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Why Staying Healthy While Grieving Should Be a Priority

Losing someone is one of our most challenging experiences. The subsequent grief often leads to neglecting personal health. Here are ways to protect and prioritize your health and well-being.

Don't Sacrifice Your Health When You're Grieving

Losing someone dear to us is undoubtedly one of our most challenging experiences. For many of us, the subsequent grief often leads to neglecting personal health. Here are ways to protect and prioritize your health and well-being. 

At Afterall, we've observed firsthand the toll grief takes. It's not uncommon for people in mourning to bypass their routine doctor's visits, surrender to overwhelming fatigue, or overlook their medications. The sorrow and exhaustion can unconsciously draw one to unhealthy dietary choices as a form of solace. Even those who once led healthy lives find themselves deviating from their routines. 

Focusing on your health and well-being is not disrespectful to your departed loved one — they would have wanted you to live as healthfully as possible. Grief is already a blow to your physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Now is the time to take care of yourself. 

Grief is Stressful, and Stress is not Healthy

The stress of losing a loved one has tangible effects on your body. 

Research has consistently highlighted the profound impact of grief on health. A study from JAMA Internal Medicine revealed that individuals aged 60 and above experienced over double the risk of a stroke or heart attack within a month of losing their partner, in contrast to those who hadn't encountered such a loss. Similarly, the American Heart Association's journal, Circulation, emphasized that the likelihood of a heart attack peaked within the first 24 hours following losing a loved one. This risk was higher for those already dealing with cardiovascular issues.

Moreover, various studies have underscored the association between mourning and health challenges such as sleep disturbances, alterations in the immune system, and an elevated risk of forming blood clots.

Simple Ways You Can Destress No Matter Where You Are 

Managing stress is crucial for both mental and physical well-being. Here are several techniques to help alleviate stress at your desk, home, parked car, or wherever you can take a few moments alone. 

  • Deep Breathing: Slow, deep breaths can help lower blood pressure and heart rate. Try the 4-7-8 technique. Inhale for four counts, hold for seven and exhale for eight counts.
  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Tense and gradually release each muscle group in your body, starting from your toes and moving up to your head.
  • Mindfulness: The "5-4-3-2-1" method, where you identify five things you can see, four you can touch, three you can hear, two you can smell, and one you can taste, is an effective way to stay present.
  • Meditation: Whether guided meditation, mindfulness practices, or transcendental meditation, finding a method that resonates with you can help calm your mind.

Stick with Nutritionally Dense Foods

Grief has a surprising way of influencing our appetite, intensifying our cravings for caffeine, alcohol, and comfort foods rich in sugar and fat. Are fast foods becoming a mainstay in your daily meals? Are you leaning too much on wine, beer, or cocktails? It might be time to re-evaluate. A more balanced diet with ample water, fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins will strengthen you as you work through grief.

Follow the Mediterranean Approach to Healthy Eating

The traditional dietary patterns of countries along the Mediterranean Sea, such as Greece, Italy, and southern Spain, inspire the Mediterranean diet. It emphasizes whole foods, heart-healthy fats, and a balanced approach to eating. A Mediterranean diet has several health benefits, including improved heart health, weight loss, and reduced risk of chronic diseases.

Eat More:

  • Vegetables and fruits
  • Lentils, beans, chickpeas, and other legumes 
  • Whole grains
  • Healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, and seeds 
  • Fish and seafood, salmon, sardines, and mackerel
  • Herbs and spices over salt and processed additives 

Eat Less:

  • Poultry, eggs, and dairy
  • Red meat
  • Processed foods high in unhealthy fats, added sugar, and artificial ingredients 

Stay Active

Exercise can act as a stress reliever. Whether it's walking, running, yoga, or any other activity, moving can release endorphins, which are natural stress relievers. For motivation, consider inviting a friend to join. Here are some simple ways to incorporate activity while navigating grief:

  • Short Walks: Begin with brief walks around your neighborhood or a local park. The fresh air and change of scenery can be therapeutic.
  • Gentle Stretching: Simple morning or before-bed stretches can alleviate tension and help you feel more connected to your body.
  • Gardening: Tending to plants or starting a small garden can be physically engaging and emotionally soothing.
  • Yoga or Tai Chi: Both practices are gentle on the body and can provide emotional and spiritual healing.
  • Dancing: Put on your favorite music and dance for just one song. It's a way to connect with joyful memories and emotions.
  • Pets: If you have a pet, playing with them or taking them for walks can provide comfort and activity.
  • Cleaning and Organizing: Cleaning or organizing a space can be a pulse-boosting activity and provide a sense of control and accomplishment.

Commit to doing a little bit each day, even just a few minutes. Gradually, you can increase the duration as you feel up to it. (Check with your healthcare provider before starting any physical exercise program.)

Proper Sleep Hygiene

Grief can severely disrupt sleep. It's essential to maintain regular sleep patterns and avoid known sleep disruptors like alcohol, sugar, caffeine, and digital devices. The blue light emitted from your phone, tablet, computer, or television may interfere with your ability to sleep soundly for ultimate rest. 

Bedtime Boosting Tips

  • Take a warm shower or bath in the evening.
  • Keep your bedroom as cool, dark, and quiet as possible.
  • Use your phone or tablet to play white noise or soothing music, but darken the screen.
  • Avoid social media or the news 30 minutes before settling into sleep.
  • If you don’t fall asleep fairly soon, get up and read. Some people find warm milk or non-caffeinated herbal tea helpful.

Seek Support

The journey of grief is never one to tread alone. Being around empathetic individuals can offer a comforting perspective, whether it's friends, family, or grief support groups.

At Afterall, we believe our duty extends beyond the funeral service. Our resources, designed to aid those navigating grief, are available for everyone – even if we haven't had the privilege to serve your family directly. Our dedicated staff is always at the ready, ensuring you have the support you need during these trying times. Find one of our nearby providers here.

While you're navigating your own grief journey, you may also have children looking up to you for guidance. For tips on understanding how kids process grief, take a look at our article Tiny Hearts, Big Feelings: 5 Myths About How Kids Handle Grief.