How to Care For Yourself In Seasons of Loss

February 5th, 2020

Losing a loved one to death or divorce can be so overwhelming and debilitating that self-care is usually nowhere on our radar. Surviving the deep wounds of loss or trauma, compounded with the relentless pressures of just getting through the day, tends to shroud the importance of taking care of ourselves. 

In the book Goodbye for Now: Practical Help and Personal Hope for Those Who Grieve, I suggest three guidelines: Do only what is absolutely essential for right nowwhen in doubt, wait; and take care of you. During a devastating divorce, and later the death of my father, and now the daily stress of being a caregiver to my veteran husband who battles PTSD, the following Self-Care Survival Checklist has truly been a lifeline of health to me. I hope you find it helpful too, whether for a painful season of loss, or you need daily tips for ongoing self-care.

___ Pour out your heart to God.

There will be times when you come before Him and have no words. Lay your petitions at His feet. Claim His promises. Take comfort in His eternal love.

___ Immerse yourself in God’s Word.

God’s Word is true, powerful, and supernatural. And yet it is amazingly personal. His Word brings strength, hope, wisdom, and peace. Ask Him to show you a special promise or word of encouragement today. 

___ In times of loss, put off major decisions if possible.

It’s necessary to live through all four seasons, with holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and other memories. Along with healing comes clearer thinking. Circumstances will change, and so will you. 

___ Feel the feelings in a healthy way.

You are not responsible for feelings that come uninvited, but for what you do with them. Identify the feeling. Own it. Resist the temptation just to cover up the pain with something that feels good. Then find a healthy outlet (journaling, writing, talking, yelling, crying, running, cleaning, artwork, singing, exercising, going for a walk, playing with a pet, etc.). Letting the “stuff” out in a healthy way will pay off!

___ Talk to someone trustworthy. Get support.

Who are the people you can share with— your family, friends, pastor or counselor? Surround yourself with healthy, wise, supportive individuals. There also might be times when you're exhausted and solitude is what you need most.

___ Keep your sense of humor.

Scripture has taught for centuries what medical research has validated: “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine” (Proverbs 17:22, KJV). Appropriate laughter is actually good for you, physically and emotionally.

___ Carefully choose your sources of input.

Reading material, social media/Internet, TV, movies, radio, podcasts, music, and input from people can greatly impact your well-being. Provide yourself with as much positive input as you can, and avoid negative or disturbing sources. 

___ Make sleep a priority.

Sleep is one of the hardest things during times of grief and stress, but it is absolutely essential. A full night’s rest, and afternoon naps when possible, will help tremendously. Sleep is our restorative companion, not a luxury. 

___ Fill your body with healthy things.

Your body is on a physiological battlefield right now. It’s up to you to supply and reinforce it. Stress weakens the immune system, so anything you can do to build up your resistance will be beneficial. Do your best to get the nutrients you need, and avoid what is depleting.

___ Do some physical activity every day.

Just 20-60 minutes a day of moving your body can increase your energy and help you think more clearly. Exercise can release endorphins, the body’s natural tranquilizer and mood enhancer, and also boost the immune system and improve sleep.

___ Let yourself feel special.

Self-deprivation is not a virtue. During this difficult season, remind yourself that you are special. Hopefully your friends and loved ones are supportive. And don’t put off needed dental and medical care.

___ Decide when to take some time off and when to be actively involved.

It may be necessary to bow out of some activities or events. Having good boundaries sometimes means saying no. Ask yourself, “Is this energizing and lifting me up, or is it draining me?” 

___ Let go of what is beyond your control.

The future is daunting. Life feels so overwhelming! If you have done everything you can, then consciously let go. Choose to trust God to lead you through the uncertainties of tomorrow. He knows everything, and we do not. He is all-powerful, and we are not. Let go and let God. 

___ Count your blessings.

We’re so focused on easing our pain and getting past our problems that gratitude can feel so foreign. Think of the positive things that have happened, how your needs are being met, and all we’re prone to take for granted. Try to name 10 things every day, and your world will brighten as you choose to give thanks.

___ Trust God.

Perhaps your faith in God has been shaken a bit lately. Where has He been, and if He is good why does he allow such hard times? He never promised us a comfortable life here, and we know we all have an appointment with death. That is the whole reason He sent His son to die for us on the cross. Then He rose again, triumphantly conquering death forever! Reach out in faith. He is worthy of your trust.

___ Let time work.

As you take healthy steps of self-care each day, you will heal and grow. Let time work for you. Let God work in you. And one day you will look back and be amazed at how He actually brought good things out of this seemingly hopeless season. No longer merely surviving... you’ll be thriving!

~Adapted from Welby O’Brien's Goodbye for Now and Formerly a Wife. 


Welby O’Brien holds a master’s degree in counseling from Portland State University and a teaching degree from Biola University, and based on her own life journey she has authored LOVE OUR VETS: Restoring Hope for Families of Veterans with PTSDGoodbye for Now (grief support), and Formerly A Wife (divorce support). She is also a contributing author to Chicken Soup for the Soul: Divorce and Recovery, Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Spirit of America, as well as Shepherding Women in Pain. Welby initiated and continues to facilitate the spouse and family support network known as Love Our Vets – PTSD Family Support, LLC. Join Welby and thousands of others on Facebook at Love Our Vets – PTSD Family Support.