Taking Care of Yourself


When you’re grieving, it’s completely normal to feel like you don’t want to leave the house or just want to lay on the couch and eat chips. But taking care of yourself will help you get through both the emotional pain and practical challenges of the death of a loved one.  

When you are grieving it can be difficult to practice self-compassion, which means being kind to yourself. Some people feel guilty about doing something for themselves or feeling any kind of positive emotion, or think it’s not worth bothering as nothing will take the pain away. 

The aim of self-compassion and self-care is not to take away the pain of your loss. Nothing can. But taking care of yourself helps you better manage the physical and emotional responses to grief. Try some of the self-care strategies below, or continue doing something that worked for you before your loss (like running or listening to music) as a way to stay connected with your loved one. 

Look after your physical health 

  • Try to stick to a healthy, balanced diet and resist comfort eating. If your appetite is down, try having several small meals throughout the day instead of three big ones. 
  • Try to maintain regular sleep routines – got to bed and get up at set times. If it’s hard to get to sleep, try meditation, listening to music, a warm shower or bath or herbal drink before you go to bed. 
  • Get some exercise every day. A short walk in the morning can clear your head and lift your mood. You may like to try something new like swimming, dancing or a team sport. Being active also makes it easier to sleep at night. 
  • Resist alcohol or drugs as ways to dull the pain. Any relief will be short term at best, and they can lead to more serious problems.  

Boost your mental health 

Grief can bring stress and painful thoughts, so taking time to relax and care for yourself is important. 

  • Do whatever brings you some comfort – have a bath, spend time in nature, read a book, go to a movie. 
  • Try meditation or relaxation to help with anxiety, painful thoughts and trouble sleeping.  
  • Find ways to laugh (and don’t feel guilty about it) – go to a funny movie or catch up with a friend who always makes you laugh. 
  • Remember you are not alone, that loss is part of life. Talk to a friend, someone in the treatment team who was supportive when your loved one was dying, or consider bereavement counselling (see links below).   

Ask for help 

It’s important for you and your child/ren to have support from people outside your immediate family. Seek support from extended family and close friends. 

If you feel like you are ‘stuck’ in grief or very depressed or anxious, seek help. You may need professional help if you find it difficult to cope with normal daily life, begin to rely on alcohol or drugs, stop eating regularly, have trouble sleeping or sleep too much, or experience negative thoughts that make you feel helpless.  Talk to your GP or call a CanTeen counsellor for a confidential chat: 1800 835 932. 

More advice/support 

It can also be helpful to connect with other parents who have lost a partner or child to cancer in CanTeen’s Parent Community to discover self-care strategies that worked for them. 

Some people find it helpful to talk to someone outside the family and get advice from experts in dealing with grief. Contact a CanTeen counselor for advice about bereavement counseling and support services: 1800 835 932 or support@canteen.org.au 

Useful sites/resources 

Cancer Council’s booklet Understanding Grief has more advice about dealing with grief and tips for taking care of yourself.  

For a full list of Parenting through Cancer resources click here
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