Keeping a Routine During the Grief Process

Jennifer Foust, PhD, MS, LPC, Director of Clinical Services

Posted by: Jennifer Foust, PhD, MS, LPC
Director of Clinical Services
2672628515

Keeping a Routine During the Grief ProcessWhen we are feeling good, we take care of ourselves on a daily basis with little effort. However, when we experience a significant loss, some of the things that we take for granted like that ability to take care of ourselves becomes more difficult.  People who are grieving often experience variations in eating, sleeping, energy level, concentration, and taking care of our bodies.  It is part of the grieving process.  Every loss is different and as a result the impact on these things may not be the same every time.  What do you do if you really struggle with taking care of these basic needs?  Try the structured schedule below.  You may be able to stick to this schedule on your own, or you may need the support of a friend that you can check in with.  Remember, don’t be afraid to ask for support. 

Get a blank piece of paper and create a schedule (you may find a computer spreadsheet to be easier depending on your comfort with technology).  Divide your paper into seven columns. Starting with Monday, write the days of the week in order above each column.  Divide each column into rows starting with the time that you usually get up, and ending with the time you usually go to bed. Write down your regular routine in the chart.  Start with the basics: time you get up and go to bed, commute time to work, time at work, meal times, and household chores and activities.  Now try to put in some other things such as social activities with family and friends, exercise, hobbies, and also time to grieve.  So what exactly does time to grieve mean?  Grieving is easier to handle if we are able to set some time aside to work on it. This does not mean that you don’t or aren’t allowed to feel any grieving emotions throughout your day until your scheduled time. What it does mean is that when it is not your “grieving time”, you try to focus your attention on what is in front of you.  When it is your “grieving time”, you allow yourself to think about your loss, and do what you can to work on healing.  Some “grieving time” activities might be: journaling, talking to a friend, seeing your therapist, meeting with a grief support group, talking to a pastor, looking through photos, listening to music, etc.  This is the time to really connect and work through your emotions about your loss. 

After you complete your schedule, check and make sure it is as balanced as it can be with variety of things.  For example, you don’t want to become a workaholic to deal with your grief or a party animal.  Try to have a balance in your schedule to include work, social/family time, sleep, hobby time, and grief time.  Follow this schedule as much as you can. Following a concrete tangible structure can help when you are dealing with the many emotions of grief.  Remember to check in with a friend if needed to help you follow your schedule.  Sometimes, even despite your best efforts, you may notice an unbalance.  For example, you may sleep too much or not want to interact with others as much as you intent to do.  This is a normal part of the process.  The idea is work towards achieving a balance so that your grief doesn’t begin to control you. 

Now for a few words about the basic functions of self-care, specifically eating, sleeping, and exercising. Eating regularly, and getting enough sleep are specifically important because you need energy to grieve.  It is also important to try and get some exercise. Not eating well and sleeping poorly can unbalance your system leading to poorer physical functioning and mood swings. Exercise is important because is also helps your body to function well physically.  When we are grieving, eating patterns can vary from overeating to under eating.  If you tend to overeat, stick with your meal times as much as you can and try to buy mostly healthy things for yourself.  If you under eat, also stick to your meal times as much as possible.  Keep things simple.  This is not the time to plan gourmet complicated meals, unless of course that is a joy of yours that helps.  The idea here is to get as much healthy nourishment as you can. If you need to eat frozen dinners, order pizza, or get help from a family member with meal preparation for you and your family, then that is what you need to do.  Remember, this is temporary. 

Along with eating, you may not feel the motivation or desire to exercise. For some people, exercise is a great way for them to deal with grieving.  For others, it is a struggle.  Exercising does not have to be a long session at the gym.  A simple 10 minute walk on regular basis can be very helpful. 

Sleeping can vary from sleeping a lot to sleeping a little.  For those who have problems sleeping, try to give yourself time to wind down at least 30 minutes before you go to bed.  Turn off the T.V.  Give yourself some time just to breathe and relax.  Taking a bath before bed can also help some people.  You may also find reading helpful. For those people who tend to oversleep, try to get yourself on a regular schedule of going to bed at the same time and getting up at the same time. 

Remember, grieving is work.  Following these ideas may sound easy, but they often are not.  The goal here is to try and give yourself some structure to help you through this part of the process.  The idea isn’t to do it right, wrong, or perfectly.  Remember, this is temporary and it is your body and psyche’s way of reacting to and dealing with a loss.  If you struggle with this part of the process, a therapist is often a very helpful coach and source of support.