After a loss, the idea of completing any task can seem daunting, especially in the early days. But as hard as it may be to hear, there are proven benefits to being active while grieving. Here are a few suggested self-care activities and grief projects that may help you just feel a little better, or let you mentally (and/or physically) escape for a moment. We’ve organized them here based on how much energy they require. If you’re still at the beginning stages of grief, don’t be discouraged. Just think about trying one of the “low-stakes” ideas first.
No matter where you are in your grief journey, don’t worry—it’s completely ok if you bail on a project or activity, or if you plan to do one and just don’t make it through. Do what you like or what you can, and then walk away. You may or may not want to come back to it later.
If You Truly Feel Like You Can’t Get Out of Bed
First of all, this is completely understandable. You’ve experienced great pain and the idea of going back to usual activities may rightly seem overwhelming. If this is the case, we suggest you reach out for help. If you’d like to meet with a therapist, you can easily find one in your area. If, however, you think that going out to see someone is too daunting, you can speak with a therapist from the comfort of your home. If you’re ready for some pro-active (and even enjoyable) ideas, read on.
Low-Stakes Grief Activities for When You Just Don’t Feel Like Doing Much
As the Chinese Proverb says, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” You’re starting a new journey, and you should allow yourself to go at your own pace. These first activities are aimed at simply treating yourself with care, which is essential to your healing.
1. Eat a Healthy Breakfast.
Breakfast gives you physical energy to meet the day, and a quality breakfast can help create a feeling of well-being for hours to come. It doesn’t have to be complicated, and you can always ask a friend to assist (friends appreciate being given a task when someone they love is grieving—it lets them feel useful). Take the time to create something wholesome and complete (regardless of what time of day it is), and avoid too much refined sugar, which can make you even more tired. Here are some ideas:
- Eggs and Toast with a Sliced Avocado or Tomato
- Instant Whole Grain Oatmeal with Pumpkin Seeds, Crushed Walnuts and Fresh Berries
- Protein Smoothie with Hemp Protein Powder, Banana and Peanut Butter
- Greek Yogurt Parfait with Muesli (or Granola)
- French Toast with Maple Syrup and Turkey Sausage
2. Pamper Yourself with a Luxurious Bath.
Sometimes simply taking a shower can be a challenge. Choose an afternoon or evening and treat yourself to a proper relaxing bath. Dissolve bath salts or add bubbles to your soaking tub. Light a few scented candles, play some quiet music, and feel your muscles loosen up. The hot water will have a purifying and calming effect, and may help you sleep better when you really need rest.
3. Create a Spa Experience at Home.
This can be very simple. If all you can do is wait patiently while the mask on your face hardens and then wash it off, that’s enough. If you find you have a spark of energy, indulge in moisturizers, a self manicure or pedicure, eye cream, and any other grooming that will make you feel a little better. Home spa treatments can also be a great activity to share with a friend or two on a weekend or an evening when you don’t feel like being alone.
4. Netflix and Chill...with Yourself.
Make (or buy) yourself some buttery popcorn and grab a cozy blanket, then choose a movie or series. Even if you fall asleep during the show, it’s OK. Tip: it may be better, especially early in your grief process, to watch something new, as you won’t have difficult memories associated with it.
5. Steam Your Face.
Find your favorite herbal tea or use sprigs of fresh herbs. Put at least one tea bag or 5 sprigs of fresh herbs such as rosemary or mint in a pot of water and bring the water just to a boil. Using oven mitts, remove the pot and place it on a trivet atop a table or counter. Use a large hand towel or bath towel to cover your head, and lean carefully over the pot to take in the steam. Keep your face safely away from the hot pot so that you feel the warm steam but not too much heat. You may need to open the towel often to let in some cool air. This simple act of self-care is not only wonderful for your skin; it also has a purifying effect similar to relaxing in a steam room, and bonus: under that towel you’ve got a good secret place to cry.
6. Make Your Bed. Really.
There are many studies showing how the simple act of making a bed can trigger a person to perform more positive acts throughout the day. If all you can do is smooth your covers, great. If you can fluff your pillows or even change your sheets, you may benefit from the fresh feeling and the sense of order a newly-made bed brings.
7. Reactivate Your Senses.
With the trauma of losing a loved one, some people experience temporary feelings of an overall numbness or even a dulling of the senses. Actively engaging your senses is a kind of mindfulness exercise that may provide relief. Take a moment to embrace sounds and smells in nature—they are healing and comforting and hope-giving. Take a walk just after it rains and take in the fragrance of fresh grass. Stop and inhale your neighbor’s rose bushes. Sit under a tree, stare into space, and listen for birds or other animal sounds.
Distracting Grief Activities
When you’ve decided that you want a break from thinking about things, start with one or more of the activities below. If you know someone who is grieving, consider sending them something from one of these ideas to help take their mind off their worries, even if only for a moment.
8. Start a Crossword, Word Game, Sudoku or Other Puzzle.
Shop online for a crossword book you can write in (doesn’t matter if you finish the puzzles!), or try a KenKen or Suduko book. You can also search the App store on your phone for options to download, or subscribe to a newspaper like The New York Times, which offers a whole range of games and puzzles. And speaking of puzzles, visual ones are also great. Searching for pieces offers time and space for clearing your mind. You can find simple or very difficult options, depending on what you prefer.
9. Browse Trashy Magazines—or Any Magazines.
Sometimes when grieving, it’s tough to stay focused long enough to commit to a book. Instead, pick up a magazine (even one you wouldn’t normally read) and just flip through it. Add a bowl of chips or nuts to the situation and simply transport yourself to somewhere else for a few minutes.
Art therapy works. Not only does art force you to focus on an activity in the moment (rather than on your grief), but you may also discover that you’ve made something on the page that feels right, whether you finish it or not.
10. Paint, Paint by Numbers, or Take Some Photos.
Making art is a welcome distraction and a release for emotions and stress. Make your own creation with acrylics or watercolors, or purchase a paint-by-number coloring canvas and follow the directions mindlessly. The idea is not to make anything great. It’s just to do something with your hands and your eyes. If you prefer photography, you could take some shots in nature or wherever you find relief, then consider having a canvas made from one of your own photos for a personalized creation. A handmade artwork can be a document of your current experience, or can make a personal addition to an altar or memorial tribute. It can also be something you make and throw away.
11. Just Bead It.
The focus and repetition of beading make it a pursuit that’s easy to get lost in, whether you are making a necklace, bracelet, anklet or keychain. Shop online or stop in a local store--bead people are generally cool people, and they can help you pick out special beads that will add meaning to your project through color, shape or origin.
12. Belligerent Needlepointing, Knitting or Crocheting.
Yes, you read that right. Belligerent crafting combines your grandmother’s favorite obsessive pastime with modern patterns or even messages that help you express how much things suck. First, you’ll need to choose a pattern. There are numerous great vendors to choose from on Etsy. You can choose from sayings, curse words (sometimes necessary!) grief prints, initials, or any other pattern that is appealing to you. Many of these pattern kits will come with the yarn and needles needed so you don’t have to expend the energy to figure it all out.
13. Color Me Grieving.
Adult coloring has become exceedingly popular as people are realizing how very calming it can be. For starters, you choose your preferred coloring device: Crayons, colored pencils, markers, chalk, or all of the above. But where to color? Well, if you like a bit of structure, start with a coloring book (there are many adult ones available), or for more freedom, pick up a sketchbook or just use your own driveway as a canvas and go to town with kids’ sidewalk chalk.
14. Build a Birdhouse.
This craft is simple, yet rewarding. Order or build an unfinished birdhouse, then paint and decorate it if you like, or leave it just sitting there in your garage for a while. If you finish it, you can set it outside or hang it from a tree branch and welcome your avian neighbors to stop by each day.
Some activities can seem really challenging in the moment, but afterwards they leave you feeling cleansed and relieved. The ideas below require a bit more energy but you may find them worth the effort required. If one or more seem right, give them a try.
15. Rage Journaling.
To be clear, we are fans of any type of journaling, and we are not promoters of angry behavior. But if you think of “sharing your feelings in a journal” as a bit saccharine, consider taking a book and just writing down some random words that express how you really feel about shit, people, whatever. Rage journaling is 50% “going off” and 50% “letting go.”
How to rage journal? Take 10-20 minutes and write down anything that is on your mind--anything (or frankly, anyone) that is bothering you. Remember, this is just for you; it doesn’t need to be crafted in proper sentences or even appear coherent to anyone else. Set a timer, and when it goes off, close the book and sit comfortably on a chair or a floor cushion. Spend another 10 minutes to relax and meditate on that anger. Forgive the cause of the anger (whatever or whoever it may be), and just let it go. You might find the act of releasing anger and offering forgiveness to be really restorative. If not, see “Belligerent Crafting” above.
16. Memory Journaling.
The point of this exercise is to unlock deeper feelings and lesser-known memories. For this type of journaling, you write down answers to interesting questions in an attempt to remember small, very specific details about your loved one. There are infinite questions you can use as prompts, but here are a few to spark your thoughts:
- What books or movies make you think of them?
- What scents remind you of them?
- Was there an item that you remember them always wearing?
- What songs immediately bring a shared memory to mind?
- Did they have a favorite holiday? How did they celebrate?
- Where was their favorite place?
- What did family mean to them?
The idea of going to the gym may seem too daunting at the moment, and that’s fine. But there are numerous benefits to physical activity, from releasing that pent up stress and anger, to feeling strong enough to deal with whatever comes. Here are a few activities that can get you moving.
17. Dog Walking, Extended Version.
While you may take your dog out each day, try extending the walk. Put on your sneakers and set a goal of going further than you traditionally do. Not only will you feel better from the exercise and fresh air, but your pup will likely be grateful as well. (Note: if you don’t have a dog of your own, ask a friend or call a local shelter to see if they allow volunteer walkers.)
18. Spend Time Playing with Children.
If you’re a parent who has lost someone, the daily routine of childcare can feel unmanageable when you are grieving. But if you can, let yourself just enjoy the crazy, joyful energy of kids when they’re playing. Let it lure you in, and soon you may just believe you’re at a tea party or scoring the winning touchdown.
19. Jump on a (Mini) Trampoline. Trust Us.
We know what you’re thinking. “I don’t want to jump on a trampoline. That’s silly, and I don’t feel silly.” But what’s great about a mini-trampoline when you’re not feeling great? You just put some headphones in, get on it, and start bouncing. The springs will do the rest! The act of rebounding is not only a metaphor in tough times—it’s also an endorphin-generating way to get your heart pumping and your body sweating, and that is good. Order one online—and let yourself go for just a few minutes.
20. Join an Exercise Class or Group.
Joining an exercise class gives you a reason to be somewhere. All you have to do is show up, and the instructor will take it from there. The group energy can help you lose yourself and can motivate you to jump, sweat, stretch and move your body, which is something that will truly help in your grief journey. Choose any type of class you like—yoga, boot camp, HIIT aerobics or deep stretch. Don’t worry about making it all the way through—do what you can and sweat out a bit of stress.
Down the Road…
All those who have gone through the grief process know that one of the hardest parts is eventually getting back out into the world. It’s difficult to feel a part of society when your loved one isn’t with you. Here are a few ideas for how to start the process of being social again.
21. Join a Book Club.
This might not be what you were expecting, but book clubs provide numerous benefits to those grieving. First, you’ll be distracted as you dive into an interesting book. Next, book clubs generally invite a welcoming group of people with common interests. Expanding your network and feeling connected is an important part of healing.
22. Join a Grief Club.
It may seem difficult to think about making the effort to join a grief group, but there is no one who can understand what you’re going through better than someone who has been through it as well. Check out some options or search for “grief groups near me.”
23. Try a Masterclass.
It may sound crazy to dive into a class with an expert when you’re not feeling at ease in your own skin, but sometimes the choice to explore something in depth can take the form of self-care. Just shifting your perspective toward a new subject or pursuit may inspire you in ways you could never have imagined. Major life events—including loss—can become points of great transformation and transition. Gift yourself a class in something you’ve always wanted to learn about, even if it seems far-fetched. You deserve it.
Regardless of which activity (or activities) you choose to try, we hope you find a bit of relief, a path toward peace, a moment or two of comfort, and sometimes even a flash of joy.
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