Engaging in yoga and other wellness activites when grieving can help make the coping process after the death of a loved one much more manageable.

Wellness Activities and Their Role in Recharging the Body to Handle Grief

by Ron Davis, LSW, MSW

Published November 28th, 2016

The reality is that deep down, most of us, when faced with grief, ignore warning signs that we are beginning to feel overwhelmed. Additionally, we tend to deny ourselves the proper self-care that’s required to properly recharge and handle grief.

Tell me: have you ever felt tired from lack of sleep and say to yourself, “This is normal, I should just suck it up and push through it.”? You’re not alone. Grief impacts us in many ways. How we deal with this grief varies.

When grieving, you must take the time to invest in your personal self-care and recharge your body. Tweet

The most common response when dealing with grief is to push through and deal with it. This can be costly when attempting to manage grief, as the effects can linger and lead to greater problems if not properly managed. Some common characteristics of being worn down or overwhelmed during grief include:

  1. Changes in appetite (undereating or overeating)

  2. Decreased concentration when working on a task

  3. Lack of interest

  4. Withdrawal from social situations or family members

  5. Mood swings

  6. Sleep changes (oversleep and/or lack of sleep)

Amazingly, many of us choose to work through it, seek medical advice via a doctor, or seek out an alternative medical treatment. The good news is that research is showing very positive effects from wellness-based activities. Even better, you don't have to commit a lot of time to many of the activities.

Below are some common types of wellness activities that might help with self-care when dealing with grief.

Yoga can be a powerful tool in helping your body, mind, and spirit recharge while grieving.

Yoga

Yoga is an ancient practice that is more than people in tight leggings. Participating in yoga practice teaches deep breathing and helps alleviate muscle tension. This counteracts symptoms of grief, as the body is more prone to muscle pulls when under stress. In fact, one common side effect of stress is increased muscle tension.

Anxiety can be alleviated through deep breathing practiced within yoga. Studies show that 30 minutes of yoga practice with effective breathing techniques lowers blood pressure and helps increase blood flow — both of which help regulate your body’s functioning and can help fight off colds.

Physical exercise has been proven to help reduce stress, improve mood, and be of general aid when processing the difficult emotions of grief.

Any Type of Physical Activity

The caveat here is it must be continuous and rigorous enough of an activity to get your heart rate above the resting rate. The best indicator as to whether or not the activity is rigorous enough is if you would be uncomfortable if you tried to have a verbal conversation with another person during the activity.

Doing this activity for 30 minutes helps produce insulin in the body and releases endorphins which awaken the mind and body, stabilize mood, and increase your body’s metabolism. The best part here is the after effect, which can last for up to 4 hours after the activity.

If walking is your activity of choice, you should also do this at a faster rate than normal; if you would struggle to have a conversation via a cell phone call, then you are at the right pace.

These can be broken up as well. For example, I routinely will take 10-minute walks at 2-3 different points in the day. This provides the same benefit as continuous activity.

The next time you have a headache or feel a sudden heaviness coming over you, instead of going to coffee or pain relievers, try to take a walk. Many headaches are caused by reduced blood flow to the brain; walking helps remedy this. And don’t be afraid to do these activities with a friend; this provides emotional relief and induces positive mood.

When grieving, getting plenty of sleep is crucial to ensure your body and mind are prepared and healthy to cope with the emotions you'll experience during the grief journey.

Sleep/Rest

More often than not, in times of grief or stress, sleep is the first thing that we deprive our bodies of. As it turns out, sleep plays a pivotal role in maintaining our body’s ability to handle stress and grief.

Research states you should aim for 8 hours of sleep. However, when dealing with grief or stress, this may not be an option. Your true aim should be to have a quiet, peaceful time where you put your eyes and body at rest.

In fact, studies show that even 20-minute naps at multiple points in the day can provide just as much benefit as 8 hours of continuous sleep.

Laughter is good for the whole person, and especially important when coping with grief.

Laughter

A recent Japanese study showed that participants that reported at least 10 minutes of laughter during the day showed an increase in production of melatonin, which aids the body in sleep.

Be careful and stay away from suspenseful movies as they can produce negative effects such as decreased blood flow, increased blood pressure, sleeplessness and high anxiety. I can testify to this one as I once made a bad choice in choosing to watch American Sniper before I went to bed one evening. At the end, I had a sleepless night and was wishing I chose differently.

Whether you find that yoga, more frequent laughter, or enjoying regular walks works for you, know that your grief is unique and that you must allow yourself to feel what you need to feel in order to begin the path toward healing. Whatever healthy activity helps you feel at ease and at rest, pursue it, and truly invest in caring for yourself during this time of grief.

Are there activities that you’ve found work for you? What techniques and exercises would you recommend to others who may be grieving at this time? We’d love to know more about your grief recovery journey in the comments below!

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About Ron Davis

Ron Davis, LSW, MSW is the Support Services Director at Crossroads Hospice and Palliative Care in Green, OH.

Ron Davis, LSW, MSW

Support Services Director at Crossroads Hospice and Palliative Care in Green, OH

Ron Davis, LSW, MSW is the Support Services Director at Crossroads Hospice and Palliative Care in Green, OH. In addition to his dedicated work with patients and caregivers, Ron is an Assistant Professor at the University of Akron and is a proud board member of The Grief Care Place in Stow, Ohio. Ron enjoys helping others pursue improved health and wellness, writing, and spending time with his wife and two boys.

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