The Importance of Self-Care: How To Better Handle Your Stress During Grief

In Grief by Nathan ToLeave a Comment

Whether it’s been 10 years, 10 days or 10 minutes, you likely believe in the importance of self-care. During tough times, self-care is especially valuable. That’s because caring for yourself is a key part of self-compassion.

Developing this compassion for yourself is crucial, especially during seasons of grief, suffering, stress and any overwhelming feelings that find us in our lives. But sometimes, our best intentions (even for our own well-being) can, understandably, get lost along the way. So, what can we do about this?

Image of cat casting shadow of a lion in black and white along brick wall-a self-care representation


To be honest, when we forget to take care of ourselves, three things can happen:

  • We neglect our self-care practices and completely abandon them…and/or
  • “Bury our feelings” unhealthily by narrowly focusing on one “go-to” self-care activity, and/or…
  • We avoid the underlying issues or woundings in our lives, which makes self-care activities feel superficial.

In response, this post invites you to boldly:

  • Make contact” with your pain mindfully, by expanding your self-awareness.
  • “Explore” what self-care practices you’re doing/not doing, or perhaps wish to do.
  • Create Balance” in your self-care activities, by diversifying across different modes of care (e.g. Physically, Mentally, Emotionally, Relationally, and/or Spiritually).

Now, maybe I’ve hyped up self-care a bit there. To be honest, I know it’s obviously not the magical answer to all your life challenges.

But I do strongly believe that it’s a crucially important part of building your overall health and mental and emotional well-being.

In fact, by prioritizing self-care, you’re not just helping yourself survive your present sufferings. You’ll also be strengthening the cornerstones of your resilience and grit.

And it’s that resilience and grit that can genuinely empower you to thrive through the most stressful situations of your daily life.

Whether you’re already well-versed with self-care practices or completely new to them, I hope this article helps you (re)evaluate your current self-care practice, evolve it, and customize it in a way that’s wholly unique for you.

In the following sections, I’ve put together the following self-care ideas and personal reflections to help you out.

By the way, I’d like to note that these exercises are drawn from Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) Research/Training by the brilliant Dr. Kristin Neff & Dr. Chris Germer.* If you’d like to hear me talk a bit more about how helpful I’ve personally found their work, feel free to read more about it in my own journey through grief and compassion journey here.

May you find this empowering and enriching for you, wherever you’re at today.

Awareness: Make Contact With Your Suffering

First, I invite you to “make contact” with your present feelings of suffering with a simple “Awareness” exercise (this is not a test). Instead of “rejecting” what’s going on for you, this act of intention invites you to gently open yourself to your feelings, mindfully.

Please take out a digital or physical notebook and jot down your responses.

This isn’t a test, so for questions with multiple choices, feel free to write down (or copy/paste) as many options as you like into your notebook. If you wish, feel free to use this as a discussion tool with your therapist or coach.

  1. What does the importance of self-care mean for you? For example, what is currently causing your grief, pain, stress or overall suffering?
  2. During this moment of suffering, I feel…:

a) Ouch, this really hurts
b) Pretty stressed out…
c) That it’s sometimes unbearable
d) __________________________(fill in your own preferred phrase)

3. Even so, I’m mindful that “suffering is a part of life for all people”. Thus, I’m aware that:

a) I’m not alone
b) Some others may be feeling just like I am, or similar as me.
c) This is what it feels like when people struggle like this.
d) __________________________(fill in your own preferred phrase)

Now, I invite you to say to yourself one of (or all of) the following:

  • “May I be kind to myself”
  • “May I give myself what I need”
  • “May I begin to accept myself, just as I am”
  • “__________________________”(fill in your own preferred phrase)

Now, please identify the ways you currently care for yourself Physically, Mentally, Emotionally, Relationally, and/or Spiritually.

All are equally important and inter-related. They are not ranked, so please don’t worry about the order I’ve written them down.

Also, please note that many of the self-care examples below represent activities that I would personally enjoy. I’ve written them down just to give you an idea of what I’m talking about here.

So, for example, if you really don’t like “massages” or “hot showers” for some reason (hey, to each their own, right? 🙂 ), that’s totally okay. The importance of self-care isn’t just about how many massage you get per month. This may sound a bit cliché, but it’s really more of an attitude towards the quality of our lives.

So feel free to fill-in-your-own choices and even create your own unique list!

Please also remember this is a self-awareness tool (not a test). So jot down (or copy/paste) as many options as you like into your physical or digital notebook.


Image of 2 women stretching calves in gym-self-care


1. Physical Care: Soften Your Body Tension

Q: How do you take care of yourself physically?

a) Exercise (e.g. jogging, lifting weights, crossfit, martial arts, etc)
b) Massage
c) Nice, hot shower
d) Warm bath with Epsom salt and essential oils
e) Cup of hot tea
f) Yoga and/or Stretching
g) ___________________________ (fill in your own)

2. Mental Care: Reduce Your Anxious Thoughts

Q: What activities help you ease your mind?

a) Meditation or Mindfulness Practice
b) Watch a funny movie
c) Watch an action film
d) Read an inspiring book
e) Skim through different Wikipedia pages
f) Write down your thoughts in a notebook
g) ___________________________ (fill in your own)

image of girl hugging her cat in bw-self-care

3. Emotional Care: Soothe and Comfort Yourself

Q. How do you care for yourself emotionally?

a) Spend time with your cat or pet the dog
b) Deep breathing or meditation practice
c) Draw what you wish or in your colouring book
d) Take a nice, long walk
e) Cook or try a new recipe
f) Play a musical instrument or sing a song
g) ___________________________ (fill in your own)


Image of older sister comforting younger brother with arm over shoulder-relational self-care example

4. Relational Self-Care: Connect with Others

Q. When you connect with people, what ways makes you feel genuinely happy?

a) Chat with friends face-to-face or online
b) Send a birthday or “thinking of you” card
c) Play fun board games (e.g. Scrabble, Settlers of Catan)
d) Login to an online multiplayer video game
e) Join a drop-in/pick-up hockey game or other sport
f) Sign-up for a book club
g) ___________________________ (fill in your own)

Image of man sitting and praying-representation of one type of self-care

Expanding our self-care through multiple senses is important for our well-being

5. Spiritual Self-Care: Commit To Your Values

Q. How do you care for yourself spiritually?

a) Pray
b) Walk in Nature (e.g. around the lake, through the woods, up a mountain)
c) Meditation, Mindfulness, and/or Contemplation practice
d) Volunteer with a charity
e) Offer a random act of kindness to a friend or stranger
f) Write a compassionate letter to yourself or a friend.
g) ___________________________ (fill in your own)

Final Thoughts: The Importance of Self-Care for You

By now, I hope you’re starting to develop a wider sense of how building diverse self-care practices can deepen and enrich the foundations of your health and wellness.

Again, these are just examples to help you reflect on the importance of self-care in your own context. The purpose is to evaluate the categories that work for you now, explore what doesn’t, and consider what additional activities might help you even more in your daily life.

Please do note that some self-care activities can fit across multiple self-care modes. For example, meditation could fit into both Spiritual and Mental self-care categories. In fact, some forms of meditation could involve all five self-care modes.

Similarly, different forms of physical exercise could also involve important emotional self-care aspects. Also, if you work-out with a friend or enjoy jogging with your dates, you could definitely add a “relational self-care” piece into that too.

Of course, all that simply means this: the 5 categories of self-care (physical, mental, emotional, relational, spiritual) are all interrelated and interconnected. Each part may focus on particular ideas, but they all serve the whole (e.g. your holistic health) and benefit one another.

The key point about the importance of self-care is to create a balance that integrates all these forms into your personal practice. I encourage you to try building a healthy rhythm of Physical, Mental, Emotional, Relational, and Spiritual Self-care. If you do, you’ll create a dynamic practice that not helps you better handle those bad days, but empowers you better enjoy those great ones too.

Bonus Reflection Questions: Follow-Up on Your Responses

I invite you to reflect on the following questions to further help you reflect on your responses. While not required, it can help you deepen your own understanding about your own self-care practice:

  • Which mode(s) of self-care do you tend to focus on?
  • How is it helping so far?
  • Would it help you to add more activities from a different mode?
  • If so, how would that help you? If not, why not?

Hopefully this can also inspire you to create your own list. Feel free to make this your own!


Content from this “Real Self-Care Checklist” is Drawn from “Mindful Self-Compassion” (MSC) Research, Programs & Training*.

*The exercises in this post are Adapted with permission from Dr. Kristin Neff, from the Center of Mindful Self-Compassion (CMSC).
*I also integrated some of my own self-care ideas alongside existing ones in the CMSC exercises.

1. The Self-Care Workbook specifically adapts an exercise by Neff, Kristin & Germer, Chris (2017). The Power of Self-Compassion [Online Course] . Session 1: What is Compassion? & Session 2: The Foundation of Mindfulness. [Course Handouts].  Sounds True Inc. Adapted with permission.

2. Pema Chödrön (2013) When Pain is the Doorway. “Awakening in the Most Difficult Circumstances”. [Audio Recording]. Sounds True Inc.; James, John W., Friedman,‎ Russell. (2017).

3. The Grief Recovery Handbook, 20th Anniversary Expanded Edition: The Action Program for Moving Beyond Death, Divorce, and Other Losses including Health, Career, and Faith. William Morrow Paperbacks.

*Disclaimer: The CounterStory Project is not affiliated with, endorsed by, or sponsored by the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion or any of their affiliates or subsidiaries.

**This content contains my own referral or affiliate links. I only recommend books or products I personally love or added to my own wish list. Please see my disclosure policy on for more information.


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