What do you think about when someone mentions grief? Most will instinctively mention the loss of a loved one, but grief encompasses far more than the passing of a family member or friend. It can be any sort of loss – a job, a house, a restaurant, a hobby, even a part of a routine – anything to which you have an emotional attachment or that feels like part of your identity. Depending on how deep your feelings go, the grief process may progress quickly, or it may take more time and effort to adapt to your “new normal.” 

The coronavirus pandemic has caused millions to begin working from home and millions more to be laid off or furloughed. Even those who are Essential have had their routines disrupted, and it’s recommended that everyone wear masks and gloves to protect themselves and others when going out. We are experiencing so many intangible and ambiguous losses: financial security, freedom, social connections, predictability, control, and a sense of safety. This affects us at our very core, our sense of self.  To compound the issue, these losses are hitting everyone, all at once – the grief is collective as well as individual.

One of the main things to remember about this situation – or any sense of loss – is that it’s okay to grieve. It’s all right to be angry or sad, and to go through the other stages of grief. The world has changed, and we don’t know what the future will bring. Every day the experience renews itself and we are reminded of what we have lost.

So what can you do about it? I’m not going to say “Just get over it,” because that’s not an answer. I can offer some suggestions, and I encourage you to contact your EAP for a referral to a professional counselor for one-on-one guidance and support if you are struggling. Everyone is different, and the ways in which we process and manage our grief is different.

  1. To work through your grief, try to understand it: once you can name the feeling, you are on your way to mastering it. You can keep a private journal or brainstorm with friends, family, or coworkers. This can be difficult and uncomfortable. Identify what you’ve lost, as well as your personal strengths and coping skills. How are you responding to it? Is it helping, or is it making things worse?
  2. Keep in touch with your friends and family. Online meetings are one option, and you can also go for walks (at a safe distance). Now more than ever, we need to stay connected and have a social support system.
  3. Forgive yourself for not being able to do as much as you used to. It’s perfectly normal not to bring your “A-Game” right now. Accept that you won’t be able to do everything you normally could – focus on the most important and time-sensitive items.
  4. Take care of yourself! If you take medication, continue to take it. If you have a counselor already, stay in touch with him/her. Maintain your regular grooming and hygiene habits, and avoid overindulging in food, alcohol, or other addictions. In times of stress (and grief is an offshoot of stress), we tend to gravitate toward behaviors that are not necessarily good for us, and we also tend to overdo it. Be aware of what your personal “vices” are and make a conscious effort to keep them in check.
  5. Try to keep your schedule as regular as possible. Get enough sleep by going to bed and waking up at the same general time each day. Eat at regular intervals. Set up a reasonable routine that works for you and also allows a little flexibility.
  6. Consider some positive aspects of what’s happening. Maybe you’re saving money by not commuting, or you’re eating healthier at home. Perhaps you can pride yourself on being able to help a family member or neighbor by doing grocery shopping for them. For some, this event has been a catalyst for improving relationships with their families. Practicing positivity increases our resilience and reduces stress and anxiety.

We can all try to think positively and hope that there will be a fast and effective treatment in the near future, or even a cure! Even so, we will have to accept that COVID-19 has changed our world, and it’s up to us to integrate it into our reality. Grief is a natural, although difficult, process that we all will go through in order to do this. Grief helps us to re-evaluate what’s important in our lives, and helps us to learn for the future. Once we are able to “recalibrate” our thinking to accept a new normal and adapt to it, we can move forward and lead a fulfilling life in spite of those changes.

By Nancy Spinella, Mazzitti & Sullivan EAP Services

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