Self Care in Times of Grief

I’m sure you’ve seen commercials for pharmaceuticals that lead you to believe that self-care is just a pill away. Once you take the right pill for a problem, you’ll be healthy and happy. While taking prescription medications can be a crucial part of good self-care, more often than not, they are the stand-alone answer. 

In other words, you can’t expect the medications to do the job of making you happy and healthy all on their own. There are things you need in order to be healthy such as eating good food, getting enough sleep, and moving your body. This post will focus on taking care of your mental well-being. Just like a pill can’t give you an instant healthy body, a pill can’t take care of all of your mental health needs.  

About nine years ago, I was working in the pharmacy when a couple came to the cash register to pick up the woman’s prescription. The woman didn’t speak or make eye contact with me. She seemed distraught. The man asked for the prescription and gave me her information and I retrieved the medication.  

The prescription they were picking up for her was an antidepressant and according to my records, this was a new medication for her. Instead of asking her if she knew why she was taking the medication – what she was expecting to get out of the medication and if asking if she had any questions, instead I asked her if she had recently suffered a loss.

She started to cry and explained that she said she just lost her business. I said, “You’re grieving. You’re grieving the loss of your business.” I went on to explain that while this new antidepressant medication may help her feel better, it was not indicated for grief. I explained that grief is a normal process that we all go through when we lose something that’s very important to us. 

Her husband stared at me, his eyes got big and he said, “That’s what I said.” He explained that he’s been trying to help her see that she needs more than just medication. He seemed to really care about her.  She seemed surprised by my words, but also I could see recognition in her face. She knew there was truth to what I said and what her husband believed. 

She did take the prescription home with her, and I’m glad she did. I remember thinking that she was going to be OK. She has a supportive husband who is willing to help her through her loss. 

How This Applies to Self-Care

It’s not good self-care to try to push yourself through a natural human process. It would be like trying to get 8 hours of sleep in 8 minutes. You can’t do it. You can’t do a week’s worth of exercise in one ten-hour stretch either. The same holds true for emotional processes such as grieving. You can’t wish sadness away. You can’t fool yourself into believing you’re not angry, sad, or frustrated when you actually are. Sometimes you just have to cry to let it out. 

If you’re suffering a loss, you need time to process and heal. The same is true of any big challenge. You wouldn’t try to rush yourself through the process of healing a bad relationship, or making a career change if you hate your job. These things take a multi-faceted approach. Everyone has pain and suffering in their lives. It’s part of being human. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t accept help from family, friends, or health-care providers. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take medications. Ultimately, though, you and only you have to go through whatever it is to get to the other side of it. 

Taking care of yourself means allowing yourself the time, space, and resources you need to heal. When you try to push feelings down, deny that you’re in pain, or force yourself to keep going when you need to stop for a while, you’re not taking care of yourself. You have to participate in your own healing. It can’t happen without you.

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