Grieving through the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Everyone around the world is going through the same feeling: a form of sadness and frustration, mixed with fatigue and uncertainty. It may seem like anger in some people – more pronounced; in others, it may seem more distant and appear as denial. For some, it can manifest as anxiety. The American Psychological Association (APA) states that naming something allows us to manage it. The APA knows what we’re all feeling, and it has a name.

For all of us, the name of this feeling is “grief.”

Pretending the grief isn’t there and refusing to acknowledge it will keep us mired in it. Acknowledging it can help us become more resilient and work towards moving forward.

Pandemic Loss

There’s so much to grieve right now – we’ve all lost something in the past few months. For children, it’s the loss of playdates and the supportive structure of school. Adults may have lost jobs, a source of income, or the sanctuary of their work. Everyone has lost the world as they knew it. No more simple, worry-free trips to the shopping mall or the movies. It’s temporary, but it feels permanent.

If you’ve lost a loved one to the COVID pandemic, or to circumstances surrounding it, you may be working through some difficult grief at this moment. You may understand, more than others, how grief can take hold. The loss of life is tragic, and the grieving is complicated. Experiencing the loss of a loved one amidst a pandemic lends more complex layers of emotion to the painful grieving process.

What Grief Looks Like

Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross pioneered the “stages of grief” model in her famous book, Death and Dying. The five stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — remain the basis of current theories about grief. However, it is now believed that everyone grieves differently, and not linearly as Dr. Kübler-Ross theorized.

The emotions involved with grief remain varied: a person can have the same feeling in all the five stages, or they can feel numb, empty or confused. Grief can also cause physical symptoms such as insomnia, fatigue or shakiness. Some people may even feel as if they have the flu. Grief takes shape differently from person to person, but what’s universal is the grief itself.

Managing Grief During the Pandemic

At this time, access to our traditional support systems is limited by social distancing guidelines and the disruptive nature of the pandemic. The ways we dealt with grief before the COVID — with friends, family and spiritual services — aren’t available. We need to take active steps to cope. Our mental health is essential, both to ourselves and to the people around us.

Here are a few tips to help you cope with grief during the pandemic.

Communicate with Others

Communication is a healing activity when it comes to grief. Thankfully, technology gives us access to others almost instantaneously. Call or text your friends or family. Even if you’re not ready to discuss your emotions, speaking about your day and plans for tomorrow can establish the connection that you need. Resist the temptation to lock yourself away, and reach out.

Speaking to a healthcare professional is always an option. Many physicians and counselors are available through telehealth services, giving you the opportunity to speak to an objective and understanding therapist in the comfort of your own home.

Communicate with Yourself

Spend time journaling or doing something creative. Journaling is a good way to communicate directly with yourself: seeing your thoughts put down on paper will give you some release. Art and music are also great ways to express yourself and check in with yourself.

Get Rest and Recuperation

We should all give ourselves permission to take it easy and rest, if possible. Now is the time to find little joys for ourselves. If you like to garden, bake, or watch television — give yourself permission to do so. Be kind to yourself, and to others, because we’re all experiencing the same challenges – just in different ways.

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