How Do I Take Care of Myself While I'm Grieving?

8 answers | Last updated: Sep 16, 2017
A fellow caregiver asked...

How do I take care of myself while I'm grieving?

Expert Answers

Martha Clark Scala has been a psychotherapist in private practice since 1992, with offices in Palo Alto and San Francisco, California. She regularly writes about grief and loss, the necessity of self-care, and substance abuse. Her e-newsletter, "Out on a Limb," is available to subscribers through her website.

First, be gentle and compassionate with yourself. Your body, mind, and spirit are all weathering a shock. Grief is often described as a syndrome with intense emotional responses. But grief can pack a mighty punch even beyond emotions: There are cognitive, physical, and spiritual effects, too.

To figure out how to care for yourself or get outside help, first pay attention to the symptoms you're experiencing.

The most prevalent emotional symptoms are the following:

  • Sadness, grief, sorrow, mourning, depression, and suicidal thoughts

  • Guilt and regret

  • Anger, disappointment, rage, fury

  • Numbness

  • Fear, panic, and anxiety

Expressing these feelings often helps you to move through them, rather than getting stuck in them. But this takes time. As a first step, try your best to notice, identify, and articulate each time any particular feeling surfaces.

It's often helpful to jot down your thoughts in a journal or in a letter, even one that you might never send. If you'd like to express your feelings to someone other than a friend or relative, or you feel you need more serious guidance in dealing with them, consider consulting mental health professionals such as counselors, social workers, psychotherapists, or psychologists. Psychiatrists treat mental health issues, but they can also prescribe medication, if needed.

It's common when you're grieving to experience cognitive or mental symptoms, too. For example:

  • Inability to concentrate or focus on a task

  • "Stinking thinking," often associated with feelings of guilt or remorse

  • Confusion or short attention span

  • Failure to process facts and details accurately

  • Forgetfulness or amnesia

Most of these symptoms show up in the initial hours and days after a loss. Your best remedy is usually to simply be patient, because these symptoms most often disappear without any significant intervention. Still, it's best to avoid making any major life decisions until you feel a bit less foggy. Some people are even advised to avoid driving a car, operating machinery, or riding a bike or motorcycle. If you must make big decisions, ask for help from others who may be more clearheaded.

While you're grieving, you might also experience physical symptoms. Examples:

  • Fatigue or exhaustion due to sleep deprivation

  • Excessive sleep

  • Changes in appetite

  • Susceptibility to viruses or illnesses such as the flu or a cold

  • Aches and pains, especially headaches and backaches

  • Upper respiratory ailments and infections

This is a time to excel at self-care. It's crucial to eat balanced meals and avoid junk food, drink only a moderate amount of alcohol, practice regular hygiene, and get ample rest. If you can afford to pay for a little bit of pampering, don't hesitate: A soothing massage, a soak in a hot tub, a manicure and pedicure, a shampoo and haircut, or a facial can all help ease your mind along with your physical symptoms.

If physical symptoms persist, it may be wise to get assistance from a medically trained professional, such as a doctor, nurse, physician's assistant, chiropractor, body worker, or acupuncturist.

It's also common while grieving to have spiritual symptoms. Examples include:

  • A crisis of confidence in religious or spiritual beliefs

  • Difficulty in making meaning of the loss

  • Difficulty in understanding life, or life without the deceased

You may find that contemplative activities, such as meditation or reflection or yoga (which is also great for the body's physical symptoms), are sufficient to address these concerns. Some people find that writing in a journal about their spiritual concerns or crisis is helpful.

You might also consider seeking help from religious or spiritual counselors,including trained clergy or laypeople whose helping styles are guided by religious or spiritual teachings.

Community Answers

Barb the cat lady answered...


Worksforme answered...

You might try talking to someone who is an Intuitive or Medium... My wife of 38 years passed this past August. I have had great comfort in knowing she is happy and wants me to get on with the rest of my life. I contact her each week, and talk to her when I feel like it, ask advice, etc.

Elizabeth hanes answered...

Do not hesitate to reach out to family members and friends for help with your activities of daily living. When I lost my dad, I found it difficult some days just to get out of bed -- let alone do the laundry, cook a meal or wash the dishes. If you're struggling on this fundamental level, let your family members and friends know. Based on their availability, ask them to come over for a period of time on a weeknight or the weekend to help you accomplish these basic tasks. No one will think any less of you for struggling. Your loved ones will be happy to help you, and you'll be doing them a favor, too: they WANT to help but don't know how. By asking them to help you with specific tasks, you're allowing them to show how much they care about you. Finally, don't feel guilty for putting your needs first. Especially if you have children who are suffering from grief, you need to take care of yourself in order to help them process their loss and to set an example of how to cope with the grieving process.

Marly26 answered...

There is no easy way to tell someone how to grieve. We all do this in our own ways. Feelings of anger, why not me? When you are so close to someone and it hurts so bad try and think of the good times, if this person was ill prior to try and think that they are in a better place. Grieving is said to last up to 2yrs. depending on the closeness, your strength. If something happens that reminds you of your loved one go ahead and cry. Crying is a release, not a show of self pity. Those that cant' cry I feel so sorry for. When I lost my father, I spend weeks at the hospital with him. The final week my sister was with him. She had just left and my mother went to see him. He passed away at 1:10am. He and my mom talked of old times. It was me who had to go to his home and go through everything that he had. Some things I didn't even know he did such as writing poetry. I would go into the basement, he was a clutter bug and I would look around and cry. His words' I heard in my ears, when I'm gone I wont' have to clean up someone else will. Believe me I cherished every moment, every tear drop. He has now been gone for 12yrs. and there are times' that I will just break down. Its' much easier but his B/D Family Festivities etc. he and mom are always thought of with the most dearest thoughts. If you are finding it unbearable, write down how you are feeling, it doesn't have to be everyday but when you write the next time dont' look at what you first wrote until your finished the next part. See how much more stronger you are getting. Reach for help from your family, friends. They want to help you so badly but are feeling that you may think that they just want to get rid of items you want to keep. Speak to them, dont' let loose of those ties. Then you get those that say "I'm so sorry" pls. dont' feel anger, they dont' honestly know what else to say. This is their way of saying "I'm here for you". If you want to keep items that others' may think unusual so what. In time you may think the same and will get rid of that item down the road. Most importantly look after yourself. Dont' get into depression. Depression can cause so many illness' dont' do this to yourself. You have friends and family that love and care about you. Call them when you feel that you really cant' go on, if this should happen. Speak with your Physician as well. He/she should also know what you are going through and will be there for you. Other times' talking with somewhat of a stranger can help as well. Hold things that are reminders'. The one who has passed believe me is watching over you. When you feel a cool air around you, its them telling you they are okay. This may sound quirky but its' true. Your loved one who has passed wants nothing more than you to feel good about yourself, they want you happy. They know your tears and feel your sorrow. Talk to them even when they aren't there, it helps. You can even be angry with them for leaving you. Get out and walk some, clear your mind to some degree. Remember there is always a family member or friend that would love nothing better than to spend time with you. Sometimes' we all need a shoulder to cry on. Dont' feel as though this is wrong, its not and they are waiting for your call, even wanting to stop in. These people are worried about you, those who know you so well. Always remember, the one who has passed is in peace now but you will never be forgotten for the love you have for them, the happy times. I myself feel your pain, so many have been in your place. I am thinking of you, giving you a Big Hug and sending a Prayer. A prayer that will bring you peace, love and happiness will come again that is my promise to you. Feel better for you and let those people in that want to help and be by your side. Shed the tears' it does help!! Its a way of venting and a release. Take care now and always!

Leandra answered...

I lost my mom 1/22/11 and I still can't believe she is not here. There isn't a moment in any day that I don't think about calling her to see how she is or tell her something neat. I lost my husband in 2006 and my sister lost her companion in 2008 so we are both struggling. Since she was the main caretaker of my mom for 22 yrs., she is really feeling the loss and in many ways I've lost a sister, too, for the time being. I don't know the answers to how to deal with this loss. It is worse than any I have experienced before. I feel like a 3 yo looking for her mom. And I can't even grieve along with my sister because her emotions are so raw she is avoiding everything. I've been through this grief cycle a lot in the past 5 yrs. and it just doesn't get any easier. It passes when it passes and until then we seem to just have to bear up under the weight of it all. I have a great deal of trouble with spirituality, now. I feel like I don't know where any of them are or how they are. So many questions have come up with no answers. I pray but that doesn't help so I cry a lot. I don't seem to know how to live without my mom. I was just figuring out how to live without my husband. There is just no way around the pain. I guess we have to walk right into and through the storm to get to the other side. I've tried spiritual mediums and they all say the same thing and cost a lot of money.Does anyone really expect them to tell you your loved one is in hell?? The Bible says don't go there so now I feel guilty about that, too. My husband was a suicide as was my sister's companion. My mom was almost 86 and it was so hard for me to see her get old. I don't know which is easier...a fast exit or a slow one. They seem to all hurt deeply and there's nothing we can do to bring anyone back. Religious people tell me I'll see them in heaven....well, I'm not so sure about heaven anymore. Maybe they are just gone and this life is some pointless adventure. No amount of talking or thinking helps with any of it. Death still leaves a deep wound. I just turned 60 and in addition to grief, I find I'm feeling like the next person in line for the shooting squad. Suddenly, with my mom's death, I feel very vulnerable and old. So many emotions and questions and so little help. I'm an RN & have helped lots of people but I can't seem to help myself now.

Maggiemaybe answered...

It is hard for people to understand but this was not my mother or father lost them many years aga, this was my husband of 52 yrs. the house is so cold and just want him home with me. His family passed away a long time ago I have no one near me I just can't stop crying he expected the surgery to go well and come home as I also did.Just can't take it any more.

Bbmj answered...

talking is