The loss of a loved one is the single most stressful thing that can happen
to a person. This is a time to be aware of increased vulnerability and
the need to take great care of yourself. Because of this increased stress
and vulnerability, health problems appear more often during a bereavement period.
By taking care of ourselves and practicing "stress management,"
we can decrease the physical and emotional wear and tear that stress can
cause. There are five components of stress management: good nutrition,
sleep, physical exercise, being kind to yourself
Changes in eating habits are normal during a period of grief. It is important
to realize that your body is undergoing a lot of stress from the demands
of grief. Even though you may not feel like eating, to benefit your own
healing, it is important to eat regular, balanced meals, and to get the
vitamins you need.
Increasing your protein intake will help during stressful times. It is
also important to increase the intake of calcium (milk and cheese products)
and potassium (bananas, baked potatoes and oranges); each helps to combat
stress. Consider a B-vitamin or a multi-stress vitamin as a daily supplement.
Avoid "junk foods" and
People frequently have difficulty sleeping during a period of bereavement.
However, it is important to get adequate rest. If you feel extra sleep
is necessary, go to bed earlier. Experts say that taking a vacation from
the alarm clock on weekends can upset the body's sleep rhythms all
week long. Make bedtime the final stage of a regular evening ritual. Walk
the dog, watch TV or read a book. The activity is less critical than sticking
to the same routine night after night. You'll sleep sounder after
a late afternoon workout. Avoid any heavy-duty exertion just prior to bedtime.
Avoid the "big three": caffeine, alcohol and tobacco. All of
these upset sleep, even if you find them "relaxing." Alcohol
may make you tired, however, it actually reduces the quality of your sleep.
Remember that many soft drinks, as well as tea and chocolate contain caffeine,
which can also affect the quality of sleep.
Stress is the number one enemy of sleep. Relaxation training can help derail
a lot of disturbing thoughts and ease tight muscles that make it hard
to sleep soundly.
A low-protein, high carbohydrate snack before bedtime often shortens the
time it takes to fall asleep. Remember, if you are on a special diet,
to be sure to consult your physician or nutritionist about changes in
For insomnia lasting up to three weeks, or during illness or bereavement,
sleeping pills may be medically necessary. Your physician will provide
directions for taking sleeping pills. Some people find that if they take
a pill for only a night or two their sleep patterns will return to normal.
Next-day effects may include poor memory, lack of concentration, drowsiness,
dizziness, lack of coordination and/or digestive woes. Be sure to consult
your physician before taking such medicines.
Moderate, regular exercise helps relieve tension and elevate one's
mood. Don't take on anything too strenuous, rather, engage in a regular,
planned activity, such as swimming, walking or bike riding that will help
loosen tense muscles and increase your sense of well-being. Walking with
a friend provides an opportunity to share feelings as well and can be
excellent therapy. The local health clubs have many excellent exercise
programs for all ages and
Be Kind to Yourself
Emotional injury can often require even more healing than physical injury.
It is normal for low periods to become depressions during a period of
grieving. These are normal responses as long as they do not continue for
an extended period of time. Here are some suggestions for helping yourself
through a depression:
- Do some regular exercise
- Try to maintain good eating and sleeping habits
- Go out to eat with friends
- Engage in a distracting activity, such as reading, watching TV or a movie,
visiting the park or shopping
- Engage in Care-seeking activities, such as talking with a friend, your
pastor or your doctor, praying, writing letters or having a massage
- Engage in constructive or creative activities, such as setting small goals
that can be achieved every day, planning something for the future, planting
flowers, painting, drawing, sewing or quilting
- Do one good thing for yourself each day, such as some needed chores or
helping out someone else; pay attention to your personal appearance, you
will feel better when you look better
- Engage in contemplative activities, such as listening to music, getting
some sun, visiting the countryside or just taking a bath.
Only you know what places, situations and/or people help you to relax the
best. Here are some general guidelines that you may
When we're tense, our breathing becomes shallow. When a person is weighted
down with strong and painful feelings, he or she often breathes improperly,
depriving the brain of necessary oxygen. Taking slow, deep breaths is
a good way to ease your tension and resume proper breathing. Place your
hand on your diaphragm (just below the rib cage and above the stomach)
and take a deep breath through your nose. As you inhale, you should feel
your hand pushed outward. Exhale through your mouth. Repeat this exercise
until your breathing is deep and regular.
To relieve tension in your body try this exercise: in a comfortable surrounding,
try tensing and relaxing each muscle group in turn, starting with your
feet and working up to your head. Be aware of knots of tension in your
body. Practice slow, deep breathing.
The greatest healer and stress reducer will be the love of those around
you. Allow others the privilege of helping you through this difficult
time. Spend time alone with God in quiet contemplation, or share your
anger, fears and needs for all are welcome.