness helps you focus on where you are at that exact moment.
You can allow yourself to follow one erratic thought to the next, or you can acknowledge the thought, and let it pass, just like a cloud. I appreciate the message Jack Kornfield shares about grief and meditation.
One mindfulness practice I like to use is to bring my focus to the feeling of my feet on the pavement while walking. Another is the sensation of the carpet underneath my toes.
When intense emotions coming up, I focus on breathing deeply, bringing my attention to the cold air coming in through my nostrils and warm air exiting.
You can also practice guided video meditations which are incredibly healing. My go to for guided meditation is my favorite app Meditation Studio.
7. Practice self-compassion
For lack of a better word, grieving sucks. It’s awful, hard, long and painful.
There’s one person who is going to be with you and will provide you comfort 24-7 during this difficult process.
Yes, that’s right, it’s you.
Learn to practice self-compassion because it has tremendous power in helping you heal and get better. Treat yourself as you would treat a beloved friend, in what you say, what you think and what you do.
Give yourself space to feel the pain of grief, and also give yourself permission to take a break when you need it. Remember, there’s no short cut, so take whatever time you need to practice self-care and self-compassion.
Grieving a loss is not easy.
There will be certain days that are more manageable than others. I know that practicing self-care has helped me and I hope that you can engage in a few self-care activities will help you get through this challenging time.
Remember to stay hydrated, eat nutritiously, connect with your friends and family and try to go outside to take a walk. Most importantly, allow your emotions to surface, practice self-compassion and mindfulness to help you get through this difficult and painful time.
What experiences have you had coping with grief and loss? What self-care practices have you used that helped you feel better? Please share your stories and comments below.