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Grief And Loss – Reducing The Physical Pain
A woman recently came to see me who was grieving the unexpected death of her son two weeks earlier. She was using a cane and like any grieving mother she looked completely exhausted. During our conversation it was revealed that he does not normally use a cane. She explained that she hadn’t eaten much, just some yogurt and melon. There were more: she felt weak and dizzy and afraid of falling. So the cane was a necessity.
I quickly asked if she had drunk a lot of water. Her immediate response was, not at all. The result was a common condition that affects the vast majority of mourners: unrecognized chronic dehydration. This hidden condition – which occurs in both non-bereaved and bereaved people at any age – plays a major role in the development of headaches, confusion, stomachaches, feeling sluggish, dizziness, the appearance of old injuries and falling. Bereavement makes dehydration worse because of the emotional quagmire you have to navigate.
As simplistic as it sounds, drinking water daily is an absolutely necessary part of self-care, and most importantly, a critical coping technique when grieving the death of a loved one. Grief work is very stressful and requires a lot of energy and stamina. The body’s need for water – not soft drinks, alcohol or caffeinated drinks – which dehydrate cells, is critical. Water, spring water if possible, will go a long way in reducing the physical pain of grief and supporting brain maintenance.
Here’s what you need to know about daily water consumption and dehydration as you grieve.
1. If you tell yourself “I’m thirsty”, it’s too late, because you’re already dehydrated and your body is paying a heavy price. This means you need to drink water at certain times before you reach the “thirsty” stage. This is especially true as you get older, when awareness of thirst is much slower to come into conscious thought.
2. How much should you drink? In general, actual consumption depends on body size as some people need more than others. However, diet, exercise levels, stress, climate, perspiration, and other factors make a goal (don’t let that number scare you) of 40 ounces a day necessary. All you need to do is drink five 8-ounce glasses. Wow, you say. This may seem out of your reach, but wait. See for yourself how small 8 ounces is by taking a liquid measuring cup and filling it up to the 8 ounce mark. Then pour the water into a glass and see how small it really is. It’s like getting 8 swallows when you were on the playground as a kid.
3. Try this program for water intake. About 15 minutes before each meal drink 8 oz. This means first thing in the morning drink water, with a little lemon if needed, before anything else. Your kidneys will love you for it. About an hour after your meal, drink another 8 ounces. Yes, I know three meals add up to six glasses and a total of 48 ounces. So, if you want, skip it after your dinner or before it. On the other hand, six glasses is ideal because 40 ounces is minimal, as most physiologists will tell you. You know you’re drinking enough if your urine is clear or light, not dark.
4. If you haven’t eaten, like the mother above, electrolyte levels can become abnormal and you may need to add some electrolytes, the absence of which adds to confused thinking and blood pressure problems. Electrolytes in the blood are substances such as sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium and magnesium that in solution become electrically conductive ions. Our cells cannot function without this electrical transmission. Electrolytes are not found in drinking water. You have to get these minerals into your system some other way.
However, you don’t necessarily need to drink Gatorade or other sports drinks to meet this need, as many athletes do. Food is the best source. Eating some vegetables (especially broccoli, kale or green beans), fruit and nuts will fill the bill. Of course, this is not easy to do when you are grieving. That’s why it’s so important to eat little by little, like a small salad, even when you don’t feel like it.
In summary, consider scheduling water intake as one of your new routines. Make a note or put a picture of a glass of water on your bulletin board as a reminder. One of the tasks of grieving is to develop many new routines to adjust to the absence of our loved one. A water routine will not only reduce the physical pain associated with grief, but it will become the foundation for increasing the energy and stamina needed to face the transition you face in managing the emotions associated with great loss. And, once it’s usually established as part of your new-normal, you can use it for the rest of your life.
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