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Prevent The Negative Health Impacts of Grief

by Laura Slap-Shelton, Psy.D.

reprinted with permission from

Studies have shown that the bereaved, particularly in the early stages of grieving, are at risk for a greater number of health problems for a combination of both internal and external secondary effects of the loss. Some studies have indicated that the immune system can be weakened by the impact of a significant loss. Some studies have shown an increased risk for cancer and other studies have shown increases in infectious disorders. The increased stress following a loss can lead to high blood pressure which can lead to heart disease. Negative changes in life style following a death can also lead to poor health. These changes can include lack of sleep, increased or beginning to drink as a means of coping with emotions, using drugs to cope with emotions, driving recklessly, and engaging in risk taking behaviors in response to loss, not eating in response to loss, isolating from others as a means of coping with strong emotions, and smoking or increasing smoking as a means of coping with emotions.

As hard as it is to think about yourself at the time of a significant loss, it is important to take care of yourself both in order to handle the difficult the emotions and many adjustments you will be making, and also because for many of us there are others who care about and depend on us. Here are some ideas for reducing stress and maintaining a healthy life style as you go through the roller coaster of emotions and chaos of change resulting from loss. The overall message is to reduce stress and to build in supports for your physical as well as your emotional health. Here are some ideas which may be helpful.

1) Try to get enough sleep. This may mean taking cat naps during the day if you are experiencing insomnia. If your insomnia is severe consider seeing your physician for some medication.

2) Attend a yoga class or learn some relaxing yoga stretches which you can practice on a daily basis.

3) Attend an exercise class on a bi-weekly basis.

4) Drink alcohol only in company and in moderation if at all.

5) Do not start new bad habits such as smoking.

6) Wear your seat belt when driving. Drive carefully. Pull off the road if suddenly overwhelmed by grief and always drive with a box of tissues.

7) Do not over schedule your time.

8) Find a bereavement support group and attend regularly.

9) Create a special space where you can go to meditate and reflect and feel connected with the person you are grieving.

10) Create down time for yourself in which you will not be disturbed.

11) Find books and writers which support you during this time.

12) Keep a journal of your feelings and experiences and dreams.

13) Write a letter to the person you are grieving.

14) Try to go out with a friend at least once a week. Start small with a lunch or breakfast. When you are ready try a movie or dinner.

15) Get out in nature. Take a hike. Go canoeing.

16) Reconnect with your religious community and see what your religion may offer in the way of guidance and understanding, as well as community support.

17) Create a memorial for your loved one.

18) Create a charity in honor of your loved one.

19) Contribute to a charity connected with your loved one.

20) When you're ready dare to laugh. Find a funny book, movie or comedy album. Don't feel guilty.

21) Breathe Breathe Breathe. Do deep breathing exercises on a daily basis.

22) If you are suddenly a single parent, find ways to have time to yourself. Find a babysitter or ask a friend to take your children for a few hours during the week.

23) Find a support group for families which can help you as you help your children through the grief process.

24) Check the symptoms of depression. If you have several of them consider seeing a psychologist, social worker or psychiatrist who is able to help you with depression.

Whatever you do, remember to be kind to yourself. Reduce your stress, and give yourself the freedom to mourn and heal.

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