2020 has been a year of unexpected changes to all of our lives and certainly not by choice.
We've had to learn to adapt to and adjust to everyday mundane things, including how we go to work, how we go to school, how we interact with one another, how we see our friends and family, how we conduct traditions and rituals, how we attend social events… or missing social events.
COVID-19 alone has brought a lot of unexpected change, and many of us have experienced grief and loss on a variety of different levels this year.
When we traditionally think about grief, we think about losing a loved one or mourning a lost relationship, and whether that's a romantic relationship or the loss of friendship, grief and loss with relationships can be quite painful. However, grief can also show up in changes in our lives that were unanticipated especially in aspects of our lives that are meaningful. Many of us have lost a sense of community this year, and that lends to feeling isolated. For example, losing a long-term job, not being able to participate in religious or recreational communities, and even feeling distant from friends and family members. One of the things that keeps human beings connected, as we are social beings, is feeling like we're a part of something greater than us.
So, how do we work through this year, as each of us are experiencing grief in different ways?
We aren’t always aware of the different ways in which grief manifests, so it’s hard to recognize that we are, in fact, grieving. Let’s start there. First and foremost, you should identify the grief in your life and how it's impacting you. Whether that's losing a loved one, feeling like you've lost your community, feeling like there's a separation between relationships and friendships, feeling like you've lost connection with family members - whatever it is in your life that you're grieving and identify with, know that it is valid.
It's okay to experience feelings of sadness. We all want to feel happy and we all want to feel connection and feel the more positive parts of the human, emotional spectrum, but sadness and loss serves a place too, because it reminds us that there were some valuable things in our lives that had meaning. Sometimes those things can change and sometimes they're temporarily lost, but it's okay to feel however you do.
What are some steps to cope with grief right now?
Once you’ve identified the areas of loss in your life, then review coping skills you’ve used in the past, which you know work when you feel sad. This is an individualized approach; what works for one may not work for others.
Here are a few considerations:
1. Staying connected to friends and family members; making sure that even if you can't see them that you connect through video conference and/or phone. Reach out to the people who make you feel good. Remind friends and family that you need a little help and support (and do the same others). Ask yourself: Who are the people that you can talk to when the chips are down? Who are the people you know won’t judge you and instead will make you feel comforted and loved? Let them know you're having a hard time and that you'd like to hear from them. Sometimes when we're grieving, we feel badly that we're feeling sad and we don't want to put that on someone else, but often we don't recognize when a friend or family member is struggling because we are so focused on our own lives, so don't hesitate to reach out and ask. Particularly now when we're not seeing everybody as often.
2. You can also cope with grieving by maintaining your routines; do the things you use to do. Even simple routines, like getting up and ready for the day, as hard as it may be, are important to keep up with as they bring a sense of normalcy.
3. Revive those rituals that bring comfort and familiarity. Of course, make sure that you're getting outside and exercising to get your heart rate up. It's always good for your mental health to get some form of physical exercise.
4. Maintain a balanced routine of work/school and recreational/leisure time. Make sure if you're working or going to school that you're not just working all the time or thinking about your school all the time, but that you also set up the same structure as you did pre-pandemic. For instance, if you worked a “9-5”, make sure that you get up and you brush your teeth, you work from nine to five, you get out for a walk and get a little bit of sunlight in and then find some ways to connect socially. If you can't see your friends and family members find a way to set up a video conference. There are some great online games that you can play with your friends and family members – on or offline. Find some fun things to do!
5. Take on beneficial practices like meditation and other mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques. If you feel that you’re experiencing signs of depression and anxiety, there are some techniques you can use in addition to mental health services. A lot of these are available online, such as meditation apps through your phone. When you do practice mindfulness, I suggest taking the time to think about what you might be missing in your life. From there, what's the appropriate accommodation to try to find a way to connect with what your missing, most importantly, with other people? Part of what makes us feel badly when we're grieving and we're feeling losses is the disconnection with other people.
6. Find enjoyable recreational/leisure activities. In terms of finding forms of enjoyment, think about what brings you joy within the activities you typically find pleasurable and then modify them as needed. For instance, you might like to listen to a podcast that you love or to a live music video stream if you typically enjoy concerts. If you love live cultural events, you can listen to or watch a live stream dance or a theater performance. If you like hosting parties, you can put together a themed video conference, like an ugly holiday sweater party, charades, trivia, etc. Modify the way that you would spend time enjoying things in your life to keep that balance.
Most importantly, remember that recovering from grief and loss brings resilience and a sense of empowerment as we develop the tools to get through difficult times.
Remind yourself, “I know I’m going to get through this”.
Remind yourself that you've gotten through difficult times before.
Remind yourself of how you got through them.
Remind yourself that although you feel the way that you're feeling right now, it's temporary.
Our minds tend to ruminate and go to the worst-case scenario. "I'm always going to feel this way and I feel horrible", but the truth is that you won't. There's always hope around the corner and you just have to get through the difficult time and allow yourself to be in process.
We all are we're grieving our old lives. Every single person on the planet right now is grieving the way in which we used to interact…but hope is around the corner; there are finally vaccines and we know that there's an end to all of this.
In the meantime, hold on tight and know that eventually we will all be together again.
Again, it's normal to feel grief right now. But if you are experiencing signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression, please reach out to a mental health resource. You can find some of those resources here.