Love After Loss: Tips for Seniors Who’ve Lost a Spouse

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Losing a spouse is a trauma no matter what your age, but seniors can suffer the loss in a debilitating way.

Depression and anxiety can develop and disrupt one’s life and lead to health problems. Headaches, chronic back pain, cardiovascular disease, sleep problems and fall risk are all linked to depression and anxiety in seniors. If untreated, depression and anxiety can linger years after the death of a spouse and can block people from finding a new relationship.

More minor mood changes can linger, too. In fact, psychologists now believe that grief doesn’t necessarily unfold in stages, especially among seniors, and may instead resemble mood swings. One day is bleak, while the next day can be tinged with happiness and hope.

Amidst all this tumult and change, seniors reach out to one another in compassion and support. Open yourself to positive influences in your life and take initiatives that will help in your long-term healing process. Ultimately, you can open yourself to a new relationship and a richer support system.

Here are some tips to help you in your journey.

Practice Self-care

Try to eat healthfully, exercise three times per week and get enough sleep. This can help to stabilize your moods and to reclaim your old self. It can also help you to avoid less healthy coping strategies like drinking alcohol or smoking. Healthy, positive behavior will help you open yourself to a new relationship as well.

Join a Grief Support Group

It often helps to talk to people who are similarly grief-stricken. Processing emotions together can be powerful and effective. Learning to communicate clearly about what you’re feeling can also help you to avoid slipping into unhelpful coping methods like denial and avoidance. This, in turn, can help you develop the capacity and readiness for a new healthy relationship. Check with hospitals and religious groups to find a support group in your area.

Try Not to Make Any Major Changes Right Away

Put off big changes like moving. Instead, think in terms of baby steps that will help you to shift course in your life just enough to start to feel better or to meet new people. Try a cooking class; take up violin lessons.

See Your Doctor

Are you having trouble handling everyday activities or showing signs of depression, such as lower back pain, binge eating, excessive Internet use, shopping sprees, forgetfulness, or significant weight loss or weight gain? Are you having trouble sleeping? Then you might be suffering from depression or anxiety, even years after your loss. Getting treated means symptom relief and opening yourself to a new relationship.

Ask your doctor about short-term talk therapy with a counselor or about seeing a psychiatrist who can prescribe medication.

Also, if you’re feeling wobbly on your feet from insomnia or distractibility, consider getting a Medical Alert system in case you need emergency help with the push of a button. This is especially important if you’re at risk for a fall.

Try Small Group Activities

Invite friends for a potluck dinner, visit a senior center, or join a book club or a movie group. Participation in social activity is a key healthy coping strategy and helps you to heal.

Find an Activity You Like and Join a Class

If you love to dance, for instance, joining a social dance class is a great way to meet a like-minded person. Any group activity where people have similar goals also helps with “ice breaker” conversation that eases the awkwardness. Check out a senior center or community center to find fun group activities in your area.

Start a Meditation Class or a Bible Study Group

Starting a group activity, especially one that emphasizes spirituality and mindfulness, can help your healing process. It can also bring you together with people who struggle with challenges in their life.

What’s more, people consider religion more important as they age—roughly 65% of people over 65 years of age consider religion very important in their life, versus 50% of people ages 30 to 49, says the Pew Research Center. Spirituality is also linked to lower rates of health problems like heart disease and smoking, according to a Mayo Clinic report.

Spend Time with People Who Energize You

Some friends can sap your energy, while others can fill you up with positive feelings. Try to spend as much time as possible with the latter group as your support team. Learn to gently explain to well-meaning friends that you’re doing the best you can. And learn to explain to your support team the precise type of support you need. This will spare everyone unnecessary stress.