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Self-Care During Grief

In addition to the emotional toll of grief, parents often experience a variety of mental, physical, and spiritual effects. Grief can make it hard to do even the simplest task. Parents may find it almost impossible to take care of themselves in the midst of grief. But, finding small ways to fight the effects of grief is important for moving forward and gaining strength.

Effects of grief on cognitive health

Grief can also affect cognitive function, or the ability to think, remember, and process information. Cognitive symptoms of grief often arise immediately following loss. Parents say that they are in a “mental fog” in the early days and weeks of grief. Cognitive symptoms common during the grieving process include:

  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing
  • Short attention span
  • Confusion
  • Inability to process facts and details accurately
  • Forgetfulness and problems with memory

Many of these symptoms will go away on their own. When possible, parents may want to avoid making major decisions during this period. Take care when driving a car, operating any heavy machinery, or doing other potentially dangerous activities that require concentration. Find ways to help memory by using lists and reminders. Break up tasks into smaller steps to make it easier to focus. Ask for help from friends and family.

Effects of grief on physical health

Grief also can manifest itself physically in the body. While grieving, it is common to experience a variety of physical symptoms such as:

  • Fatigue or exhaustion
  • The desire to oversleep or difficulty sleeping
  • Changes in appetite
  • Susceptibility to illness and infections
  • Muscle tension
  • Pain such as headaches and backaches

There are a number of ways to counteract some of the physical symptoms of grief:

  • Eat balanced meals
  • Avoid junk food
  • Be physically active
  • Limit intake of alcohol
  • Practice regular hygiene
  • Get enough rest

Effects of grief on spiritual health

During grief, it's also common to experience spiritual challenges including:

  • A crisis of confidence in religious or spiritual beliefs or questioning faith.
  • Anger that this was allowed to happen.
  • Difficulty understanding the meaning behind the loss.
  • Struggles processing the idea of life or life without the child.

Parents can address spiritual concerns in a variety of ways. Some people may choose to seek religious or spiritual counsel from a spiritual leader or mentor. Writing in a journal, prayer, meditation, music, and art can also offer an outlet for spiritual issues. Books on grief that incorporate faith can also be helpful to give parents a perspective from others who have been through a similar experience.

Man meditating with hands in prayer

Practice deep breathing, meditation, or yoga.

Ideas for self-care

Grief touches every aspect of life. Coping day to day is challenging, and small steps are key. Finding practical, doable ways to take care of oneself provides hope and healing, little by little.

Here are some ideas for self-care that parents have found helpful:

  • Take a warm bath. This can be soothing and help with physical symptoms of grief and stress.
  • Keep a journal with feelings and memories of the child. Continuing to express love can be therapeutic.
  • Find a regular afternoon or evening to do an activity or spend time with a friend.
  • Do something creative or something that allows you to use your talents and provides a sense of self.
  • Buy a gift for yourself or a loved one, and have it wrapped.
  • Wrap up in a warm blanket with a favorite tea or warm drink.
  • Listen to music.
  • Ditch “to do” lists. Instead, make a list of what’s been done over the course of the day.
  • Take care of a plant or pet.
  • Practice deep breathing, meditation, or yoga.
  • Spend time in nature.
  • Take a walk.
  • Join a support group.

Importance of support

No one should go through grief alone. While time helps many of the symptoms of grief, the support of another person provides additional strength. It can help to talk with a trusted family member or friend about the symptoms of grief and ways to manage them. Mental health professionals are also available to listen and provide encouragement and resources.

Reviewed: June 2018