Sarah Toler, DNP, is a health writer and researcher who specializes in evidence-based mental and reproductive health.
When you’re in the thick of it, nothing about grief feels healthy. It feels raw, exposed and miserable. Days spent grieving are often the lowest days of a person’s life.
While researchers have some theories about the steps and cycles of grief, everybody experiences, and copes with grief differently. There is no one-size-fits-all cure for grief.
However, there are some ways to process your grief that are healthier than others. Self-care is the most necessary during times of grief, yet grieving can make self-care impossible.
Let’s take a look at what it means to grieve and some healthy ways to handle this type of emotional crisis.
Most people think of death when “grief” is mentioned, but grief can be felt in response to any type of loss. Grief is not one emotion, but more like a syndrome that encompasses many emotions, including sadness, disbelief, guilt, confusion and anger.
The theory of grief occurs in two “spheres.” The first sphere is internal and is made up of your emotions, beliefs and thoughts. The second sphere is external and involves your roles and behaviors. Your experience of grief will involve changes in both spheres, impacting your relationships with family, work, friends and activities.
The death of a loved one is probably the most profoundly painful cause of grief. Yet, loss of any kind can lead a person to grieve, including:
- Death of a pet
- Divorce, breakup, or infidelity
- Difficulty conceiving or experiencing miscarriage
- Loss of a job or status
- Financial loss
- Loss of friends
- Relocation or moving
- Loss of safety
This list isn’t all inclusive. Each person lives a unique experience and one person may grieve over what another person would not. Grief itself is valid and not dependent upon the “size” of the loss.
Is there a healthy way to cope with grief?
You’ve probably heard that there are five stages of grief. This theory doesn’t apply to everyone, but it is a good starting point to understand how most people experience grief. The stages include denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Evolution throughout the stages isn’t linear—it’s possible to feel acceptance one day and anger the next.
Wherever you are in your recovery from grief, it can be easy to forget to take care of yourself, and slip into an unhealthy pattern like valium abuse. Yet, self-care is vital during this time, because your body is depending on you to care for it. The initial days of grief can be so overwhelming you can forget to do even the simplest things for yourself.
How to care for yourself while grieving:
- Brush your teeth and hair
It sounds basic, but taking care of yourself in these small ways is the first step to feeling like yourself again.
- Drink water, and a lot of it
Grief causes the release of stress hormones inside your body. Water can help your body rid itself of some of these hormones.
- Take a bath
Allow yourself the comfort of hot water and a private space to cry and think.
- Eat something
Grief taxes your immune system. You need vitamins and nutrients to keep your immune system functioning. If you can’t stomach the thought of food, eat something mild and easy to swallow like apple sauce, a smoothie, a banana or oatmeal.
- Enroll your support group
People often don’t know how to help through times of intense grief. Tell people what you need, whether it’s toilet paper or someone to spend the night with you.
- Find a therapist
If you don’t already have a therapist, reach out to family and friends to ask for recommendations. You can also call your insurance company to find providers in your network. If you can’t make yourself leave the house, get on your computer and search for “online therapy.”
- Attend a support group
Meeting and getting to know people who are enduring a similar loss can help you feel less alone. It’s best to get out and meet people in person, but if you just can’t, look for online support groups.
- Avoid substances
It’s not uncommon for people to rely on substances like alcohol, marijuana and sleeping pills to survive a crisis. However, substance abuse used to cope with grief stifles necessary emotion and prevents true healing.
- See your healthcare provider
Depression and insomnia are both common following a loss. Talk to your healthcare provider about the best ways to manage these symptoms of grief.
When you’re grieving, remind yourself that your job is to get your body through the day.
You don’t have to make future plans. You don’t have to right any wrongs. You have to eat, sleep and care for your body.
If you have other obligations you can’t walk away from, allow yourself permission to complete those tasks imperfectly—it’s likely the people around you will understand.