Grief: An Unexpected Reaction to COVID-19

March 30, 2020

Stress, anxiety, worry—these are the emotions we expect to deal with when it comes to COVID-19. But another common reaction—which has come as a surprise to many—is grief.

What are we grieving?

While each person’s individual circumstances are different, we are all experiencing a loss of normalcy, a loss of connection, and a sense that the world will be changed after an experience like this. We’re grieving the way things used to be, and perhaps the way things could have been if a global pandemic hadn’t interrupted our way of life. Many of us may also be experiencing anticipatory grief—a sadness that comes from contemplating an uncertain future, or from thinking about something we know we’ll lose someday.

The stages of grief

As you go through the grieving process, it’s helpful to understand the stages of grief: Denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, acceptance, and meaning. These stages may happen in a different order for different people, but recognizing what stage of grief you’re in and trying to find meaning in your emotions and experiences can help you to manage what you’re feeling.

How can we manage our grief?

Mindfulness techniques are particularly useful for dealing with anticipatory grief. By keeping you centered in the present they can help you prevent yourself from grieving things that haven’t yet happened and may never happen. Focus on your breath and recognize the reality of things as they are in this moment. Even mentally describing objects in your home or reminding yourself that in this moment you are well, sheltered, and fed can mitigate the intensity of your grief.

Be patient and compassionate with yourself and those around you. Everyone grieves differently, and everyone is trying to cope with a very stressful and frightening time. It’s okay if you, your coworkers, or your family members aren’t at their best right now. Recognize that when you or someone else acts in a way that isn’t typical, it’s a manifestation of grief and fear, not who you or they truly are as a person.

Focusing on what you can control (washing your hands, maintaining appropriate social distance, etc.) and letting go of what you can’t control (other people’s actions and emotions) can give you a sense of empowerment and calm to take the place of grief and anxiety.

Although it’s difficult, accept the open-ended nature of things at this time. We don’t know when this crisis will end, but we know it will. Looking back at our history, whether global, national, or personal, teaches us that crises are temporary. Sometimes it helps to take a moment to remind yourself that this won’t last forever, and you will get through it.

Moving through grief

Remember, you have to feel and accept your emotions in order to move through them. Although grief may be an unexpected reaction to COVID-19, it’s completely natural, and you’re not alone in what you’re feeling. Recognize your grief, accept it, learn from it, and continue to move forward, knowing that this is a temporary situation and that your grief will eventually pass.

If you need help coping with your grief during this time, there is support available. Our counselors and therapists are offering telehealth services so that we can safely help you during this difficult time. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you feel you need it.

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