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Self-care when you’re grieving

When you’re grieving, sometimes it’s easy to forget about looking after yourself. But remembering to care for yourself when you’re grieving can make a big difference to your wellbeing.

Although self-care has come to mean spending money (think: expensive spa treatments or buying new things), it’s actually about taking care of yourself, mentally and physically. That doesn’t have to cost a lot (or anything) and can make a huge difference to your wellbeing at a challenging time.

Here are some self-care ideas when you’re grieving.

Te whare tapa whā, the Māori holistic model of health, is relevant during grief. It reminds us to focus on all four dimensions of our wellbeing:

  • Taha tinana (physical wellbeing)
  • Taha hinengaro (mental wellbeing)
  • Taha wairua (spiritual wellbeing)
  • Taha whānau (family wellbeing)

It’s a beautiful reminder to nourish each of these dimensions when dealing with grief.

Illustration of Te whare tapa whā the Maori holistic model of health

Self-care when your whole life is tipped upside down

After a loss and when you’re dealing with waves of feelings, it can feel like your whole life has changed, overnight. It’s normal for you to experience sleeping problems (like too much or too little sleep) and eating issues (like not eating enough or eating unhealthily). Some people might turn to alcohol or drugs to try to numb their feelings. All of this can make you feel even worse.

Here are some simple ways to care for yourself when you’re grieving:

Take each day at a time

No two days will be the same. You can expect to have good days and not-so-good days. Try to focus on each day as it comes. If you can, small achievable goals can be a good way to get some structure back into your days, something like ‘I will shower every day’ or ‘I will make sure to eat lunch’.

Talk about what you’re feeling

Your whānau, friends and loved ones will want to help, but they might not know what to do. Tell them what you find helpful, like ‘I appreciate it when you message me every morning’ or ‘I appreciate it when you deliver my groceries’. Also tell them when you’re struggling so they can provide a helpful listening ear. Surround yourself with your people, if and when you need them.

Get enough sleep

Prioritise your sleep. Getting enough of it will equip you for the days ahead. You could start a bedtime routine, like switching off your phone at a certain time, or making yourself a warm drink. Try to relax before bed, whether that’s an episode of your favourite show, reading a few chapters of a book or learning to meditate.

Other healthy sleep tips include avoiding screens in the bedroom, keeping the bedroom only for sleeping (and not working) and making the room as dark and quiet as possible.

Eat well

Kai / food is so important to your wellbeing. It can boost your mood and energy. If you forget to eat, your blood sugar can drop, causing you to feel tired, irritable and depressed. You can nourish yourself by:

  • Always eating breakfast if possible, especially slow release energy kai / food like oats and wholegrain bread and cereals.
  • Trying to eat smaller meals regularly throughout the day, rather than eating a big lunch and dinner.
  • Keeping kai / food that causes your blood sugar to rise and fall rapidly to occasional treats. Think sweets, biscuits, sugary drinks and alcohol.
Reach out for support

Grief can feel overwhelming and isolating. Talking to a trained professional can help you on your grief journey and can go beyond the support your whānau and friends can provide. Kenzie’s Gift helps young Kiwis and their whānau affected by serious illness or grief through providing 1-on-1 therapy with registered mental health professionals.

We’ve rounded up some Aotearoa organisations who also provide great support – take a look.