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Five Components of Stress Management

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
and relaxation.

Good Nutrition

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
empty calories.

Sleep

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 your diet.

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.

Physical Exercise

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
ability levels.

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.

Relaxation

Only you know what places, situations and/or people help you to relax the best. Here are some general guidelines that you may
find helpful.

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.