Covid-19 and Managing Grief

Published on 5th April, 2020 by Ms. Sylvie Lian

Covid-19 and Managing Grief

Covid-19 has brought about many changes to many lives, many societies and many systems. As we hunker down in the safety of our homes, the world brought to a near standstill, a sense of sorrow hovers, manifested by our physical, social and/or psychological losses.

Many have lost someone to the virus, and are dealing with the intense grief that follows. Many have lost employment, income, social activities and access to basic securities. People have also lost their sense of normalcy, as their lifestyles are indefinitely changed. Some may even begin to doubt their self-identity, as their socialisation and employment situations change. There is a general sense of destabilisation, as the foundational systems of our society are disrupted.

The losses, the uncertainty, lack of control and anxiety associated with the Covid-19 may lead to individual, as well as a collective sense of grief.

As we adapt to changes in our lives, it is natural to experience grief for the loss of how things used to be. The world is changing, our lives are changing, and the future in uncertain. Not having a sense of how long the pandemic will last, how the world would be in its aftermath, complicates the grief that we feel.

Grief is a transient, dynamic emotion. We may feel fine one moment, perhaps even laughing at a joke, and then be reminded of our losses and experience a rush of negative emotions. It is important for us to acknowledge that grief is natural, and that it is completely normal to flow between the different emotional states as we go through the grieving process.

1. Coping with Grief

Labelling Grief

When we are physically ill, it is often a relief for us to identify and label our illness. Knowing exactly what the illness is leads to a sense of certainty, and empowers us to take productive and targeted steps to deal with the illness. The same applies for our emotions. When we are grieving, it can be immensely helpful for us to identify and label the feelings we are experiencing. What are we mourning? What have we lost? What are the complicated feelings linked to these losses? Naming these can be very helpful for us to understand and move forward with the needed next steps. We can then make a concrete plan for what we can do about moving on through these losses.

Routine

Maintaining some form of routine can help us impose some sense of normalcy in our lives. Creating a schedule for ourselves and our family can help build some structure back into our lives. Set a time to get up, and get dressed, even if you are not headed to work. Plan out your day, including the tasks you will complete, meal times, an indoor workout routine, a skill you will develop, and set some time for self-care. There are already some applications online that help you to stay productive while hunkered down in the comfort of your home. Letting the days pass by in a haze, one day bleeding into another, is not going to be beneficial to our mental health, and for our grieving process

Social Activities

Work regular online meet-ups with loved ones into your schedule. Humans are inherently social beings, and depriving ourselves of social connections has been shown to be detrimental not only for our physical health, but our mental health too. Take advantage of all that technology has to offer, schedule in FaceTime dates with friends and family, online community events hosted live, and write texts, emails and even old-school letter to stay in touch with our social circle. In this stressful times, social connection and support is especially important for our psychological health.

Compassion

Compassion is a powerful emotion that forms the bridge between beings. In a time of grief, it is important to know how to help our loved ones get through these tough times with compassion. Compassion is not only about being kind to others. Self-compassion is essential for getting through grief.

When we’re helping others through their grief, it is often helpful to just reach out. Many people may have fears related to saying or doing the wrong thing and hurting the grieving person, and that may sometimes lead to avoidance of contact. However, that may lead to the person feeling isolated and alone in his/her grief. Just reaching out to let the person know you are there to listen to and support him/her can make a big difference for them. We don’t have to say the right thing that can magically ease their pain. We are not gods, and all we can do is to sit with them, listen to them, when they are willing to share, accept and acknowledge the different ways they may grieve, and express your love and support for them. Offer to help them out in practical ways. If someone has lost his or her job, you could help them look for other job opportunities, put them into contact with potential employers, help them apply for government help, and so on.

It is often much easier for us to be kind to others, than to be kind to ourselves. When our friends share their problems with us, we tend to respond kindly, empathetically and in an encouraging manner. When we have problems, however, many of us tend to respond in negative way, criticising and reproaching ourselves in ways that we would never dream of doing to our loved ones. During times of grief, it is so important that we recognise this, and make a concerted effort to be kinder, more compassionate to ourselves.

A way we can practice self-compassion is to mindfully accept the current situation. By accepting the situation, which includes your feelings, thoughts and actions within the situation, you let go of the struggle against and suppression of our reactions and emotions. This may be accomplished by writing out, or saying aloud what is happening, without fighting against it. For example, one may say, “This is a difficult time, and I’m feeling lonely and in pain”. Accept your feelings, and don’t judge yourself for them.

We can also offer ourselves unconditional love and self-compassion using mindfulness exercises. There are several great resources online that are easily available, but I’ll share my favourite one. I like to close my eyes and imagine the colour of compassion. This may be different for everyone. I imagine compassion to be a purplish, pinkish and bluish swirl of colours. I keep these colours in mind, and imagine them slowly enveloping me. The colours may take the form of a mist, or as light, or any other form to you. I like to think of mine as a mist. This mist, comprised of these colours, is composed of strength, wisdom and unconditional support. Their sole purpose is to be there for me, to be kind to me, and to support me. I imagine the mist seeping slowly through my body, seeping into my soul and filling me with strength, wisdom and support. I usually practice this exercise for a couple of minutes, and end off with placing my hand on my heart, and saying gently, to myself, “May I be kind to myself”.

Other ways of showing self-compassion is to ask yourself: Is there anything I could do now, that could make me feel comforted and safe? Then do those activities. These could range from taking a warm bath, to going for an evening walk, to buying and arranging flowers. Be kind to yourself, and that will empower you with the mental wellness you’d need to be kind to others.

Resilience

I’ve mentioned a few things we can do in getting through the grief that is associated with Covid-19. Many of these are factors that have been shown to improve our resilience. Acceptance and mindfulness, for example, have been shown to be beneficial in increasing one’s resilience in adversity. Social support and a strong social network are also highlighted as key ingredients to building resilience. Productivity and purpose are other factors integral to developing our resilience. Hence, focusing on finding productive activities, getting a sense of purpose through different means, such as helping others, can also help us be more resilient in our battle against Covid-19.

Professional Help

We all need some help sometimes. If you find that your emotions are getting too difficult to handle, and/or various aspects of your life are getting too impaired by the current situation, be sure to seek out professional help.

Many psychologists have the knowledge required to guide you through your difficult emotions, and to equip you with the necessary skills to be able to better approach and cope with life’s adversities. Please do not hesitate to seek therapy if you are having difficulty coping.

Overall, I believe that we, as a people, united, will be able to help support one another to tide through these difficult times. Stay safe, and stay well.

Ms. Sylvie Lian

About the Author - Ms. Sylvie Lian

Ms. Lian is a Clinical Psychologist by training and has experience working as an Autism Therapist in a special school. Sylvie finds it a privilege to be able to be a part of a child’s journey, to cultivate mental well-being, happiness and to help a child reach his or her fullest potential.

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