The Harvard Men’s Health Watch newsletter recently reported on a study led by T.H. Eric Bui, M.D., Ph.D., associate director for research at the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders and Complicated Grief Program at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.

The study, which was published in the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, concluded that a specially designed eight-week mind-body program can help reduce stress in older adults who have lost a spouse.

Here are the seven mind-body techniques they found most effective to manage grief.


1. Yoga, tai chi, or qigong. Not only can these mind-body activities help you relax, but they can also reverse the effects of stress and anxiety on a molecular level, according to a study in the June 2017 Frontiers in Immunology.

In people who regularly engaged in these practices, researchers found less activity in genes that create inflammation in the body.

Many classes are designed specifically for stress reduction. To find one of these classes in your community, simply do an online search.


2. Maintain a healthy diet. Stress triggers cravings for sugar and fat, which is why you reach for feel-good, high-calorie, and high-fat processed food during stressful times. Yet these foods can make you feel worse.

Instead, focus on keeping up a well-balanced diet. This means eating vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and drinking plenty of water.


3. Follow good sleep hygiene. Grief is emotionally exhausting, but after a loss, people often find that their sleep is disrupted. Either they have trouble getting to sleep or they sleep too much.

“Going to bed at regular hours, following a bedtime routine, and avoiding caffeine and alcohol in the evening helps with more restful sleep,” says Bui.


4. Get physical. Something as simple as a daily walk can help ease depression, agitation, and sorrow related to grief.

Because it’s often hard to find the energy go exercise, it’s important to find ways to motivate yourself to do so, such as joining an exercise group or working out regularly with a friend.


5. Monitor your health. With so much else going on, it’s easy to ignore your general health when grieving. This includes skipping doctor visits and forgetting to take your medications.

“Schedule all exams for the coming year so you don’t miss them, and set timers on your phone or computer to help remind you to take your medications as scheduled, or ask a friend or family member to assist by checking in with you daily,” advises Bui.


6. Take on new responsibilities. The loss of a spouse or family member may mean you have to take over certain routine jobs. For example, you now may be in charge of shopping, cooking, housekeeping, or organizing financial records.

While these tasks can be additional stressors, Bui suggests turning them into a positive experience.

“Taking on a new responsibility can keep your mind focused on a task and distract you from your grief,” he says.


7. Reach out to your social circle. Though you may wish to withdraw and isolate yourself as your recover from grief, it’s important to maintain connections with others.

“This reminds you that you are not alone, and even if you feel isolated, there may be family members, friends, or even neighbors who can give a supportive hand,” says Bui.

Try to balance your need for isolation by remaining social. Set up a weekly lunch or coffee/tea time with a good friend. Make it a priority to communicate with a few people by email, text, or phone call.

Remind yourself that these strategies are ways of practicing self-compassion, reinvesting in yourself, and adapting, in positive ways, to loss.


Victor M. Parachin, M.Div., is a grief counselor, bereavement educator, and author of several books, including Healing Grief.

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