COVID-19 & Grief

Originally published on April 30, 2020, 9:17 p.m. by Ronda Bonfanti

COVID-19 has profoundly changed our lives. We are grieving the loss of everything that is familiar to us. Whether you’ve lost a loved one, your income, your health, your social connections or any other loss, I know your heart is broken. Grief is the normal and natural reaction to your emotional losses. However, it is important that you acknowledge and process any grief you’re experiencing right now, rather than diminish it or ignore it through unhealthy coping behaviors. If you don’t, your grief can harm you now and years into the future, including decreasing your physical health and suppressing your immune system.

Unresolved grief is accumulative over our lifetime, and cumulatively negative. That means our current grief taps into the deep reservoir of grief from our past. If we have not done any grief work for past grief, we’re likely to experience emotional triggers from COVID 19. Emotional triggers can cause us to continue or accelerate unhealthy coping behaviors. We call these behaviors STERBS: short term energy relieving behaviors. If left unchecked, our health and happiness can suffer greatly, sometimes subconsciously, and for years.

What can you do now, to grieve in a healthy way when we’re still very much in the midst of the pandemic? Spending this quarantined time reflecting on your life through the lens of loss and grief will help you process what you are going through without minimizing or suppressing your current emotional reaction to COVID- 19’s events. The following are several strategies that can help you process your own grief. In other words I feel sad and worried, but not overwhelmed by these feelings. When things eventually go back to normal, I will not be left with more trauma.

1) Understand that symptoms of grief are manifested like those similar to depression: sadness, loss of energy, changes in eating behavior, sleeping too much or too little, inability to focus, sensitivity or anger, withdrawal, and isolation. 2) Talk to someone you trust about what you are feeling: It is important that they be “a heart with ears” and not try to give you advice or offer positive platitudes like “Look on the bright side. You still have your health.” You need to be 100% honest with your emotions without filtering to appease others. If not a friend or family member, you can also speak with your Primary Care Physician or Mental Health Professional about how you are coping. 3) Journal daily about your current feelings: Spending just 5 minutes a day journaling about your feelings is a wellness habit that will serve you enormously now and in the future. Reflect and journal about the following questions: What changes am I experiencing due to COVID-19? What new challenges am I now facing? What is surfacing for me emotionally during this time of change? What choices do I have? Awareness is the cornerstone of change. We can not change what we do not acknowledge. 4) Improve your self care: Taking care of your needs during difficult times can seem like an impossible task. However, even the smallest steps in this area go a long way, for yourself and everyone around you.

Grief has been such an overlooked topic in our society, and we all need emotional education to help us process our losses. Schools and universities should provide an emotional education for students in addition to their academic focus, so that when tragedies like COVID 19 occur, we are equipped to handle the emotional consequences. Instead, we are left completely alone to navigate this time and may suffer physical consequences just when we need to be at our best. We are enduring a profound life-changing period in history, the first since 9/11. Now more than ever, we need evidence-based practices that can help us recover from the massive losses produced by the Coronavirus Pandemic. Providing life-long tools for change ensures the restoration and maintenance of our collective well-being.

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