Even in a world without the complications and challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, dealing with loss and grief is painful, difficult, and stressful. The resulting uncertainty, anxiety, and fear following social distancing rules and lockdowns being implemented around the world are only adding more strain to those who are grieving.
Types of Loss
While people often think first of severe personal loss, like the loss of a friend or family member, there are many different types of loss and grief. This could be anything from the loss of a job or losing friends and your social life, to the changes in your lifestyle/routine due to being forced to stay inside more practice social distancing. Many people are dealing with social insecurity and canceled events, like weddings, festivals, funerals, and any other planned social gatherings.
Any of these things can lead to feelings of grief, or even cause anticipatory grieving. Anticipatory grief is simply the feeling of experiencing grief-like emotions and reactions to the fear or anxiety of something that may happen. For example, if you have a terminally ill family member who is likely to pass away in the near future, it is completely possible to feel grief in anticipation of this happening. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this may be experienced by many individuals who have friends or family members who are classified as part of the ‘at risk’ population. Others may simply be struggling with the uncertain situation and increasing fear and anxiety for the future.
Regardless of the type of loss you are dealing with, it is essential to acknowledge that grieving will be different and very possibly more difficult to process. For this reason, you should also be aware of the various signs of grief. These can include: difficulty concentrating, trouble sleeping or oversleeping, or the same with eating, irrational feelings of anger or irritability, physical signs like headaches, fatigue, feeling sick, acting impulsively, drinking more than usual, etc.
A lot of people make the mistake of simply chalking these various signs up to anxiety or other influences and forget that grief can affect you in a range of ways and for a variety of reasons.
Coping with Loss
It is vital to not only acknowledge your grief, but also to allow yourself to process your loss. This means knowing how to cope with these emotions in a healthy way using tools and therapies, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Emotional Focused Therapy or others. Starting today, you can also practice more self-compassion, watch out for self-criticism and blame, and try to identify areas of stress to avoid triggers and distressing influences. Practice self-care regularly and frequently, and give yourself some time to process your feelings but do not dwell in it.
In this time of uncertainty, you may feel more than ever that things are completely out of your control. It can be all too easy to blame yourself and feel guilt for how things have happened. Instead, try to take the pressure off and give yourself some time and space to reach acceptance, and work through your feelings.
Acceptance doesn’t mean apathy, it means seeing clearly from a place of calm, knowing when to act, and knowing when to let go. Remember that your feelings are completely valid and normal and that everyone will process these feelings in their own way.
Stages of Grieving During COVID-19
Many people are somewhat familiar with the 5 classic stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It is important to remember that these are not meant to occur in a linear fashion nor take a specific amount of time. You may even move through a few stages and then lapse back into an earlier one; everyone will progress differently. It is vital to never compare your loss to others.
Another model for processing grief is the dual-process approach: this involves alternating between loss-related and restorative activities. This is a natural experience which many people use to help find a balance between facing the reality of your loss and learning how to engage with your life outside of this loss.
Processing Bereavement Without Closure or Support
With everything that is going on right now, it can be more difficult than ever to handle the loss of a loved one. You may feel fear and anxiety about how to grieve when there is no opportunity for a funeral service or for openly processing traumatic bereavement. This could be especially difficult for those with strong traditions or religious beliefs surrounding death and honouring lost loved ones.
It is also more difficult if you are not able to receive or give support in person, unable to say goodbye, or be with loved ones who are sharing your loss, and all of these factors can lead to feeling isolated and lonely. Furthermore, we are all spending more time alone, and as such, we are left to thinking and ruminating, and dwelling on our feelings, with fewer activities and distractions.
We are all feeling a sense of overall instability and uncertainty in all areas of life, with an increased sense of fear and reminders of illness and death all the time. This is why we have to focus on staying connected to our friends, family, and anyone else in our support network to avoid becoming socially isolated.
Finally, always seek support if you need it – there are plenty of resources available online. Seek the help of a mental health professional, through online therapy or phone sessions — especially if you are having negative or destructive thoughts, or simply if you just need someone to talk to. At Bhatia Psychology Group, we’re here for you. Reach out today for a complementary 15-minute consultation.