Grief can be utterly exhausting.
The reasons for this may seem obvious, such as poor sleep patterns as I wrote about earlier.
There may be a lot to take care of related to the death of the loved one – funeral arrangements and so on. Or their absence may have left you simply with more things to do. Housework that was shared (hopefully!) is now your sole responsibility, along with the garden, shopping, getting the car washed, walking the dog, etc., etc.
All of this might add up to your feeling of tiredness, and it is understandable.
But there is another element, less visible. Grief is exhausting because of its emotional and mental turmoil.
You might feel worn out consciously managing your emotions, but a lot of this exhaustion comes from a deeper place, that you might not even realise is happening.
I’ll give you an example, which isn’t directly related to grief, but it illustrates how deep-seated emotions can affect how we feel.
I was having a good morning working at home – I was quite on top of things. In the midst of everything else, I needed to make a phone call to the hospital to find out about a follow up appointment related to the cancer I had 3 years ago. It wasn’t a big deal. I just left a message on an answer phone. Still, immediately afterwards, I felt this wave of exhaustion. All of a sudden the emails and projects I had set for myself for this day loomed large, almost too big to undertake.
There was no practical reason for this sudden change in my energy levels, not to speak of enthusiasm for my work. It was merely a 2 minute phone call. But that call was the tip of a very big iceberg. It represented that really difficult time in hospital, the surgery, the aftermath. Although I was not thinking about this, it nevertheless gave a little stir to that pot of fear that many cancer survivors deal with – the fear of a recurrence.
I had not voiced the thoughts in my head; they were more impressions than thoughts. Perhaps the internal energy of pushing them aside, although I was not conscious of doing so, was what left me feeling drained.
And I think that relates very much to how those who are grieving often experience unexpected levels of exhaustion, both mental and physical. “I just feel so tired” is a common expression in the grief journey. “I still feel so tired” might be months or years into the journey. There is so much to cope with, no wonder the grieving feel like this.
Sometimes we are quite aware of what is affecting us. We pass a certain cafe where we used to share a cup of coffee, we drive past the hospital where our loved one was treated, we discover a note or card from him or her tucked in the pages of a book or in the bottom of a box, we are coming up to the anniversary of a key date in our life’s calendar.
Other times, we are less conscious because it is less obvious. We might not exactly think or remember something, but we have a sense of uneasiness.
Maybe we feel tired after a day at work or a meal out with friends because we are constantly balancing social expectations with our feelings. We might sit there smiling and nodding as we hear about someone’s holiday plans whilst inwardly fighting off a sinking feeling, perhaps even a sense of panic, that the person we used to holiday with is no longer here. Maybe we are going through the necessary motions at work while fighting off the urge to cry, to shout – “don’t you know that he/she died? don’t you know the world has changed forever?”
There is no magic solution to the tiredness of grief, although there are some strategies you might find helpful.
- Acknowledge to yourself how difficult a situation is – such as a particular conversation or social event – and then give yourself time afterwards to process your thoughts about it.
- Expressing your thoughts and feelings is very important – and that means finding the appropriate place and time, and oftentimes the right people to speak with, and/or a journal or blog.
- Being kind to yourself with exercise in the fresh air and a change of scenery can only be good.
- Getting a good night’s sleep is also important.
- Realising that this exhaustion is a natural part of grief can help you accept it for what it is.
- On the other hand, while ongoing physical tiredness could be part of your experience of loss, it could also have an unrelated physical cause. It doesn’t hurt to consult your GP if it persists.