Grief is a blend of responses, as individual as you are. Grief does not occur in easily defined stages; it is more a blend of emotional, cognitive and behavioral responses. Death of your loved one will affect the whole of you, body and soul, and both your initial and later reactions will be felt and expressed physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually. In this article and the one that follows, we’ll be discussing some of these reactions more closely, and offering some suggestions for dealing effectively with them.
Grief affects you physically. When the stress of an emotional injury is felt but the pain is not expressed directly, your body may do it for you: through physical symptoms such as fatigue, high blood pressure, muscle tension, headaches, shortness of breath, erratic sleeping and eating patterns, aggravation of pre-existing chronic medical conditions, or precipitation of new ones. Caring for yourself won’t erase your grief, but it will offer a welcome respite from it. Pampering yourself with “food for the soul” (such as a massage, manicure, pedicure, facial or bath) releases body tension and makes you feel nurtured. Even though your energy is low and you don’t feel like establishing a healthy routine, force yourself to do it anyway. Pay careful attention to your need for nutrition, rest and relaxation, exercise and human contact:
Nutrition can suffer because appetites often shift after loss. In an effort to comfort and nurture yourself, you may eat more than usual, or you may have trouble eating anything at all. Stress can interfere with the absorption of important nutrients, while fats and sugars deplete energy.
Rest and relaxation are essential. Because rest relieves, restores and refreshes you, it is important that you make time in your day for “mindless” activity, or get away for a relaxing weekend. Your usual sleep pattern may be disrupted in the first few weeks of grief. You may not sleep well at all, or you may sleep more than usual as a way to avoid or shut out the pain.
Exercise is good for you, since regular physical activity stimulates the release of biochemicals in your body that relieve pain, alleviate stress and enhance your sense of well being. Exercise increases your circulation, stimulates your heart, cleanses your body, discharges negative energy, and gets you out and about.
Human contact is a basic human need. Touching, hugging, holding, and having contact with another is comforting and healing.
Suggestions for Coping with Physical Symptoms
Ask someone to stay with you to help you focus and prioritize what needs to get done. Inform your physician what’s happening in your life, so your blood pressure, weight changes and other health indicators can be monitored.Know you will make it through these episodes even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time. Recognize that your thinking processes, coordination and reaction time aren’t up to par right now. Be careful with driving, using knives and power tools. Breathe. Frequently throughout the day, stop what you’re doing, take a deep breath, hold it, then exhale very slowly. If your diet is not well balanced, try supplementing it with vitamins and minerals. Add fruits, vegetables and grains. Eat smaller, more frequent meals rather than three big ones. Eat foods you like that are easy to fix and digest, and include a special treat now and thenDrink lots of waterFind an exercise you can do (stretching, walking, swimming, dancing, swinging or swaying to music) and set aside time to do it regularly. Reach out and touch someone. Cuddle children and pets; hold hands with your friends; get a massage. Attend to personal grooming (hair, skin, nails, wardrobe) that will enhance your body image. There is truth in the saying that when you look good, you feel good too. If you’re having trouble sleeping, try using the methods you already know to be tried and true: Cut back on your caffeine intake. Get moderate exercise later in the day. Avoid medications and alcohol which can offer only a temporary escape; have serious side effects; affect motor coordination and mental acuity; lead to dependency; magnify feelings of depression; and disrupt patterns of sleep. Drink a cup of warm milk or water at bedtime (plain milk is a natural sedative). Take a relaxing bath or warm shower before bed. Put on a night light. Stick to a regular routine: retire and get up at same time each day. Follow a deep relaxation routine.