This post is written from a personal perspective with the hopes that it may help someone who is experiencing the loss of a loved one. The loss of my brother, aged 48 , in October was an extremely stressful time. Its was also not the first time I have lost a sibling, my sister had died in 2001. However, what was different is how I have reacted and been able to support myself physically and emotionally as well as accepting the support of others. This in turn has helped me reflect and work through the turmoil of emotions. I guess this comes with maturity. Grief never goes away , it simply changes, but as we are going through the process and transition we need to support our bodies and minds in order to ensure healthy outcomes.
How can we help ourselves through this?
When we experience the loss of a loved one it brings intense, crushing grief that can have not only negative mental effects, but physical effects too. These can include increased risk of heart attack, joint & muscle pain, and intense digestive disruption. For me, it was a constant headache and very blurred vision as well as triggering Rheumatoid arthritis in my hands. This is due to the overwhelming amount of stress hormones being released into the body. This stress response is inevitable, but we can make ourselves more resilient and help ourselves through the process, helping to dampen down the negative effects of such intense stress.
Unfortunately, we often feel we don’t have time to grieve, it can be a very busy and pressing time with so much to do and in a short amount of time, along with keeping family and work commitments. It can be tough, but this is not a time to please others, this is where you can hone in on delegation skills and prioritise commitments.
Take time for yourself to deal with the initial grief and shock. You have a ton of people calling and messaging all day, take time away from the chaos, people can wait. In the morning, before seeing anyone else I would lie in bed, staring into the garden, having my own “moment”. This is the time I could take stock of how I was feeling emotionally. I could also take note of how my body was reacting and take action in supporting it.
Supplements. Our adrenals need a helping hand . To support the adrenals we require Vitamin C, B vitamins and Magnesium. I also highly recommend using an adaptogen- These are herbs that support the adrenal system and help the body adapt to stressful situations. Personally I like to use Rhodiola, a plant found in the mountains of Europe and Asia. I can honestly say It has helped get me through stressful times mentally and physically. I wouldn't have been able to focus at all without it. Other adaptogens to consider are Ashwagandha, Cordyceps, Holy Basil and Maca. (check for drug interactions before use).
Eat Nourishing food. You may not feel like eating at all, but this is a demanding time and your body needs the support and nourishment. Even if you have something small at the beginning of the day this will help your body deal with the stress response. Stress can also trigger cravings for sugar and fat, which is why you reach for feel-good food. Yet these foods can make you feel worse. Try stick to eating plenty of vegetables, fruits, and lean proteins, and drinking plenty of water. Stay clear of coffee, its not going to benefit you and will only increase the adrenal response.
Rest. Grief is emotionally exhausting. After a loss, people often find that their sleep is disrupted- you may have trouble falling asleep, wake up in the middle of the night, or sleep too much. Simply keeping regular hours, getting into bed early and resting will be a great help. Try a hot Epsom salts bath to relax the body or some calming music.
Gentle exercise.The motivation to get off the couch or out of bed may be seriously lacking, especially once all the details are taken care of and people have stopped calling/coming round, but it’s a big part of keeping yourself resilient. A simple daily walk can help ease depression, agitation, and sorrow related to grief. Thai chi, yoga, Qigong are all great exercises that actually help negate stress.
Simply being in nature is powerfully healing for both the mind and the soul. It helps us feel grounded, eases anxiety and reminds us that life and death are cyclical, this can help us in coming to terms with our loss.
Accept help from your community. People who care about you want to help. Be it financially - funeral costs can be expensive! Physically - they can help organise a service or put incoming family up in their home, or emotionally - you will need a shoulder to cry on and someone to listen. Whether its offered or you ask, if someone is there and able to help, accept it. You may be surprised by who reaches out, sometimes it not who you would expect. By not accepting help you are doing yourself a disservice and alienating yourself from what is possibly the most important thing in getting you through this time, your community and tribe.
Check in and take note of how you are Breathing . When we are stressed we tend to have a shallow, more rapid breathing pattern. This keeps our body in a stress response and prevents adequate oxygen getting to the organs and our brain. This has an impact on our mental state, leading to anxiety and worsening the lingering feelings of depression. Take a few deep breaths- this turns on the calming side of the nervous system and helps the body relax.
Another thing I learned is to simply cry, whenever, wherever, I just let it come. Take no note of other people’s reactions, they aren’t a part of this journey and have their own stuff to deal with.
Once all the funeral and family details have been taken care of you can retreat and nurture yourself in what feels the best way for you, but by keeping up with the above suggestions as well as talking about the loved one you have lost and about how you are feeling, you can help yourself and family move on in a healthier way.
Kerry Fugard is a Functional Nutritional therapist based in Vaud , Switzerland. In practice she focuses on mental health, gut health and women's health. Personal consultations can be done in person or virtually, and she regularly holds group talks and cooking demos with her chef husband- you can find out more about her practice Nutri 360 here.
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