When people are grieving it is easy to forget to take care of themselves. In fact that is probably the last thing on their minds. Often there is an aspect of survivor guilt that may cause them to be even harder on themselves and believe they don’t deserve to be well and healthy. Unfortunately without a healthy body, the mind can not function effectively in order to do the work required for your grief journey. This is the point when people may turn to unhealthy habits and addictions to numb the mind in order to stop the pain of grief. As I discussed in my previous post, doing this just delays the inevitable because the grief is still there when the behavior stops. As promised, here are some easy, healthy choices to take care of yourself.
BREATHE. Simple, right?—you are doing it right now. Not necessarily so simple. When stressed, people tend to breathe shallowly or hold their breath. This causes less oxygen to get to the brain and through the body and can make you feel tired and generally un-well. One early symptom seen in many grieving people is deep sighing, this is also a symptom seen in individuals with stress and depression. Sighing is caused from dysfunctional breathing.
Learning simple breathing techniques that oxygenate the brain and body help to alleviate stress and make the brain work more efficiently. The easiest breathing exercise is done while sitting comfortably in a chair or on the floor, begin by purposely taking 10 deep breaths while inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. Make sure that you don’t do them too fast because you can become light-headed. There are many other breathing exercises, including belly breathing that I explained in a previous post, Grief and Mindfulness-Part Two. This easy example is to return your awareness to your breath and increase your oxygen intake. You can stop anywhere you are and practice this breathing technique. It can calm you and center you when you are feeling especially stressed or experiencing a wave of grief symptoms.
TAKE A WALK. I know, another one that sounds so simple, however when grieving the body and mind are weary and it takes resolve to make the decision to move. Once you do get moving, a brisk walk increases the dopamine and serotonin in the brain which are natural neurotransmitters that create a sense of well-being and relieve sadness. In addition the stress of grief can increase the body’s production of cortisol that produces the unhealthy fat that accumulates around the middle section of the body and walking can help to combat that. If you are able to walk in the park and enjoy the sights and sounds of nature it will be even more relaxing and can keep you in the present moment and out of your thoughts for a little while. Just a brief 20 minute walk can improve your mood and get some physical exercise into your day.
DRINK WATER. Yeah, another simple one. Many people forget this basic need to re-hydrate. The body reacts in negative ways when there is a fluid imbalance. Without the proper amount of hydration the body can become overheated, have low energy levels, and be subject to muscle cramps. Get out that pitcher in the back of the cupboard, fill it full of water, ice, and lemon if you like, and make it a point of filling up a glass to have by your side all the time. You will be surprised how much more you will drink when it is right there.
None of these examples are rocket-science. They are simple, self-care but they are extremely important to your well-being. Grief is hard work so you have to keep your body and mind in shape in order to do the work.
Remember—breath, walk, water—and be kind to yourself.