Physical Wellbeing during bereavement
Grieving is a natural process, a process that we cannot avoid or fix, nor should we try to find ways to circumvent the physical and emotional pain associated with bereavement. We all suffer loss at some point in our lives and many have stated that the pain of losing a pet is worse than the pain of losing a human family member.
When we think of grieving, we automatically think of tears, sadness, an overwhelming sense of hopelessness and for most there is no light at the end of the tunnel. The impact of loss means that our day to day life becomes consumed with negative thoughts, thoughts so painful that we hurt physically.
Physical health and mental health become one when we grieve, yet our physical health is often the first to be neglected during a period of bereavement, leading the pet carer on a downward spiral leading to a lowered immune system. A lowered immune system brings a host of additional problems to those grieving, including colds, flu, and infections. Additional health concerns during bereavement compounds grieving and adds to anxiety and stress.
It is so important to ensure we maintain our physical health as much as possible whilst we are grieving and although we cannot avoid grief we can reshape our lifestyle with a few simple steps.
R – Relax
E – Exercise
S – Sleep
H – Healthy eating
A – Avoid alcohol & drugs
P – Positive thinking
E - Expectations
R - Relax
When our pets die, or we are told that they have a life limiting illness, the physical and emotional effects of shock and trauma take their toll, therefore finding a way to relax will help release some of the built up tension in our mind and body. Sit in a comfortable chair, keep background noise low, count to ten and start breathing exercises.
E - Exercise
This is not a competition to run a marathon, exercise covers a plethora of activities, a short walk, climbing stairs, any form of sport, swimming etc. Swimming is good for those with mobility issues or for those with restricted mobility, stretching the top or bottom part of the body from a sitting position works just as well.
S - Sleep
Not surprisingly the majority of grieving pet carers have difficulty sleeping at night or some may find they are sleeping too much, either way, lack of sleep or too much can
impact our ability to function on a daily basis. Lack of sleep not only makes you tearful but can lead to serious health problems if they are not addressed.
When we are grieving, the more we think about not sleeping, the more anxious we become, and the more anxious we become the less likely we are to sleep – catch 22. Our internal body clock is completely knocked out of rhythm and we need to re-set it.
Some pet carers turn to sleeping pills to help in the initial stages of grieving, however it should be remembered that sleeping pills are addictive and are only prescribed by a Doctor for a short period. Once the course of sleeping pills comes to an end, those grieving may find they are still unable to sleep, so you have nothing to lose by following a bedtime routine in the first instance.
Most adults require an average of 8 hours sleep, whilst teenagers or children require more. Having a bedtime routine starts early in the evening, approximately 1 or 2 hours before you would normally go to bed.
H - Healthy Eating
Many pet carers lose their appetite completely, some feeling nauseous, however eating something that will be light on the stomach will help. Eating a piece of fruit, a cup of soup, or crackers with a low fat spread, is better than nothing at all and encouraging a pet carer to at least try to eat something is preferable to nothing at all. As the appetite returns, eating as healthy as possible will help.
A - Avoid Alcohol and Drugs
Although tempting to relax, help with insomnia, or just to forget, alcohol and drugs have the opposite effect and can compound feelings experienced when grieving. If the temptation is too much or someone offers you a ‘brandy’ to help you relax, limit your intake.
P - Positive Thinking
Those who engage in positive thinking reap health benefits. Whilst it is very difficult to think positively when you are grieving it will help you. Instead of negative thoughts about what you did wrong, think about everything you did right.
E – Expectations
Keep your expectations realistic. There is no quick fix or short cut that we can take as we navigate through our grief. What we can do though, is accept that grieving is a perfectly natural response to loss, take small steps as you adjust to a new way of life, accept or seek the right support and above all be kind to yourself. Live in the moment just as our pets did and remember that they would not want their legacy to be sadness.
Emotional Wellbeing during bereavement
It is common for pet carers to have intense and negative thoughts especially in relation to their thoughts and visions of euthanasia, or for some whose pets had a traumatic death, e.g. the result of an accident. Therapies taken from either Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) can help with this specific often recurring problem.
In CBT it’s referred to as Thought Stopping and in NLP it’s referred to as Reframing (or a similar therapy in NLP is the Swish Technique).
Thought Stopping or Reframing involves focusing on the negative thought (or vision), teaching the mind to ‘STOP’ presenting these negative thoughts or visions and replacing or reducing them with pleasant thoughts.
In its simplest form this is how it works –
This does take practice and the pet carer may have varying degrees of success. NB: Always find a qualified Practitioner who specialises in NLP
Breathing techniques work and are very helpful in situations when the pet carer feels they are being overwhelmed by emotions. Once again this does take a little practice, but the results can be felt immediately.
Dawn Murray's new book 'An Introduction to Pet Bereavement Counselling' is now available to buy on Amazon. This is a must have reference book for anyone who supports or counsels others through pet bereavement.