Feeling grief during a pandemic

Our lives have changed drastically since COVID-19 has taken a grip on society. We are faced with a new reality of social distancing, missing out on activities like birthdays, graduations, family get-togethers, friend game nights, baby showers, and other celebrations that bring us joy. Because we are trying to stop the spread of this devastating virus, we are missing out on these important life milestones. With this big change in our lives, many of us are grieving, and some might question whether they should be feeling so sad when there is so much devastation around the world. The following information derived from a Harvard Business Review article explores the grief we are feeling, and what we can do to address it.

In “That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief”, Scott Berinato interviewed David Kessler, a well-known expert on grief. Kessler explains that it is right to call what we are feeling grief. Many things in our lives have changed, and during a time of extreme change and disruption it is normal to grieve what we had before and what we want and/or are missing during the pandemic. He also explains that we might be feeling different kinds of grief, one of which is anticipatory grief. This kind of grief can include worrying about the future, concern about those around us being sick, and questioning how things will be once the pandemic ends.

Many people might feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed by this grief. Kessler stresses that acknowledging this grief is important, and part of managing it includes accepting the emotions we are experiencing, accepting how things are, and how we can each contribute to flatten the curve like washing our hands and practicing safe social distancing. To help control our grief and anxieties during this difficult time, Kessler recommends four techniques:

1) “Find balance in the things you’re thinking”: This is especially important when your thoughts might be spinning like a hamster wheel. Kessler explains that whenever you have a negative thought, bring up a positive one to counter it. For example, if you think, “So many people in the world are dying and someone near me will as well”, instead think, “Those close to me are taking the right precautions to take care during this pandemic.” This does not mean dismissing the negative thoughts; they are a part of the experience. What is important is finding a balance of negative and positive thoughts

2) “Come to the present”: It is easy to think ahead and fill our minds with all the worst possible scenarios for the future, but Kessler insists that it is crucial to stay in the present. This is a practice we see in meditation and mindfulness. Bringing ourselves back to the present moment can help alleviate the grief and anxieties we are experiencing. Some tricks you can try are breathing exercises to stabilize your breathing rate and looking around the room and naming the objects you see. In a time of stress like this, it is important to take things one day at a time.

3) “Let go of what you can’t control”: This is definitely something that seems easier said than done, but it is extremely important in managing our emotions. Some of our anxieties are about other people and wondering if they are doing what they need to do to contribute to diminishing the spread of the virus, but we must tell ourselves that we cannot control what they do. Instead, focus on the things that you can do: washing your hands, practicing social distancing, avoid gathering in big groups, and following the rules implemented by the government. By doing all of this, you are doing your part to keep yourself and those around you safe.

4) “Stock up on compassion”: Being compassionate to ourselves and others is especially important in a time when grief and anxiety can take over a person in ways it did not before. Be patient with those who might be more aggravated than usual. Be kind to the person who is expressing higher levels of anxiety. Reach out to those in your social circle–call your parents, message a friend, or email a co-worker to see how they are coping. Be kind to yourself too!

These are difficult times for everyone. We are faced with many uncertainties and questions about our future, and it might feel like it is a huge hill to climb with seemingly no end. What is important is that we must stay strong and do everything in our own power to contribute to the healing of our society. If you feel overwhelmed and are having difficulty managing your grief and anxieties, you can always contact Info-Social 811 where you can speak with a psychosocial intervention worker who can help guide you to feeling better and more in control of your emotions. ˆ

For more on grief from David Kessler, click here.

– Gabrielle Lesage

For more resources on grief, please click here.

Please click here for references.

As seen in the Summer 2020 newsletter.