Self care is any intentional act that a person does to maintain good physical, emotional, and mental health. It’s something that needs to be done in order to take care of YOURSELF. Good self care is often a challenge for many people, especially for those who have ever been through traumatic experiences, such as the loss of a loved one. Because we are so busy in our grief that we forget take care of ourselves which can be extremely detrimental to your health. Your self care needs might be different then mine, as every person is different, but I think that it is important that everyone take a little bit of time out of their day, each and every single day, to do something just for themselves. Here are a few important things that people often overlook that might be helpful:
- Your diet. Food is often something that people overlook. We are often so busy that we do not have to eat to eat regularly, or we often substitute fast food for regular meals instead. It might not be reasonable to expect everyone to always eat 3 square meals a day plus snacks, but you should always make sure that you are getting adequate nutrition. Eat something! Even if it is just a small amount, try to at least eat a small amount of food for each of your meals.
- Exercise. The Center for Disease Control recommends that people get at least 30 minutes of exercise five times a week. Now, I know that this might be hard. Perhaps you took your dog out for a walk every single morning and that’s how you got your exercise, and now your beloved animal companion is gone and you don’t feel much like getting out of the house anymore and that’s understandable! But exercise is a great thing because it gives you something to focus on and also, exercise has been known to release endorphins throughout a person’s body (ever had that feeling of euphoria after a hard workout even though you’ve just worked your butt off? That’s your endorphins talking!). Exercise can help combat depression, sadness, and prevent chronic health problems. There are plenty of different things people can do for exercise, and you don’t always have to do it alone either which is great. And, if you do happen to have a new animal companion, you can use it to create new memories with them.
- Get enough sleep. I think that when my Scarlett passed it was harder for me to get any sleep because I was having a hard time getting over the loss, especially right after it happened. Of course, I’m a natural night owl anyway, but even I know that it is important for people to get enough sleep in order to be able function properly. Not everyone is the same, of course, but a reasonable guideline is that a person may need about 7-10 hours of sleep per night in order to keep in good health (for kids it’s a bit more than that). So make sure that you are getting enough sleep at night.
- Seek professional help if you need to. When you are grieving over the loss of a loved one (Either human or animal), can be overwhelming, so sometimes it’s best to seek the help of a licensed professional. I learned a long time ago that often seeking outside help is extremely beneficial because it allows you to have someone to speak to without that person already having any sort of pre-conceived bias.
- Writing. One of the things that I did during the days and weeks immediately following my Scarlett’s passing was I wrote her letters. Now, I know it might seem a little weird that I was writing letters to my dog, but it did help. It helped me get my feelings out, and it made the grieving a little easier. Another idea is to keep a journal with all of your thoughts and feelings. A huge part of the reason why I wrote The Tail of Scarlett was because I was still trying to figure out how to process my feelings and it gave me something to concentrate on, keeping me from dwelling too much on the negative.
- Meditation and reflection. Doing some meditation exercises can help your body and mind relax, which can be very beneficial to your self-care. Also, finding a nice quiet place where you can just be alone with your thoughts for awhile and give yourself time to reflect can also help you gather your thoughts and give you a chance to just breathe. A few weeks ago I went to one of my favorite places and did nothing but sit by the water, feeding the local ducks and geese that like to hang out there, and just spend a quiet afternoon sitting on a bench and looking out over the water. It can be a very calming thing to do.
- Surround yourself with good people. Make spending time with family and friends a priority. Spend time with those that you know are going to be supportive, and if you need to, join a support group (there are plenty of support groups out there for people who have experienced the loss of a beloved pet or human loved one). Be wary of those that only call you when they need something, make you feel even more depressed when you leave them then you were when you first saw them, or belittle your experience, or don’t have time to listen to you. Set limits!
And above all, make sure you remember to make yourself a priority. Make sure that your self-care comes first and not just something that happens by accident. And remember…
Always keep your tail waggin’.