In order to stay as balanced as possible when grief evokes intense and variable emotional states, we must attend to body, mind and spirit. Use gentle, peaceful means, and be patient with your self and your process to recover from a loss. Taking care of yourself when grieving is absolutely necessary.
Make gentle, slow changes that you can hold to the rest of your life.
Avoid the standard American diet of too much sugar, fat, salt, protein, and processed foods, which include most of the above, plus toxic chemicals. Move towards whole grains, unprocessed vegetables, fish and poultry. Food is primitive and basic, so understand that we use it for many purposes, both physical and psychological.
We need to have two types of exercise on a regular basis in order to maintain balance and health. Cardiovascular exercise should be at minimum 20-45 minutes, not necessarily done consecutively, three times per week. The safest is brisk walking or swimming. More difficult on the body are high-impact sports, like aerobics and running. Secondly, we need strength, flexibility and energy for the body. These are best gained from non-Western styles, such as yoga, tai chi and other mind-body integrated systems.
The body itself needs to be de-stressed from chronic physical and muscular holding patterns. Meditation and imagery have proven to be the premiere forms of physical stress reduction. Deeper states of consciousness create new chemical production arrays from the brain, reduce chronic muscle tension, lower blood pressure, and elevate our moods. Try to find a good teacher. Massage is also good. In fact, we should be conscious of our need for non-sexual, physical touch. We want to be held, petted and taken care of through warm, safe, physical affection. In addition, sexuality is one of nature’s healing methods of stress reduction. Try to maintain your intimate relationships as smoothly as possible.
We can’t forget that we are part of the animal kingdom and that we need physical affection and nurturing. Ashley Montague’s book, Touching, provides a vivid list of all the ways touch is used by animals. We should be careful to be clear about how we want to be touched so that we don’t get into uncomfortable or dangerous situations while we are off-balance.
Your mind is vast resource that you can use in many ways to support you during this process. It is important not to forget your mind’s health in taking care of yourself when grieving.
We need to find as many ways as possible to nurture ourselves. Grief evokes a wide range of feelings and an intensity of emotion that often makes people worry about their balance and even their sanity. We aren’t used to dealing with the natural intensity and range of feelings that come to us as we go through the grieving process. Therefore, we need to both nurture ourselves and allow others to take care of us. We need to reach out to family and friends in as many ways as possible.
Healthy people have a wide range of soothing mechanisms. Since we are all different, and no one activity works for all, we must find the experiences that fit for us. Some find calm in a book, a warm bath, a vigorous game of tennis, or a walk. Nature is often soothing and peaceful. We should be aware of all of our senses. Sounds such as music or water can often be helpful. Scents from flowers or essential oils, tastes of good food, and as we discussed, touch. Vision takes 25% of our daily energy expenditure, so be sure to surround yourself with beauty.
Being Listened To
One of the greatest gifts anyone can provide is to listen and attempt to understand another human being. We always need to have this, but especially so when our soul cries out in pain.
Our mind holds both emotions and thoughts, so we must attend to our rational processes also. Finding meaning in what happened and coming to terms with the results of the death are important. We can use our thought processes to help us understand the permanent changes and the results of those changes.
Taking care of yourself when grieving includes spiritual care, too. Connection to that which is more vast than you, be it nature, your community or a higher deity.
Ceremonies and Rituals
If you have a spiritual tradition that links you to others and that provides a path for mourning, you are very fortunate. All religions used to have elaborate ceremonies and practices that supported bereaved people. Most of these practices have been abridged, and it is necessary to invent our own. In fact, we are a secular society in which many people are not connected to any spiritual path, so that we may need to develop our own ceremonies.
Connection to the Universe
A death or serious loss can make us feel that our place in the universe no longer exists. One major function of any spiritual path is to teach us that we are a child of God. This means that we belong on this earth, that we have a significant role to play, and that our life has meaning and value. We need to feel connected to family, friends, community, all of humanity, all sentient beings, and all of the cosmos. When we lose that spiritual connection, we are off-balance, and must get our spirit reconnected.