Looking after your wellbeing while grieving

Gareth Hughes

Gareth Hughes is the Clinical Lead for Student Space and is a psychotherapist, researcher and writer on student wellbeing, including the book Be Well, Learn Well

While there is nothing you can do to make grief go away, there are things you can do to help you manage grief and to enable your recovery from it.

1. Look after yourself physically

Grief can have significant physical effects on us. For instance, you may find that grief disrupts your sleep or makes you want to sleep more. Or you may find yourself eating more or losing your appetite. You may even find yourself swinging back and forth between these behaviours.

Taking small steps to look after your physical wellbeing can ease the impact of grief. Don’t worry if, in the initial aftermath of a loss, you find this impossible. You may need to wait for the first shock to subside, before you can start to think about this.

If and when you’re ready, you may find these steps help you to feel a little better:

  • Maintain a good sleep routine
  • Eat at regular time and as healthily as possible (but with some treats if you want them)
  • Rest regularly
  • Get some gentle exercise
  • Try to create some structure in your day – even if this is very different from your usual routine
  • Try to avoid overusing alcohol, cigarettes or drugs

2. Connect with others and accept support

Spending time with other people, especially people who care about us, can be very helpful when we are grieving. If someone offers you support, be willing to take it. Often, people want to help but don’t know how, so guide them to what you need, whatever that is, be it a shoulder to cry on, some distraction or some practical help.

3. Try to maintain your hobbies

You might feel that you get less pleasure from your hobbies when grieving. Or you might feel that it is somehow inappropriate to keep doing something pleasurable.

But maintaining hobbies or interests can help to provide you with a routine and keep you grounded in reality. It can also help you release stress, relax a little and feel a bit more hopeful about the future. Even if you don’t enjoy them as much, try to keep going with your hobbies as much as you can.

4. Accept whatever emotions you are experiencing right now

If you are feeling sad, then that is ok. If you feel happy and are laughing about something that is ok too. Go with the experience, take pleasure where you can and look after yourself when you feel down or angry.

Luke talks about how grief affected him and how he looked after himself through the process.

5. Accept each moment

If you’re having a difficult day, it is ok to focus on just moving through the next hour, the next few hours or the rest of this day. Give yourself permission to not have to think about the coming weeks or months and focus on what you need now, in this moment. Be kind to yourself and let the future wait until you are ready for it.

6. Talk as much as you want to – be quiet if you need to

You can decide what will be helpful to you – if you want to spend time in quiet contemplation or distraction, then go with that. If you want to share your feelings then find a caring friend or family member and confide in them.

7. Use rituals, if you think they might help

Sometimes rituals can help us to move on and feel a little better. Religious or cultural practices may help you with this, or you may want to invent something of your own. Your ritual might be specific to the person or thing that you have lost.

Common rituals students sometimes find helpful include writing letters to those they have lost, creating a ceremony, including singing songs or reading poems out loud or going out into nature and burying something or letting it drift away on water.

8. Plan for anniversaries

You may find that birthdays, Christmas or the anniversary of a death are more difficult for you. It may help if you can plan for these events in advance. Depending on your circumstances, it may help to give yourself some free space or to plan a structure for the day that can hold you and get you through.

9. Connect with nature

Many people, who are grieving, find that connecting with nature can help them to ground in the moment and increase their sense of hopefulness for the future. If this seems like something that may benefit you, it may be helpful to walk or sit in a natural environment and spend some time paying attention to trees, flowers, birds or the movement of clouds in the sky.

10. Use support

You may find that speaking to a counsellor or psychotherapist may help. Alternatively, some students find speaking to a Chaplain from their faith can be a source of comfort.

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Page last reviewed: October 2022