By: Maria Carella
The grief process takes enormous physical, mental and emotional energy. This process is not linear or orderly, and it is unique to each person. Some days it feels like a full time job, a minute-to-minute experience of competing thoughts, feelings and images. Other days it feels more manageable. Healthy grieving is a balancing act of taking care of your physical and emotional health as you carve out time to honor your thoughts and feelings surrounding your loss.
THE BASICS OF SELF CARE
The mind and body are not separate. Thoughts create feelings and feelings create our physiology. The nervous system is affected by diet, exercise, stress, thoughts and feelings. When these are out of balance the nervous system responds with the symptoms of anxiety and or depression. It is important to support your physiology by eating healthy foods, exercising, and getting enough sleep/rest so that you can do your “grief work”.
“You are what you eat so don’t be fast, cheap, easy or fake.” unknown
Eat foods that are nourishing such as protein, fruits and vegetables. Drink lots of water. Reduce or eliminate sugar and alcohol.
“Movement is medicine for creating change in a persons physical, emotional and mental states.” Carol Welch
Moving your body and breath releases waste through the lymph system and increases endorphins (the hormone that give us a positive feeling). Movement also gets you “out of your head” where thoughts can loop and cause negative feelings.
Research tells us that exercise is as effective as anti-depressant medicine to heal depression. Use your body to find your strength and flexibility, reduce tension and lift your mood. MOVE in ways that you like and move at a pace that is appropriate to your energy level.
REST AND SLEEP
“The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep.” Joseph Lossman
Try to sleep 6 to 8 hours a night. When we sleep we allow the mind and body to heal, recharge and restore.
If it is difficult to quiet the mind when it is time for bed use relaxation/sleep meditations. “CALM” and “OPEN SPACE” are two free Apps that my clients enjoy or checkout YOGA NIDRA, a special meditation for sleep at www.doyogawithme.com
If you feel that you are sleeping too much, set up regular times to walk or exercise with a friend.
CREATE A SUPPORT NETWORK
“ I sought my god, my god I could not see. I sought my soul, my soul eluded me. I sought my brother and found all three” Anonymous
Scientific studies show that connection with others strengthens our immune system and increases well being.We live in a culture where independence is valued and seen as superior to interdependence. This cultural norm can cause isolation and isolation compounds the pain of grief and slows down or impedes the healing process.
There is an unspoken expectation in our culture that the grief process should take less time than it does. Support from family and friends can dwindle after the first few months. Joining a support group or seeking individual grief counseling allows you to process thoughts and feelings with people who have had similar losses or are professionally trained to help you.
Organizations like Share provide phone support, groups and memorial events to help honor and grieve your loss. Find a local Share Chapter near you!
You deserve support! Ask a friend to coordinate a circle of friends who want to help with meals, childcare, and other household chores.
“ Grief, I’ve learned is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.” Jaime Anderson
We feel a whole spectrum of emotions when grieving. There are no good or bad feelings and there is no right or wrong way to grieve.
If not felt, feelings can get stuck in the body and cause “dis-ease”.
The energetic health systems of China and India bring us Acupuncture and Yoga. Both of these systems prescribe moving stuck energy out of the body for optimal health. Acupuncture uses needles and Yoga uses breath and movement to release tension, stress, negative thoughts and feelings.
Talking about your feelings with someone who is a good listener can help you not feel alone.
A daily journal practice allows thoughts and feelings to get out and onto paper.
Expressing grief through a creative outlet allows you to give voice and meaning to feelings that are not understandable to the logical mind.
Your creativity can also be used to find ways to remember and honor your baby, an important step in the grieving process.
Painting, sculpting, drawing, scrapbooking, knitting, blogging, photography, singing and dancing are a few of the many outlets available for self expression.
“The practice is simply this: keep coming back to your breath during the day. Just take a moment. This will give your mind a steadiness and your breath a gracefulness…There is so much to let go of, isn’t there? Your nostalgia and your regrets, your fantasies and your fears. What you think you want instead of what is happening now. Breathe.” Rodney Yee
Practices that bring you into the present moment regulate your nervous system and strengthen your immune system.
When you come into the “now” and leave the past and future you settle into a state of peace and calm where you can experience a state of being that includes your grief but is bigger than your grief. There are many practices that bring us here: Being in nature, praying, practices of self compassion, acceptance, gratitude, and forgiveness, Formal practices of mindfulness and meditation and Body practices of grounding, centering, breathing, body scanning, imagery and relaxation. I recommend Tara Brach’s meditations and books for further instruction www.Tarabrach.com.
In summary, maintaining a healthy diet, exercise and sleep routine, creating a support network, honoring your feelings and practicing stress management techniques, are important and valuable tools for self-care as you move through the grief process.
Maria Carella is an educator, author, Licensed Professional Counselor and Certified Yoga Instructor. She specializes in women’s emotional health with a focus on pregnancy, infertility, miscarriage and infant loss. She has specialized training in somatic psychotherapy, hypnosis, yoga and mindfulness.
Her goal is to help women develop the resources they need to find balance, health and healing.