Whether you’re grieving the loss of your previously monotonous weekly routine, the perfectly planned wedding you had envisioned this spring, or worst of all, mourning the tragic loss of a loved one, the current reality of COVID-19 has brought with it a wide range of sudden change and suffering.
At Parsley Health, we know that emotional well-being is equally as important to overall health as physical well-being. Our providers have been working closely with our members through online visits, providing support for the many obstacles to health and wellness that exist in this unprecedented time.
Even under the best of circumstances, unexpected loss is a painful and difficult journey but right now, grieving the loss of so many crucial pieces of our lives and potentially people in our lives is especially challenging. Whatever you’re grieving, it is valid and no more or less important than someone else’s grief. Give yourself the time and space to feel that. Below we’ve pulled together some of our top coping strategies to help support you through this difficult time—no matter what the loss.
As the weeks of quarantine drag on, the feelings of longing for the simplicities of pre-COVID life grow stronger; the familiar structure of a work day, the support of child care, the comfort of dinner with friends after a tough week. With so many of our go-to supports taken from us so quickly and unexpectedly, the challenges of this new way of life have only proven to be that much more mentally trying.
While we know in the grand scheme of things these are far away from the biggest losses being experienced right now, studies show that having a defined routine enhances feelings of safety, confidence, and well-being in many aspects of everyday life. Essentially, the little things do matter and any change, no matter how seemingly small, has the ability to impact your mental health. Your day may not look the same as it used to, but you can do things to maintain a sense of normalcy right now .
The loss of a job, the postponement of a wedding, or the cancelation of a formal graduation ceremony, vacation, or big family gathering can leave you with a lot of anger and disappointment. Grief around these things can be especially challenging as the future of this pandemic still remains widely unknown. It’s unclear when the economy will reopen, when large gatherings will be permitted, or when trips can be taken. The feeling of life being on hold amidst such widespread illness can be even more triggering for personal anxiety levels.
1. Keep perspective. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that this time will pass and we will move forward.While jobs and events can be brought back after the pandemic, lives lost from coronavirus cannot. Keep in mind the importance of your health and the health of your loved ones. Celebrate the sentiment of hope, love, and community all around you rather than the frustration of what you’ve temporarily lost.
2. Start a gratitude practice. Jot down 3 things everyday that you’re grateful for and add to it on a daily basis. Studies show that those who keep a gratitude journal report greater physical activity levels, fewer physical symptoms of illness, and feel more optimistic about their lives and futures.
3. Channel your energy in a different way. Put your additional time toward what you can do now. Reframe your plans for your big event and think about how you can celebrate in a different way now or continue to take the extra time to plan for what it will look like in the future. For those out of work, consider temporarily looking for employment that is needed during the pandemic, taking the extra time now to take a course—many of which are currently being offered for free online —and improve your professional skill set, or focus on optimizing your resume in preparation of your next opportunity.
For other ways to channel your energy, consider volunteering your time to support local efforts for COVID-19 or simply doing your part by staying at home. Studies have found that volunteering helps foster a greater sense of social connection and decrease incidences of loneliness and depression. Separately, choosing to help others also has proven to be beneficial for physical health —including lower blood pressure and contributing to a longer lifespan. While it’s easy for anxious energy to build during this time, channeling current angst into a positive effort to support others may help counteract negative feelings surrounding loss.
While grieving a loved one is always a painful process, grieving during the COVID-19 pandemic can be more complex as it can be accompanied by feelings of guilt for not being able to support a loved one in their final hours, lack of closure given the current inability to say goodbye, loss of traditions and rituals that typically take place after death, and feelings of isolation on top of it all. Whether it’s directly losing a family member or friend to coronavirus or losing someone you know and love for a different reason, bereavement looks different right now.
1. Practice self-compassion. Give yourself permission to mourn and treat yourself and others with kindness during this difficult time. Be mindful of your internal dialogue and reframe self-criticism from thoughts like, “I am unable to get through this” into positive affirmations such as, “I am doing the best that I can.” Activities such as journaling, visualization, and meditation may be helpful for managing some of the anxiety, stress, and anger that you may be feeling. Additionally, we recommend reading supportive books to guide you through this time such as The Wild Edge of Sorrow by Francis Wellera or Ambiguous Loss by Pauline Boss.
2. Sit with your grief—but allow yourself to move forward. This concept stems from a theory of grief called the dual-process model which describes naturally switching between two different modes of being while grieving: loss-focused and restorative-focused behaviors. Loss-focused activities include looking at photos of your loved one, talking about them, recalling a particular memory, or even crying. Restorative exercises involve making plans for the future, cleaning the house, exercising, or spending time on personal hobbies that bring you joy.
While loss-oriented activities can stir up powerful emotions, such as sadness, loneliness and anger, they’re important to move through in the grieving process. Alternatively, while restorative exercises may seem like activities that focus on avoidance of emotion, they are our mind’s way of easing the pain by providing necessary distraction in order to heal and restore order and normality. In this way, the balance between each is a vital part of carrying on after the death of a loved one so let yourself move through both at your own pace and without judgment.
3. Establish new rituals. The current inability to grieve collectively at traditional ritual ceremonies such as funerals or physically be together to console one another creates additional barriers to mourning a loved one at this time. These rituals can be important spiritually, emotionally, and mentally—allowing individuals to get a sense of closure and creating a special space to celebrate their loved one’s life with shared stories, memories, and mutual friends.
Despite current circumstances, taking the time to still honor these types of grieving practices—even if you can’t physically gather—is crucial in helping to support healthy coping. This might not look the same for everyone but some ideas include holding a virtual ceremony online and inviting individuals to share stories about the deceased, cooking a meal or recipe that you always shared with your late loved one, or writing your loved one a note to say goodbye to feel as if you’re talking to them directly. You may even consider doing one of the ideas above now and holding a memorial for your loved one at a future date when it’s safe to do so.
4. Ask for support. There’s a reason many funeral traditions across the world and through the centuries have involved gathering—humans are social beings. Remember the importance of staying connected to others throughout the grieving process. While virtual connection can never fully replace in-person support, regular phone calls and text messages can help bridge the gap in the meantime. If you want to offer support to someone who has experienced a recent loss, consider delivering personalized care packages, leaving prepared meals at their door, or dropping off groceries—things that are particularly thoughtful gestures in the current climate.
If you start experiencing symptoms of grief that lead to depressive thoughts including feeling numb or disconnected or being unable to perform your normal daily activities, we recommend talking to a mental health professional such as a grief counselor or therapist who is available through virtual therapy services and online visits at this time.
Whatever your current grief experience, be patient with yourself and allow the process to naturally unfold while also supporting yourself with some of the above coping strategies to help you get through this uncertain time in the healthiest way.
Kelly Johnston is a registered Dietitian Nutritionist with six years of experience in the health and wellness field, four of which have been spent right here at Parsley Health supporting members with everything from gut issues and autoimmune disease to cardiometabolic health concerns and fertility. She holds a Master's of Science in Nutrition from one of the leading science-based natural medicine schools in the country, Bastyr University, and completed her dietetic internship at Sea Mar Community Health Center in Seattle, WA.