My Grief Care

Misconceptions About Grief

12 Episodes

Episode 7 : Is Staying Busy Good for Grief?


Episode Notes

Is Staying Busy Good for Grief?

One of the most common pieces of advice grieving people receive from others is “stay busy.” The idea is that we can avoid some of the pain of grieving by not focusing on our loss. Genius, right? Well, maybe not.

Most health professionals see being reasonably active as a healthy habit. But is “stay busy” good advice for a griever?

Well, yes, there is a sort of logic to staying reasonably active. Sitting around with nothing to do can potentially lead to feeling useless, lonely and hopeless. But filling up our days and nights with activity to avoid pain may have some unintended negative effects.

Consider this real-life example:

In my role as a therapist, I worked with a woman who had recently lost her husband. I’m going to call her “Arlene.” Arlene told me of the grief she felt as she told me about her husband. She described a man who adored her, who made her feel like the center of his universe, a great provider, and was full of life and fun. But, unexpectedly, he was diagnosed with a fatal disease, which he faced bravely. He was gone and she was devastated.

Arlene’s misery first motivated her to seek healing. She started spending her days reading self-help books. After a dozen books read in just a few weeks, she realized something. She was learning – but she didn’t seem to be healing. As she slowed down her reading efforts, she found herself feeling the pain of her loss again.

So, she thought it best to go back to work earlier than she had planned to fill in her daytime hours. Work kept her busy. But when her workday ended and she returned home, all her feelings of hopelessness and loneliness met her at her front door. She realized that she needed to keep herself busy at home until bedtime. To keep herself busy, she watched TV with a glass or two of wine until she began dozing off.

Soon enough, she tired of that routine and looked for another way to spend her evenings. She started spending most evenings out with friends eating dinner and then drinking until late. And, as you might guess, that approach could only be maintained for so long. So she started planning trips with friends. She greatly enjoyed dreaming about the next trip, making the travel plans, and then the freedom and novelty of staying in new places.

However, just as her previous strategies to keep active and busy began to fade, so did her passion for traveling. Once again, she was faced with her grief and difficult emotions.

Let’s stop here for a moment and examine what Arlene was up to. What was she doing?

What she was really doing with her reading, working, socializing, and traveling was practicing avoidance. Avoiding our grief is something like finding hiding places. At first, we feel a sort of relief as we crowd out and suppress our difficult thoughts and feelings. But it doesn’t help to hide, because the moment you come out of that hiding place, you’ll find your unresolved pain patiently waiting for you.

We can’t escape our pain by avoiding it. We can’t heal by dodging or numbing our pain. Rather, we simply postpone what we inevitably need to do: acknowledge, examine and express it. Maybe you relate to Arlene’s story.

If you find yourself filling in almost every moment of your day, ask yourself this question: what would it be like if you gave yourself the gift of resting, thinking and journaling your thoughts during this season of mourning? Your honest answer to this question will likely be illuminating.


  • Keeping busy isn’t a viable strategy for healing.
  • Staying busy to avoid pain is just a postponement of the inevitable. 
  • The pain of grieving must be acknowledged, examined and expressed.


If you find yourself filling in most every moment of your day, ask yourself this question:

 “What would it be like if you gave yourself the gift of resting, thinking about your loss and journaling your thoughts during this season of mourning?”

Then consider giving it a try. How will you feel afterward?


Those who avoid, who block, or try to hide from, their pain eventually realize that painful emotions reside within us and demand recognition and expression. These thoughts and feelings can never be extinguished other than facing them, examining them, and speaking of them.