Surviving and Readjusting

The loss of a loved one is the single most stressful thing that can happen to a person. This is a time to be aware of increased vulnerability and the need to take great care of yourself. Because of this increased stress and vulnerability, health problems appear more often during a bereavement period. This page provides information on how to survive and readjust your life after losing a loved one.

Woman sitting on a shore with her back to us.

By taking care of ourselves and practicing "stress management", we can decrease the physical and emotional wear and tear that stress can cause. There are five components of stress management: Good Nutrition, Sleep, Physical Exercise, Being Kind to Yourself, and Relaxation.

Good Nutrition

Changes in eating habits are normal during a period of grief. It is important to realize that your body is undergoing a lot of stress from the demands of grief work. Even though you may not feel like eating (You may say "What's the use?"), you need the energy provided by balanced, nutritious meals. It may be hard to cook for yourself, but for your own healing, it is important to eat regular, balanced meals, and to get the vitamins you need.

Increase your protein. This helps in stressful times. Also increase the intake of calcium (milk and cheese products) and potassium (bananas, baked potatoes, oranges). Each helps to combat stress. Consider a B-vitamin or multi-stress vitamin as a daily supplement. Avoid junk foods and empty calories.


People frequently have difficulty sleeping during a period of bereavement. It is important to get adequate rest. If you feel extra sleep is necessary, go to bed earlier. Experts say that taking a vacation from the alarm clock on weekends can upset the body's sleep rhythms all week long. Make bedtime the final stage of a regular evening ritual. Walk the dog, watch TV, read a book. The activity is less critical than sticking to the same routine night after night. You'll sleep sounder after a late afternoon workout. Avoid any heavy-duty exertion just prior to bedtime.

Avoid the "big three"...Caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco. All of these upset sleep even if you find them relaxing. Alcohol may make you tired, but reduces the quality of sleep. Caffeine and tobacco may interfere with sleep. Remember that many soft drinks, as well as tea and chocolate, contain caffeine.

Stress is the number one enemy of sleep. Relaxation training can help derail a lot of disturbing thoughts and ease tight muscles that make it hard to sleep soundly. A low-protein, high carbohydrate snack before bedtime often shortens the time it takes to fall asleep. But remember, if you are on a special diet, be sure to consult your physician or nutritionist about changes in your diet.

For insomnia lasting up to three weeks, or during illness or bereavement, sleeping pills may be medically necessary. Your physician will provide you directions for taking sleeping pills. Some people find that if they take a pill for only a night or two, their sleep patterns will go back to normal. Next-day effects may include poor memory or concentration, drowsiness, dizziness, lack of coordination, and digestive woes. Be sure to consult your physician before taking such medicines.

Physical Exercise

Moderate, regular exercise helps relieve tension and elevate one's mood. Don't take on anything too strenuous, but rather have a regular, planned activity, such as swimming, walking, or bike riding, that will help loosen muscles and increase your sense of well-being. Walking with a friend provides an opportunity to share feelings as well, and can be excellent therapy. The local health clubs have many excellent exercise programs for all ages and ability levels.

Be Kind To Yourself

Emotional injury can often require even more healing than physical injury. It is normal to experience periods of depression while grieving, as long as these periods do not continue for great lengths of time, or become dangerous to you. Here are some suggestions for helping yourself through a depression.

  • Get some exercise.
  • Try to maintain good eating and sleeping habits.
  • Go out to eat with friends.
  • Engage in a distractive activity, such as reading, watching TV or a movie, visiting a park, shopping, etc.
  • Engage in comfort-seeking activities, such as talking with a friend, your pastor or doctor, praying, writing letters, or having a massage.
  • Engage in constructive or creative activities, such as setting small goals that can be achieved every day, planning something for the future, planting flowers, painting or drawing, sewing or quilting.
  • Do one good thing for yourself each day. Do some needed chores. Help out someone else. Pay attention to your personal appearance. You will feel better when you look better.
  • Engage in comtemplative activities, such as listening to music, getting some sun, visiting the countryside, or just taking a bath.


Only you know what places, situations, and/or people help you to relax the best. However, there are some general guidelines that you may find helpful.

When we're tense, our breathing becomes shallow. When a person is weighted down with strong and painful feelings, he or she often breathes improperly, depriving the brain of necessary oxygen. Taking slow, deep breaths is a good way to ease your tension and resume proper breathing. Place your hand on your diaphragm (just below the rib cage and above the stomach). Take a deep breath through your nose. As you inhale, you should feel your hand pushed outward. Exhale through your mouth. Repeat this exercise until your breathing is deep and regular.

To relieve tension in your body, try this exercise. In a comfortable surrounding, try tensing and relaxing each muscle group in turn, starting with your feet and working up to your head. Be aware of knots of tension in your body. Practice slow, deep breathing.

The greatest healer and stress reducer will be the love of those around you. Allow them the privilege of helping you through this. Spend time alone with God or in quiet contemplation. Your anger, fears, and needs will all be welcome.

For more information on relaxation techniques, please visit our Stress Management Through Mindfulness web page.

Follow this link for more Steps to Survival after losing a loved one.