Staying Healthy While Coping With Grief | SBM


Valery Bodziony, MS, University of Louisville

In May 2022, more than 6.2 million people died from COVID-19. Each death is that of a loved one or family member who has been lost.

The weight of grief caused by the pandemic is difficult to fully process. The loss of lives, jobs, social interactions and what we all knew was “normal” affects us all. With so much grief around the world, it is important to understand the physical health effects of dealing with grief.

Create a healthy grieving process

Grieving can cause emotional and physical reactions that can affect our health. The grieving process leads to times of intense pain and it can be difficult to continue with daily routines, including adopting healthy behaviors.

Research has shown that grief is linked to decreased physical health. Mourners visit the doctor more frequently and report more symptoms of illness than others. Prolonged grief can lead to the development of complicated grief. It is an unhealthy form of grief so severe and continuous that someone feels unable to move on.

Grief and bereavement can also be associated with poor sleep quality, increased weight gain, physical inactivity, and unhealthy eating behaviors.

Actively engaging in positive health behaviors can help counter these effects. Emotional support and other interventions are very important for healthy grief. Research suggests that physical activity, good sleep, and a healthy diet may be just as important.

Here are some tips that can help ease the grieving process and improve your overall well-being.

Be active. Physical activity can help cope with grief. Regular exercise can improve mood, provide pleasure and increase opportunities for social interaction. All of this can be beneficial during the grieving process.

In a recent study, people who were physically active before their loss had an easier time navigating the grieving process. This suggests that physical activity can prevent mental and physical health problems following a loss. This activity does not need to be strenuous. The key is to get your body moving however you can.

To go for a walk. Physical activity can be as simple as taking a short walk. Walking has shown many physical and mental health benefits.

This is also true during the grieving process. In fact, a 40-minute walk in nature has been shown to significantly reduce stress. If possible, you can try going for a walk with a friend or family member. Walking with another person has been shown to have even more positive health benefits.

Sleep well, and enough! People who are grieving are more at risk of developing sleep disorders. These include poor sleep quality, problems falling asleep and sleeping, shorter sleep duration, and anxious nighttime awakenings.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Creating a regular sleep schedule and routine is important for coping with grief.

Have a healthy diet. Grief is often linked to poor nutrition. A grieving person may be more likely to skip meals, eat alone, have trouble preparing meals, or eat an unbalanced diet.

Try to incorporate fruits and vegetables into your meals. When possible, eat with friends and family or learn to prepare new meals. You can also try eating several small meals throughout the day to keep you well nourished through the grieving process.

Other resources for coping with grief

Being active, sleeping well and eating healthy aren’t the only ways to support a healthy grieving process. If you have suffered a loss and think you may be grieving, please explore the following resources. Your healthcare professional can also help you find ways to cope with the health effects of grief.

National Institute of Aging
Find a therapist

This article is dedicated to my maternal grandfather (1923-2021), as well as my paternal grandmother (1939-2021), survived by my grandfather, Dennis Bodziony, Sr.

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