Self-care gets a bad rap sometimes. In our me-focused society, just the word can trigger feelings or impressions of selfishness, time-wasting activities, self-indulgence, narcissism, and wasteful extravagance. While self-care may indeed balloon into all of those, the self-care I’m referring to is the type of care you need in order to successfully navigate the grief process, in order to return to the living.
So let’s look at good self-care that helps you heal.
1) Don’t rush! The first and most important thing to recognize is that you shouldn’t try to rush through (or allow someone else to push you through) the grieving. Remind yourself that this will be a one-step-at-a-time process. When my grandmother was hit by a car while walking to the bus stop, she suffered a severely fractured leg that required a plate to replace the pulverized bone they had to remove. After she lay in a coma for three days, she first needed to heal physically, and then it took her two long, frustrating years to learn to walk again. Her youngest son had to leave their California home to live with his much older, married-with-kids sister in Iowa for two years. Both literally and figuratively, my grandmother had to return to living one slow, and sometimes painful step at a time.
So tack that up on a wall at eye level, or tape it to your bathroom mirror: “This is going to take time!”
2) You’re priceless. Remind yourself how valuable you are to God—He wants to see you through this—and how valuable you are to others who need you to get through this.
3) Choose contact wisely. Avoid contact with people who are not contributing positively to your healing, or at least keep the contact with them to a minimum. (Some of your friends and family members may actually harm and thwart your healing.)
4) Journaling. Buy a journal and journal your pain, your thoughts, your heartache no matter how random those words might be or how confused they may sound. Cry out on paper.
5) Use your voice mail. If you aren’t in the mood or you lack the energy to converse with others, don’t apologize for it or chat with them out of feelings of guilt or responsibility. Leave a message on your answering machine/voice mail, thanking them for their call and telling them you’ll return the call when you’re feeling up to it. You might include something about how you’re doing, just to bring them up to speed, if you want.
6) Use your email. Activate your email auto-responder with a similar message so senders won’t expect an instant reply from you.
7) Beware of the television and Internet! While they can help you keep in touch with people or help burn hours, they can be addicting and brain numbing, neither of which will be to your long-term benefit. And watching either one within an hour or two of going to bed at night can severely disrupt your sleep and brain wave patterns.
8) Medication. Do not be fearful of asking your doctor for anti-anxiety or anti-depressives, but plan to take them for only a little time, (unless you have severe clinical depression and absolutely need them to survive). There are other highly effective ways to combat depression and anxiety. But using the prescription meds to take the edge off, especially in the beginning of your grief, can be helpful for healing.
9) Sleep aids. Consider using sleep aids, but beware of prescription medication. Again, using medicine like Ambien can seem helpful, but it doesn’t allow your brain to engage in deep, dream-stage sleep, which is what is needed. Again, there are other, more effective, healthier methods to combat insomnia. Over-the-counter melatonin can be a good option for some, but talk to your doctor first.
10) Pamper yourself. Yep, go to the spa, have a manicure, pedicure, facial, or massage. (Men, you should consider doing any or all of these things, too!) I’m not talking about you giving yourself a mani or a pedi, either. Have a trained aesthetician do the procedure. The health benefits of having someone give you these types of treatments are astounding. There really is power in physical touch. And there are psychological benefits of getting yourself fixed up and looking good. You are more likely to feel better about yourself.
Another benefit of going to a spa for treatment or having your hair done is that spa technicians and hair stylists are usually really great armchair psychologists and exceptional listeners. You’ll feel like you’ve had a combined beauty and brain treatment.
11) Animal benefits. If you have a pet, spend more time petting them, and giving them a massage! Research has shown that pet owners are usually healthier and have lower blood pressure (Read: Are more relaxed) than non-owners.
12) Eat right! AVOID SUGAR like you would avoid a highly contagious disease! Consuming sugar shuts down the immune system for several hours and leaves you vulnerable to infection. It also inflames your tissues, which is the exact opposite of what you want happening when you’re healing. Some people liken it to a poison. The more research I read about it, the more inclined I am to agree with them.
And consuming smaller meals every two hours keeps the digestive stress down in your organs, especially the pancreas and liver. Good fats and proteins; no fried foods; healthful veggies and a limited number of fruits, and very few or no fruit juices. Too much fruit sugar can negatively affect your blood sugar levels, which increases inflammation. And absolutely NO soda, diet or otherwise. (Diet soda is actually worse for you than the regular stuff.)
13) Sleep amounts. Get just the right amount of sleep: Not too much and not too little. When you’re in the initial stages of grief and loneliness, you will most likely need more, because it’s when you’re sleeping that the body heals itself. However, too much sleep isn’t good for you, either. Seven to nine hours is ideal. Women usually need more than men, and they’re more sensitive to nighttime sleep disruptions. If you can’t sleep, get up and read, or journal, or pray, but don’t turn on the television! That will only worsen your insomnia.
Be in bed by midnight, preferably 11:00 PM. Your body starts working to rid itself of toxins between the hours of 1:00-3:00 AM, and it can ONLY do that when you’re sleeping and are entered into a deeper sleep level. If you’re awake at those times, there’s no detoxification going on. Your body can’t do it. So your liver and digestive tract store that awful stuff, which can make you sick.
Make sure you sleep in a dark room. No lights from phones, (which should NOT be next to your bed), clocks, or nightlights. Consider getting room-darkening curtains. Otherwise, your body rhythms can be disrupted with unnatural light streaming in your windows and underneath your doors. That can also keep you from achieving optimal, deep brain wave sleep.
And drop the room temperature. Between 68 to 72 degrees is optimal. If you live in a really dry environment, get a humidifier revved up to 55% humidity. Below that percentage the ambient air sucks moisture out of your body, which means you’ll quickly become dehydrated, and your body will be working overtime to achieve internal physical and chemical balance. (Called homeostasis in science-speak.)
14) Be a kid again. Consider getting out your nap mat and taking a mid-afternoon snooze. Forty-five minutes to an hour-and-a-half is ideal, and only between the hours of 1:00-3:00 PM. Anything after that time, and definitely after 4:00 PM, will likely disrupt your evening sleep.
Along the lines of being a kid again, if you feel up to it, play. Do something silly or fun that has no intended goal. Laugh a lot. When is the last time you went to the park and slid down the slide? Made a sand castle at the beach? Have fun for the pleasure of having fun. Bonus: Play is important for good brain health, too!
15) Get up, shower, and get dressed. Even though you don’t feel like, get out of your jammies and nightgown and let the water cascade across the body. Put makeup on, do your hair, and put on nice, clean clothes. It’s great for not only the body but also for the soul.
16) Exercise. Getting exercise, as far as some neuroscientists are concerned, is actually more important for the brain than it is for the rest of the body. The organ that receives the biggest benefit from exercise is your brain. The exercise keeps the blood nourishing the brain, and keeps it alert and functioning well. Exercise tends to make you feel happy, especially with all of those morphine-like substances exercise releases running around in your body post-exercise, sometimes for more than a day (depending upon the exercise strenuousness). Choose something you like to do and do it, even if you don’t necessarily “feel” like it. If you’re feeling anti-social, get a DVD and exercise to it in the comfort and quiet of your own home. Purchase some low cost gym equipment you can set up in your house for convenience. Take frequent breaks to go work out on it, or just do some light stretching exercises.
Walking outside is probably premier exercise #1! The health benefits of getting outside, breathing fresh air and getting the blood pumping for 20-30 minutes can’t be praised enough. It’s one of the most highly recommended activities for people suffering depression. And it’s recommended that you get outside first thing in the morning. It elevates your mood and sets the stage for having a decent day. (And some statistics show that how you spend the first ten minutes of your day dictates how the rest of the day will go.)
So, walk. Walk alone or walk with a friend, especially one who won’t exhaust you by talking incessantly. If you want to talk incessantly, pick a friend who’s a great listener. Or listen to uplifting music while you’re walking. Or pray. (On a side note, this is an ideal time to pray for others. Praying for others helps distract you from your problems and actually makes you feel better emotionally. Use this time to nourish yourself physically, spiritually and emotionally. It’s great at accomplishing all three.
17) Counseling. Find a good counselor who will listen and guide your through the healing process. Having an outside ear and support system is valuable to your recovery.
And most important, ask the One who is in the caring business to guide you on this self-care journey. He knows what you need more than you, or your next-door, armchair doctor neighbor knows. God is an extravagant giver.
He’s one friend you don’t want to set aside on this healing journey.
Next week we’ll look at how we respond to God in the loneliness of grief.
So, until next week,
Thanks for joining me!
photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/58520208@N04/9454757740">Sunset Yoga</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">(license)</a>