The recent deaths of two friends highlighted, within days, the harsh reality of the aging process – more frequent encounters with death. Of course, it’s a pure numbers game that’s part of life, but one that only really matters when it arrives.
In my case, one person was a beloved colleague named Linda Brand. Linda was a phenomenal woman who dedicated her life to Cooper University Health Care with a dedicated flair and, when necessary, a firm hand to ensure our patients were treated with dignity and compassion. Your personality has touched our lives.
The other was my friend and neighbor Frank Monzo. Frank and his wife Mary Rita moved next door when they left Philadelphia for South Jersey in the early 2000s. A devoted family man and great guy, Frank brought a whole new level of energy and leadership to the civic affairs of our Haddon Township community. Thanks to Frank’s contributions, our city is a better place.
The far too early deaths of Linda and Frank affected me deeply, harder than I would have imagined. My reaction is consistent with that of other men. Harvard Health says that while grief is a natural emotion, men often struggle to understand how it can impact their lives.
As I reflect on my feelings, were these losses a reminder that our time here is precious? Was it the realization that I was getting older? Could it be that major life events, be it the death of someone, a divorce, or a job loss, trigger higher levels of stress compared to the everyday things we are used to? And if this is the case, then what can and should men do to protect our own health and well-being when dealing with intense stress?
Cope with grief
It’s important to note that experts say most people recover from the losses they feel over time, through social support and healthy practices. The human spirit is naturally resilient and allows us to endure and continue life.
The American Psychological Association explains that there is no “normal” timeline for dealing with grief and that the stages of grief are less sequential steps and more like a pinball machine, jumping from one emotion to the next based on external stimulants. To support your grief, they recommend talking about the death of your friend or loved one, accepting your feelings, helping others, and celebrating the lives of those lost to time.
Physical effects of grief – and how to counteract them
Beyond our emotions, bereavement can also impact our physical health and well-being. The Cleveland Clinic says grief can worsen existing ailments and cause new physical symptoms, including chest pain, fatigue, trouble sleeping, headaches, dizziness, high blood pressure and digestive problems. The Cleveland Clinic also notes that the effects can lead to a weakened immune system and susceptibility to infectious diseases.
Still, others Authorities Reactions include changes in weight and appetite, with some This indicates that it is normal to not want to eat, have difficulty swallowing, or even find the taste of food strange.
So what can you do to counteract any physical effects or proactively maintain your physical well-being when you are grieving? The medical community offers various recommendations, some of which, such as: You will recognize certain habits, such as diet and exercise, as healthy practices that are good for you regardless of the circumstances.
Banner health recommends Good fluid intake, simple and light nutrition such as fruit, nuts and whole grains several times a day, plenty of rest and walks or bike rides. Exercise is always good. The health system also notes that accepting support from others can help with these logistics and provide emotional support.
Scientists at Harvard agree with Banner’s recommendations, but also point out that men coping with grief can find relaxation with physical and mental activities such as yoga, tai chi or qigong. They cite research showing how these activities can reverse the effects of stress. Hosparus Health advocated Exercise, proper nutrition and sleep, and also says a check-in with your doctor should also be considered.
How male stereotypes influence grief
Accordingly Sue Ryder, a UK-based organization that provides palliative, neurological and bereavement support, surveys of men found that the same social norms and stereotypical male behaviors that affect a man’s attitude toward healthy behavior also influence his response to bereavement. The organization found that 52% of grieving men wanted to appear strong and hide their feelings, and 35% did not want sympathy.
33 percent of men feared ostracism if they revealed their feelings to their friends, and 46 percent believed their friends would be uncomfortable if they shared their grief. Finally, researchers found that 41% of men said they couldn’t get through their grief without alcohol or drugs, and that on average men consumed alcohol 13 times a month and 24% used recreational drugs every day while grieving.
These are powerful findings that show how masculine cultural values can have lasting harmful effects.
Not surprisingly, a man’s response to loss is consistent with male behavior in other contexts that impact health and well-being. Just as traditional views of masculinity cause an aversion to annual physicals, they also impact a man’s ability to grieve. It’s not good to skip an annual physical exam, nor is it good to hide feelings when you’re grieving.
As men, we must confront these stereotypes and reject the definitions of masculinity that limit the willingness to reveal our feelings. There is power in grief when the process leads men to acknowledge their feelings and begin a healthy lifestyle.
Linda and Frank opened my eyes to another dimension of healthy behavior in men. It is an awakening with far-reaching implications.
Louis Bezich, senior vice president and chief administrative officer of Cooper University Health Care, is the author of “Crack the Code: 10 Proven Secrets That Inspire Healthy Behavior and Fulfillment in Men Over 50.” Read more from Louis on his website.