Losing a pet can leave us with such emotional heartache and physical pain that a heavy weight starts to envelop our heart, spirit, and body. This can also deeply impact our daily routine and self-care. As we struggle to endure, understand, and share our conflicting feelings following the loss of our best friend, it is so easy to focus on our emotions while ignoring the toll this loss leaves on our physical body. Grief affects all parts of ourselves, including emotionally, spiritually, professionally, and relational, but can especially leave us physically exhausted and drained. According to a recent study by Amerispeak and WebMD, 65% of people in the US experience some form (or combination) of physical ailment after pet loss. Some common physical symptoms include headaches, nausea, constipation, anxiety, rapid heart rate, shallow breathing, lack of sleep, loss of appetite, bodily aches and pains, and numerous other symptoms. Many have expressed the deep hollow empty feeling in the pit of their abdomen of pain and loneliness, along with a complete lack of energy. Grieving after pet loss is unique from any other loss, as we form a special bond of unconditional love, continuous caretaking, and time with our pets that creates a painful desolation in our heart when they pass away.
While we often focus on maintaining proper emotional self-care through support and comfort from others, it is important to also continue daily physical care for ourselves as well. Understandably, nothing appears more comforting at this moment than hiding beneath a warm blanket at home alone away from others, but it is truly in our best interest to try to keep up a daily routine as best as we can. There are numerous options available for repairing our physical strength and it only takes just one step in the right direction to help ourselves feel better. While improving self-care is even possible to fathom in grief, learning to take these baby steps daily toward healing is very heartening to our soul.
Some important first steps for healthy physical care include:
- Sleeping Well: Remaining well-rested is valuable for curing headaches, aches, and pains. It can also help to take additional naps, listen to soothing music, use soft sheets and pillows, and warm oil scents to preserve a peaceful environment.
- Continuing Our Daily Hygiene: Taking showers/baths to help us feel refreshed and energized, even if we remain at home and are not ready to go out in public yet.
- Keeping up with a Healthy Diet: Going to the grocery store once a week can us plan meals ahead with less stress, cook privately at home, and experiment with new flavors. Setting this routine will create a healthier diet plan and ensure that small snacks are readily available. You can also order a meal from your favorite restaurant for home delivery if you don’t want to cook.
- Exercising (with some small adjustments if needed): Maintaining daily exercise can be very difficult to consider at first, especially if we had set our fitness routine with our dog or done cardio at home next to our cat. Changing up a fitness routine can help soothe these difficult moments and include taking a walk down a new natural pathway, biking, swimming, or starting a new activity. Walking among nature and breathing in the peaceful, serene environment is very healing and soothing to both our distressed hearts and bodies.
- Self-Reflection: Taking time for self-reflection through hiking, road trips, taking an art class, or even volunteering at a shelter to help animals can help guide us toward healing in a variety of ways.
- Deep Breathing Exercises: Deep breathing exercises can be very healing to us physically in that these techniques lower our heart rate and blood pressure, improve our posture, help prevent headaches and asthma, and give us a more calming presence.
- Mindfulness Techniques: These techniques can help us focus more on the present moment, gain self-understanding and reflection, and learn to better understand our emotions, thoughts, and five senses with small exercises; a helpful guide to starting mindfulness is at https://www.mindful.org/meditation/mindfulness-getting-started/.
Note: When conducting both deep breathing and mindfulness techniques, try each exercise carefully for about 10-15 minutes a day and learn to immerse this more into your daily routine.
Caring for ourselves physically through self-care after pet loss is just as crucial as recognizing our emotions through support and counseling. Just as everyone grieves differently for their best friend emotionally, each of us may also choose our own “to do list” for physical care and healing; there is never a set deadline or timeline for repairing our physical distress from grief. It takes courage to take these first steps towards focusing on ourselves; however, we must always remember that our lost loved ones will forever be with us in our hearts, minds, and actions and want us to be at peace.