Grief is defined as strong and oftentimes overwhelming emotions that people experience after losing something or someone they value. Grief may be caused by the death of a loved one or pet, loss of a job, illness or injury, mental and physical deterioration, and more. It can be overwhelmingly painful and messy, especially where the loss is associated with very deep connections. Nonetheless, it’s ultimately best to keep up with your own self-care while grieving.
For many, the grieving process is often too much to bear, not to mention the self-care while grieving process you need to motivate yourself to go through to heal. It is common to suppress emotions to want to get on with life normally, an approach that leaves many people with unaddressed trauma affecting their physical and mental health. There is a better way of coping with grief and loss that we’ll go through in this article. First, let us understand the different types of grief.
Types of grief
While grief is a natural response to loss, the grieving experience is often different for everyone. No form of grief can be labeled normal and it is perfectly okay for anyone to grieve differently from others. The different types of grief include:
The ability to move through the different stages of grief easily. As the difficult and overwhelming emotions associated with grief gradually ease, the person moves towards acceptance and moving on with daily activities.
Also known as preparatory grief, anticipatory grief is the experience that people go through before a significant loss. This type of grief can be triggered by a diagnosis of terminal illness, imminent retrenchment, or retirement. However challenging anticipatory grief can be, it usually pushes individuals to prepare for the loss before it occurs.
When the society or community around them fails to acknowledge the value of someone’s loss. For example, a woman who has suffered a miscarriage, lost a pet, same-sex partner, divorced partner, secret lover, or sometimes a coworker may feel like society is denying her the right or need to grieve. Individuals may also experience stigmatization and may fail to go through the grieving stages to the point of eventually accepting the loss.
When someone shows little or no signs/symptoms of grieving in response to a significant loss. This commonly happens during sudden and unexpected or expected losses. Absent grief is considered an impaired response to a loss. It is believed that this grief is triggered by being in denial about the reality of the loss. Sometimes, absent grief develops from anticipatory grief.
When the response to or symptoms of grief takes time before showing after a significant loss. Delayed grief may eventually be triggered by a different loss later. This causes an individual to experience more overwhelming emotions than the current event warrants.
Complicated grief is also referred to as prolonged grief disorder. Long after a significant loss, one’s response to grief becomes more severe. This kind of grief often prevents someone from resuming their normal life function. Symptoms of complicated grief include prolonged guilt, low self-esteem, violent or irritable outbursts, or intense sorrow over a long time.
This type of grief comes from multiple losses that occur around the same time. For example, an individual loses several loved ones during the COVID19 pandemic and at the same time goes through job loss.
Distorted grief presents an extreme response or emotions towards others usually when the one grieving gets stuck in one stage of grieving. Hostile behavior and outbursts of anger are common in distorted grief.
This is when a person experiencing grief does not want to accept or show others that they are suffering grief. This is common among men in society. Also, masked grief symptoms may present physically and the grieving person may fail to recognize them as symptoms of grieving from the loss. Such symptoms include headaches, fatigue, and ulcers among others.
When someone does not show obvious signs of outward grief, this is known as inhibited grief. The person may try to keep their grief secret by getting busy. Perhaps they take on more projects to distract their attention from the loss. Inhibited grief prevents anyone from going through the grieving stages normally. Symptoms of grief may resurface physically later in their lives when emotions are not addressed.
Intense symptoms of or response to grief that go on for months or several years after a loss could be a sign of chronic grief. Going through stages of grief and healing becomes very difficult in cases of chronic grief.
When a large group of people experiences grief from a single loss, this is known as collective grief. For instance, the impact of natural disasters, terrorist attacks, wars, and conflicts on communities.
A short-lived reaction to loss is known as abbreviated grief. Individuals may move on quickly when the space left by their loss is soon filled or when they have come to terms with the loss even before it happened. Knowing the different types of grief may also help you do the ideal self care while grieving routine that you may need.
Is grieving selfish?
People react differently to loss. A person’s way of grieving may be mistaken as selfishness by others who have different expectations or perspectives about grieving. Therefore, grief is not selfish although it may seem so from the outside. It has everything to do with the perspectives of those around the griever.
Grieving is a common reaction from everyone who realizes that they can no longer access someone or something that they valued. Someone who is grieving is overwhelmed not only by the emotions of grief but also by the healing process, thoughts on how to move forward, and perhaps the flurry of activities that surround settling the loss.
People get so engulfed by the whole process they hardly ever get to choose the form of grieving with which to mourn their loss. It’s important to also mention that self care while grieving isn’t selfish either. You are taking care of your own emotional and physical wellbeing.
Stages of grief
The feelings and emotions that individual experiences after a loss happen in a series of phases until they come to terms with and accept the loss. Are you going through any of the following emotions? It will help to understand that your emotions are perfectly normal and common to other people going through loss.
However, remember that while this is the general process of grieving, the grieving experience differs from one person to another. Others may take time in one or two stages, others may skip a stage, and other people may not go through it in their sequential order.
Shock and denial
At the news of your loss, you may be in shock and fail to believe what you have heard or seen. You shut down. This is a defensive mechanism that keeps the shock and other overwhelming emotions under control.
With time, as reality gradually sets in, the feelings of frustration, helplessness, and hopelessness set in. These may eventually transform into anger at people, systems, objects, or a higher being.
This is a reflection back on the events that took place before the loss. Thoughts of what you could have done better come to mind.
Together with the realization that it is too late to do anything, the real pain and impact of the loss sets in. You feel overwhelmingly sad, you may cry, lack sleep, lose appetite, regret, feel lonely, and other signs of depression. Depression is usually the longest and most difficult stage for someone who is grieving.
Finally, you come to accept that there’s nothing that you can do to reverse your loss. You make peace with yourself, accept reality, draw meaning or value from the experience, learn to live with it, and move forward with your life.
The importance of self-care while grieving
Everyone’s grieving journey is unique to them depending on the community around them, their support system, personality, and other factors surrounding the loss. But one thing remains constant – the complexity of the emotions that come with grieving. If not taken care of, the grieving process can have a negative physical, emotional, and mental impact on an individual. This is why self-care during grief is necessary.
Self-care is more than just physical care. You need to take care of your mental and emotional well-being to get back to your normal life. Effective self-care accelerates your healing process and helps you experience more joy and build a positive attitude towards life.
Tips on how to self-care while grieving
As we have seen, the grieving process is unique to individuals. Here are some valuable tips to help you heal when grieving. What works for someone else may not necessarily work for you and this is okay. Grief affects your mental and emotional state. Therefore, you need to motivate yourself to practice self-care to be able to go through the grieving journey. Here are a few tips for taking care of your mental and emotional well-being during grief.
Give yourself time to grieve
Grief is intense, it takes a toll on you emotionally and physically. You need time to heal and get back on your feet and there is no defined timeframe for this. If you have particularly gone through a harrowing experience, you may need more time to grieve.
Feel the emotions and heal
Allow yourself to process the emotions that come with a loss. It may be the most difficult thing to do but it helps to find a meaningful channel to experience and express your emotions. This could be through talking, reading, journaling, music, or workouts. Eventually, you will come to terms with the loss and move forward with life.
Avoid the temptation of taking more responsibilities to suppress your emotions as this would mean postponing them for later and it may be harder dealing with them then.
Pursue the things that give you joy
Even if you feel like you’ve lost interest in doing the things you used to enjoy, know that doing them makes you feel better. You can plan a daily or weekly schedule for the activities provided you are consistent. Whetherit is baking, singing, reading, playing an instrument, taking a nature walk, or swimming, give your favorite pastime a priority. This does not only help you to express your emotions but also feel better and heal faster.
Talk it out, it is therapeutic
Find friends and family that you are close to who truly understand you and open up to them. Even if you don’t feel like discussing what you are going through, you could talk about anything else to help get your mind off things. The idea is to avoid socially withdrawing which can slow down your healing process.
Speak kindly to yourself
Grief can make you feel like you are entirely responsible for the loss. Don’t be hard on yourself. Be kinder to yourself. This is the time to love, console, and try to find meaning from the loss.
We all agree that grieving can be draining. You may not function normally. Do not shy off from asking for or accepting offers of help from others. Whether it is an offer to spend time together with friends or family or help with work. Also, being specific about the help and support you need will help you to be comfortable when being helped. You need help and support because these will accelerate your healing. A great support system around you helps you to get through your pain.
Physical self-care during grief
Grief can cause physical exhaustion and deny you appetite, rest, and quality sleep. For this reason, it is essential to take care of your physical health during grief. Some things you can do includes:
Regularly exercising and relaxation
Whether it is relaxation exercises like yoga and meditation or endurance exercises like aerobics, exercise helps calm your mind and body. You can also choose movement like swimming, running, strolling, brisk walking, or even simply cleaning or tidying up your space. If you enjoy these activities, they will certainly relax your mind and give you some form of fulfillment.
Eating healthy food
Eating nutritionally balanced meals and staying hydrated throughout the day are highly recommended. Also, try to reduce your caffeine intake, especially in the afternoon hours as it is bound to have a disruptive effect on your sleep.
Getting enough sleep
Be intentional about going to bed early and getting enough sleep. Sleep is one of the best remedies for healing from grief. Don’t feel guilty about sleeping more hours during your time of grief. Sleeping more is perfectly okay but the opposite can have negative effects on your health.
Sleep deprivation affects your function by weakening your senses and cognitive ability. Finally, to encourage yourself to have peaceful sleep, create a cool, dark, soothing sleep environment in your bedroom.
Going outdoors, breathing fresh air
When going through grief, you may often find yourself sitting in a slouched or hunched posture which affects your breathing because your rib cage is hindered from allowing enough air supply to your lungs. A quiet time outdoors, meditation and routine mindfulness breathing exercises are not just powerful stress and anxiety relief tools but will also help you gain back control over your body and mind.
Not neglecting personal hygiene
Taking care of yourself during grief also means maintaining your hygiene. You may not quite feel like a major hygiene routine. Don’t stress. Basic hygiene like brushing your teeth, and hair, changing your bedding, and taking regular showers or hot baths will go a long way to make you feel better and more refreshed.
Myths and facts about self-care while grieving
You’ll be surprised by the misconceptions that surround grief and self-care. Let’s demystify six common grief and loss myths.
Myth 1: It will soon be over.
Fact: You may have to live all your life grieving your loss and this is not exactly a bad thing! However, as time goes by, you accept (not forget) the loss and your emotions become less overwhelming and more manageable.
Myth 2: Women grieve more than men.
Fact: Grief is unique to individuals and not common to gender. While women will be seen as more expressive of their emotions, men ought to be allowed to do the same without being judged as weak.
Myth 3: You only grieve at the loss of a loved one.
Fact: People grieve at the death of loved ones, loss of relationships, loss of property, loss of pets, loss of function or ability, loss of finances/investments, leaving home, graduation, job change, and much more.
Myth 4: If you didn’t cry, you didn’t grieve.
Fact: Crying is not the only emotion associated with grief. Others emotions include anger, sadness, depression, anxiety, frustration, despair, and loneliness among others. Not everyone cries in response to grief.
Myth 5: Toddlers and infants are too young to grieve.
Fact: Any child that can feel and respond to love is old enough to grieve. Their emotions may be expressed differently for instance through aggressive behavior and disturbed sleep patterns but they do grieve.
Myth 6: Anticipatory grief is less intense.
Fact: Anticipatory grief can be as intense as other forms of grief only that grieving and the emotions that come with grieving may be felt more overwhelmingly before a significant loss.
Myth 7: Grieving is mourning.
Fact: Mourning is just one of the many responses to grief. Grief is the collection of emotions that someone experiences over time after a significant loss. Mourning is an expression of grief.
Myth 8: You can get through grief by ignoring the pain.
Fact: Ignoring does not end grief, it simply suppresses the emotions which may resurface later when triggered by another event. Healing is a process and ignoring grief is not part of it. Others will bottle up emotions only to turn to other avenues like substance abuse to cope. That’s why it’s important to establish a self care while grieving plan.
Myth 9: Everyone goes through the five stages of grieving.
Fact: There is no laid down formula or timeline for grieving. Some may skip a stage or two as others linger in a grieving stage, while still others may go through grieving without necessarily following the sequential order of the grieving stages.
Myth 10: The less you talk about it the faster you get over it.
Fact: Choosing not to talk about grief is like social withdrawal. You deny yourself the chance to interact with the emotions that come with a loss. Talking helps you to process the grip.
Your grief self-care plan
Are you wondering how to look after yourself when grieving and mourning? Here are a few steps to guide you.
- Accept that you need help. You are better off going through the grieving process with the help and support of others.
- Identify your needs and values to determine how best you can be supported in your grieving journey. This will also help your family, friends, and other professionals to know how to handle you in your time of need.
- Organize your support system or let someone who knows you well do it for you. After, delegate some responsibilities to give yourself ample time to go through the most difficult moment of your life.
- Create your boundaries. There are times when you will need your alone moments and others when you will need people around you. Be honest and communicate what you like and what you don’t. Take utter importance on your own self care while grieving.
- Develop a routine for the activities that you like doing. This will help you take your mind off grieving.
- Talk to resources around you. Which resources can you easily access? Friends? Family? Professional help? Gym? Church? A park? Counseling perhaps? Community forums? Focus groups? Do your research and find out what’s available to you.
Grief is one of the most difficult experiences anyone can ever go through. It comes with mixed overwhelming emotions that people are sometimes too shocked or confused to process. Other times it occurs so suddenly it leaves someone in shock, surprise, or frustration. While it may be the hardest thing to do, allowing yourself to feel and process the emotions that come with grief will help you to eventually be at peace with and accepting the irreversible loss.
It is essential to remember that there is no formula for grieving. Grieving is unique. We hope that the self-care while grieving tips we have provided in this article will help you during your time of grief. Most importantly, take time and walk your journey however long it will take, and never be sorry about it because healing takes time.