Grief is a part of life. Though you may find yourself wanting to do anything but tend to your grief, you know better. With patience, dedication and some good ideas for how to occupy the time — if there is one thing that is true about grief, it’s that it takes time — you may just find that this essential life practice has a lot to teach along the way.
Step one: Adopt an attitude of self-compassion and self-kindness. The process you are in is essential and deserves your full attention. While the initial stages of grief can seem to take an excruciating amount of time to pass, this is all part of the process and must be honored. It may feel difficult to impossible, but practicing acceptance is crucial. Your life has changed, and though it will never be the same, in time you will find your way back to joy and wholeness once again. Being present for what you are going through right now is one of the best gifts you can give yourself. Be patient and, more importantly, be kind to you.
Spend Time in Nature
Being in nature is easily one of the best ways to support a grieving heart. Long, slow walks near a water source, vigorous hikes up a mountain or simply sitting peacefully in a natural setting will calm and soothe even the most rattled nervous system and aching heart. When feeling low, it can be hard to find the energy to leave the house. Try setting a calendar reminder for outdoor plans or enlist a buddy to join you. Commit to spending at least 20 minutes per day outside, moving or in stillness, and see how the natural sounds and sights of the great outdoors affect your mental and emotional states.
Add in Art
When dealing with crippling loss, there is no better remedy than to be in the presence of creative energy. In the case of art, it’s less important the quality and more important the quantity. More is more! Visit a local museum, peruse the website of your favorite artist, take an online class in watercolor painting, learn to knit or grab a set of markers and an adult coloring book and go wild. Engaging in creative activities on a regular basis will remind you that life goes on, no matter how you feel in the moment. Remember, it is not about being good at art, it’s about being in a creative flow.
Let Yourself Be Loved
While you may find yourself resisting being around friends and family during the initial stages of grief, it is essential that you stay connected to those who love you most. Even short phone calls can be incredibly supportive in surprising ways. Your friends and family may not know how to best support you, so don’t be afraid to tell them exactly what you need. Your special people want to care for you during this time, so be clear about what will help you most. Now is the time for receiving; allow your friends and family to bring you food, accompany you on walks and deliver good books to read.
Music as Medicine
Music, like art, can be incredibly healing. For some folks, listening to songs that cue memories related to the source of their grief is helpful. Others will want to avoid familiar tunes until they are ready to be reminded. In any event, spending at least a short amount of time each day listening to some type of music will boost any spirit. Consider tapping into new-to-you recording artists via the explore function of Spotify. If you feel open to social interaction, participating in a music or dance lesson can be a great way to get your energy flowing again. Take it slow, music is patient medicine.
Exercise With Care
When grieving deeply, or when physically healing from an injury or accident, finding the energy to exercise can be a challenge. But the benefits of even very gentle movement are profound. If able, take a movement-based fitness class in person or livestream to help move stuck emotions. If strong feelings arise, let them. In the event vigorous physical exercise is not appropriate, stick to deep breathing or chair yoga. Even the simplest movements can initiate meaningful emotional release. Be consistent, studies show regular physical movement is a game-changer when it comes to processing grief.
This one might seem obvious but, when it comes down to it, can be the hardest to execute. After a traumatic or stressful event, your body needs rest. It’s ok to let chores slide and pull way back on social engagements. Recognize that there are a variety of ways to rest; watch a movie, read during the day, take an afternoon nap. It is common for sleep habits to be disrupted during periods of intense grief, so don’t be alarmed if you find yourself awake at odd hours. Simply do your best to set the stage for good quality sleep with a consistent schedule, and sleep patterns will eventually regulate once again.
Eat Healing Foods
It is extremely important that your body is well-nourished during this time. Simple, healthy meals served at regular mealtimes will support your nervous system in ways both big and small. If cooking leaves you drained, consider signing up for an organic meal delivery service to supplement daily meals and boost nutrient intake. The most important thing right now is to listen to your body. If you are hungry, eat. If you don’t feel like eating but you know you need sustenance, choose something light and nutritious like a whole foods smoothie. Good food can bring much-needed pleasure, so keep yourself well-fed.
Talk to a Counselor
Depending on what is at the root of your grief, you may find it helpful to speak with a professional. A counselor or therapist offers compassionate listening and confidentiality. They will also be able to reflect back to you whether or not you need additional support or other therapeutic modalities. If your grief is related to a death in the family, your local hospice provider may be able to extend free resources for grief support. Whether in group sessions or one-on-one, these intentional hours spent talking through what is heavy on your heart will help lighten the burden of your sadness.
Take Time Off
If possible, consider taking some time off from work and other commitments. This will allow you the space required to ramp-up self-care, adopt new habits and be open to the healing that your grief process has in store for you. If your place of employment offers paid leave, take advantage of this benefit. While the instinct to keep yourself busy might be appealing, consider that until you consciously choose to be present for your grief, it will simply be waiting in the wings for your attention. There is no shortcut when it comes to grieving and putting it off will only make it harder in the long run.
Self-Care on Your Terms
Self-care looks different for everyone. Think of this part of your grief program as less “day at the spa,” and more about answering the question, "What do I need right now?" This may look like journaling, singing, self-massage, forest bathing, laughing, eating, praying or watching your favorite show on repeat. Above all, it is imperative that you allow this time to be about you and your needs. In time, you’ll be able to face the world again. But for now, tuck in, have courage, breathe deeply and investigate what your grief is trying to tell you. Actively embracing the process of grieving can change your life. Let it.
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