How to maintain your health while grieving

Use these techniques to stay emotionally, mentally, and physically healthy while grieving a loss

Losing a loved one can feel all-consuming. Grief not only affects your emotions, but it also leaves its mark on your body and mind, altering your overall bereavement health. The good news is you can use a few techniques to lessen the negative effects grief places on your emotional, mental, and physical wellbeing.

How grief affects your health

Dr. Merryn Snare, registered psychologist and teacher, says grief manifests in your body in what she calls the “four domains”: emotional, physiological, behavioral, and cognitive. Symptoms like muscle pain, intense emotions, and degraded memory are “part of the mind and body response to a situation of overwhelm,” or a way for your body to try to react normally in an abnormal situation. She says understanding why these responses occur is the first step to learning to live with them.

Emotional and cognitive impacts of grief

If you have recently lost a loved one, you’ve probably experienced an array of emotions and felt like you’re in emotional turmoil. Mood swings from anger to sadness to guilt are common. Sometimes, these symptoms manifest in your cognitive abilities, too.
“It is very common for concentration and memory to be affected, which has the flow-on effect of things seeming so much more difficult than they used to,” says Snare. “Then there is often a tendency for ruminating thoughts, which can lead to a sense of hopelessness.” 

How to apply the 5 stages of grief to your grieving process

Physical and behavioral impacts of grief

Snare says physiological responses to grief can include early symptoms, like a racing heart, a constricted throat, or sweaty palms, and long-term symptoms, such as stomach pains, headaches, musculoskeletal pain, and a weakened immune system.
If your grief causes behavioral changes, such as disrupted sleep and loss of appetite, they can worsen physical symptoms, Snare says. Sometimes these behavioral changes cause extreme fatigue and difficulty concentrating.

How to maintain proper physical health while grieving

Relax your mind

Meditation or actively setting aside time to calm your grieving mind can relieve stress and help you recharge. Set aside a few minutes per day, at whatever time makes the most sense for you, to practice mindful meditation. If you don’t know where to start, try a mobile app, like Calm or Headspace, or a guided meditation video.

Get proper rest

To minimize your sleeplessness while grieving, experts recommend trying to maintain a regular bed time and wake time and developing a calming night routine that could include turning off electronics, taking a warm bath or shower, listening to white noise, or misting your pillow with essential oils.

Engage in gentle exercise

While you may feel an urge to exercise intensely or entirely stop exercising while grieving, finding a happy medium between the two is the best thing for your physical health, Snare says. While not exercising has obvious detriments to your health, over-exercising can lead to burnout, injury, or feelings of failure for not hitting impossibly high workout goals. Instead, try going for regular walks at the length and pace your body will allow.

Eat a proper diet

Comfort foods, like ice cream and chips, may seem tempting during bereavement, but a poor diet can exacerbate feelings of depression and reduce your energy levels. Try to maintain a relatively balanced diet while you’re grieving that includes vitamin-rich fruits, vegetables, and proteins. But avoid limiting yourself too much or setting strict eating guidelines — which, again, can lead to feelings of failure — and instead opt for a self-caring approach to nutrition.

How to tend to your mental health while grieving

Avoid substances

You face a higher risk of alcohol and substance abuse after experiencing a major loss, so it’s very important to be mindful of your consumption. While turning to alcohol to numb sadness may seem like an obvious “don’t,” other substances, like caffeine or sugar, can become similarly addictive if you use them to boost your mood. Try sticking to a maximum of one cup of coffee per day and one glass of alcohol per week, especially during bereavement.

Seek support and avoid isolation

“Grief is a time when people need someone to listen, not tell them to pick up their game or move on,” Snare says. She recommends seeking grief support from professionals, particularly counselors who understand grief, and turning to friends and family members familiar with feelings of grief to avoid isolation.

How to avoid senior isolation after losing a loved one

Set aside time daily to grieve and reflect

Snare says it’s important to remember that every negative emotion that comes with the loss of a loved one is perfectly normal, and you should allow these feelings to happen to properly cope. For example, grief can make you feel like you’ve lost control, and you may try to control or avoid your feelings in defense. Instead, if you take the time to grieve, you can instill a greater sense of control over your feelings while you unload and understand the loss. Snare suggests doing this by allowing yourself to remember what she calls “smile inside memories” with the loved one. You can try reflective writing in a journal, having a cry session, reading grief books, or looking through old photos.

Grief books and blogs for coping with loss

Follow your normal routine

While behavioral changes are typical while grieving, Snare suggests remaining mindful of the routines you adopt and returning to your version of normal as quickly as possible following loss. This not only includes maintaining regular sleep, work, and hygiene schedules, but it also means making time to incorporate activities you enjoy into your schedule. Even if you don’t feel like doing them initially, they may help you find relief over time.

Where to find grief support

If you’re feeling stuck within your grief and unsure where to turn, you have more grief support options available now than ever. If you find comfort in confiding in others, you can try traditional in-person grief support groups or one-on-one grief counseling in a therapist’s office or online. If you prefer more anonymous and confidential support, phone hotlines and call centers can connect you to the help you need — even via text messaging if you don’t feel like talking. You can receive group support from the comfort of your home through online grief forums and email support groups.
This article may contain links to third party websites, but Great Western Insurance Company is neither responsible nor liable for their content, accuracy, or security. Review our Terms and Conditions to learn more.

Photo credit: iStock

Find grief support

Search for grief support resources, such as in-person groups, online forums, and phone hotlines, available in your area.


Related articles

13 ways to keep a lost loved one’s memory alive

Remember a lost loved one in a way that feels healing and connective to you.

Read more

Preplanning after a loss: How do you want to be remembered?

After losing a loved one, it's natural to start wondering, 'How do I want to be remembered?' Preplanning can help you record your answers.

Read more

How to support someone who is grieving

Learn the right things to say — and what not to say — when helping a grieving loved one cope with loss.

Read more

13 signs you should seek grief counseling

Feeling sad after the death of a loved one is normal, but when symptoms of grief persist, you may need grief counseling to help you progress.

Read more

Complicated grief: How to cope with death

If the loss of a loved one consumes your mind and causes your relationships to suffer, you may be experiencing complicated grief.

Read more

What you need to know about bereavement leave

When a loved one dies, you need time — to grieve and to begin the healing process. That’s why it’s necessary to understand what, if any, bereavement leave your employer offers. This list of bereavement leave questions and answers will get you started.

Read more

Understanding and coping with grief attacks

If you’re struggling with unmanageable grief attacks during bereavement, this guide can help you understand what grief panic attacks are and how to cope with them.

Read more

Grief support is available in more ways than ever

Grief support groups try to connect you with others, but not everyone feels comfortable sharing their emotions. That’s why finding the right format to receive grief support is as important as seeking it in the first place. 

Read more

How to help a child grieve a loss

Children grieve in a much different way. Their perception of death and their grieving process change in each developmental stage. That's why it’s important to explain death to a child in an age-appropriate manner.

Read more

How to avoid bereavement scams after a loved one dies

Many families face bereavement scams after the loss of a loved one. But if you know what to look for, you can avoid being scammed and focus on finding grief support.

Read more

4 ways to turn grief into positive action

Some bereaved use actions instead of emotions to grieve and to turn grief into positive effects. These stories may inspire you to do similarly as you’re coping with grief.

Read more