Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Staying Well While You Grieve

Losing a loved one is often one of life's most difficult experiences. The manner and duration of the grieving period is unique to each individual. Each loss affects the bereaved differently. Most people associate grief with the loss of a family member or close friend. There are many types of loss that one may experience including the loss of a job, divorce, financial setbacks, death of a pet, etc. In any and every case, it is critical that good health, nutrition, and fitness are maintained.

Grief is an active process that is cognitive, emotional, spiritual, and physical. It affects moods, motivation, stress levels, appetite, weight, sleep patterns, energy levels, and more. Ignoring one's personal needs during this time can complicate the grieving process. It is not uncommon to turn to food, alcohol, drugs, sleep, work, and withdrawal/seclusion to deal with death and loss. Unfortunately these coping strategies can delay one's ability to face and work through the gamut of emotions that are being experienced. The following tips can be implemented to facilitate a state of wellness while grieving:

1) Eat balanced meals regularly. The human body needs balanced nutrition for proper function of all vital organs and systems. Avoid fast food and junk food along with caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol. Consuming fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy will promote good health and offset the physical strain that grief can place on the body.

2) Take daily walks. Some type of regular physical activity is good for improving one's outlook and overall disposition. A long walk can help clear the mind, or at least allow the griever to get away from everything and just be themselves in that moment. Exercise promotes restful sleep. Some may try other mind-body disciplines like yoga or Tai Chi. Cycling, swimming, and jogging are good choices as well. The key here is to do what feels good and keep moving.

3) Sleep regularly. This might be a challenge initially, so taking naps as frequently as possible and trying to rest at the same time daily may help.

4) Use prayer and meditation to stay connected and grounded. Maintaining a connection to one's spirit has proven to be very helpful in handling grief. There are often many unanswered questions and unresolved feelings that manifest themselves through anger and frustration. Some experience a loss of control. Allowing oneself the time to work through the mental and spiritual aspects of grieving is extremely helpful and important for achieving wellness.

5) Ask for help. Surrounding oneself with loved ones and enlisting help with daily tasks can relieve stress until some balance is returned to the daily routine.

6) Use a journal or other creative outlets to express yourself. After a certain point, family and friends don't always share a desire to talk about the loss of a loved one. It is still necessary to articulate or channel the various thoughts and emotions that accompany death and loss. Writing, painting, knitting, poetry, and music are all examples of ways to work through the stages of grief. It can be shared with others or be kept in private. What is important is to find ways to express thoughts and emotions while giving oneself permission to grieve.

While all of us will experience grief in our lives on some level, be encouraged and know that you can make it through the sad times. I did and you can, too.

Written in memory of my mother, Regena Vetene Thomas, RN (June 23, 1937-July 25, 2003).

Be good to yourself! More next time...

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