I write a lot about grief. It is so powerful and deeply misunderstood in our culture. Patients come into my office asking for prescriptions to take away their grief (if only I had one!). Whether you are experiencing the loss of a loved one, divorce, a break up, estrangement from a family member, loss of a pet, or loss of a job—grieving is very real. It is the natural reaction to losing anything important to us. It is a thick cascade of emotions and symptoms that tend to move up and down, never in a linear fashion. There is no normal amount of time to grieve, or certain way it should look.
Common symptoms of grief include:
- Crying and sighing
- Irritability and anger
- Excessive sleep, or difficulty sleeping
- Feelings of unreality
- Changes in appetite (either increased or decreased)
- Headaches, stomach aches, or nausea
- Feeling needy
- Feeling withdrawn
- Many mental health conditions will be exacerbated significantly in grief.
Accepting the process and also knowing that these symptoms are normal is step one. I remember feeling like I was going crazy while my mom was sick. I didn’t know that forgetfulness was common, and I remember a day standing in the shower totally numb and confused, suddenly remembering I had showered only a couple hours before.
There are no shortcuts–grief is something we have to move through. The darkness that accompanies grief is the way to healing. I have found though that there are specific strategies that can support the body through grief, to make the process gentler.
- Slow down. You are not capable of tackling the same amount that you could before this loss. You have less energy and resources right now because a lot of your energy is tied up in grief. Cut your task list down to the core essentials. Plan less. Leave things flexible. At 10am, you don’t know if you will have the energy to meet a friend for dinner at 6pm. Allow yourself space to just be as you are, with no pressure to show up as much as is possible. Prioritize the things that must be done and leave the rest. Soften your standards right now.
- Be very gentle with your appetite at this time, and remember it is normal for it to fluctuate. If you truly have no appetite, honor that space. If you listen to your body there are often certain food that will taste good even if you aren’t particularly hungry at a mealtime. For me, it was sweet watery things like fresh fruit and smoothies. Soup also was always easy to chew and digest. If you’re on the other end of the spectrum and feel like you have an insatiable appetite, honor that too. Try to eat whole foods with room for comfort and indulgences. This phase won’t last forever, and food is nothing to worry about right now. I ate a tremendous amount of processed food and takeout in the year after my mom died, and that was ok. What I had the energy to start cooking again, I did and it felt good.
- Emotions flow with movement. Moving can help your body catch up with your mind and psyche as you process everything that is changing. For me, it was taking long walks. I would get out bed, put my shoes on without thinking about it, and walk around my neighborhood every day. I started doing yoga again, and noticed an hour of relief most days during that time. Sometimes I would cry when I walked or did yoga, and that’s normal too. Our bodies hold onto emotions, and often they will start to release as we move. Its ok. Let it go.
- Calm your nervous system—it is literally fried with the psychological stress of grieving. Naturopathic medicine has MANY amazing tools for calming your nervous system. Working with a holistic doctor can help with figuring out what will work best in your body. Some of my favorite tools include hot Epsom salt baths, sitting in a sauna, setting a timer and breathing, drinking lemon balm and passionflower tea, CBD oil, diffusing lavender in the house, getting a massage, taking an extra shower, magnesium, reducing caffeine, and getting as much sleep as possible.
There is no right way to get through grief. Knowing the normal symptoms can make a big difference in moving through the process, but it doesn’t make it go away. I recommend reaching out to a qualified healthcare practitioner who is educated about grief to figure out what is normal and what isn’t, and to make a treatment plan specific to you.