Coping with Grief During Social Distancing

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, countless people have had to face grief in many different forms.

Perhaps you have dealt with the loss of a job, a relationship, a pet, or even your home. Or maybe you have been one of the millions around the world who has lost a relative or friend because of the virus or another fatal cause. And if you lost a loved one, you may have not even been able to visit them in the hospital to say goodbye or go through traditional mourning rituals after they were gone. How can you honor your grief in these circumstances?

Turning to others for support is one of the primary ways we cope with grief. What do we do when everyone’s resources are continually taxed by the endless uncertainty and stress of the pandemic? And how can we seek the comfort of our community where gathering with others is limited?

Unfortunately, grief will not wait until a pandemic ends. The following tips may help you find a way care for yourself in this time of sorrow and pain.

Acknowledge and Accept Your Feelings

You might feel like you should try to suppress your feelings of sadness. After all, so many are suffering right now. But trying to push your feelings down and avoid expressing what’s on your mind will only make things more difficult.

So, first, drop any expectations about how you “should” feel. Your emotions will change on a daily basis—accept them! There’s no reason to be ashamed of your feelings or how you grieve. Allow your feelings, whatever they are, to come and go, like waves in the ocean. Notice that no feeling lasts forever.

Slow Down

If you’ve lost a loved one, you may have lots of people contacting you about future plans for a funeral. Maybe you were laid off, and now you’re getting emails from recruiters or well-meaning friends about potential job opportunities. Or perhaps you’ve recently gone through a breakup, and your friends are encouraging you to try online dating.

Trying to rush into the next phase of your life can feel far too stressful right now. Instead, allow yourself to take a step back and slow down. You need to give yourself time to think and process what has happened.

Focus on the Essentials

Some people feel that staying productive indoors while social distancing may be the best way to pass the time. But if you don’t want to deal with the pressure to be productive at a time like this, it’s okay to simply focus on the basics for a while.

For example, make time to cook healthy meals, prioritize getting eight hours of sleep, and try to move your body, if just for a little bit, each day. Right now, your job is to take good care of yourself. And if that’s all you have the energy to do, there is no shame in it.

Speak Up

Currently, almost everyone is dealing with something stressful. If you feel like you haven’t heard from your friends as often as you would like in your time of need, it doesn’t mean they’ve forgotten about you. There’s a good chance they’re struggling with something, too.

So you may need to take it upon yourself to reach out to them and let them know that you need a shoulder to cry on. While talking over the phone or video may not be the same as talking in person, it definitely helps!

Honor Your Loss

True, we’re unable to participate in the usual rituals that typically serve as important occasions for people to get together with their loved ones and reflect on their feelings. But you can find a way to honor your loss on your own.

For example, if a loved one has passed away, you could write a letter to them and express all the things you wanted to say to them. You could also try writing in a journal about how you’re feeling. Getting feelings out of your head and onto paper (or the computer) can be very cathartic.

No matter what you do, it’s important to remember that you are not alone. Grief is everywhere around us. It is part of loving and being human. Honoring your grief is honoring your living.

Author: Kyong Yi, LCSW

Kyong Yi is a licensed clinical social worker and the Director of Clinical Operations at Portland Psychotherapy Clinic. Her specialties include trauma and PTSD, relationships, depression, anxiety, anger management and personal growth and values.

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