The past couple of months have been difficult for us all. As we face the daily challenges of COVID-19, and experience natural disasters hitting various parts of the country (like Cyclone Amphan in West Bengal and Odisha, floods in Assam, and locust swarms attacking crops in several parts of west and central India) we’re filled with myriad emotions—some easily named, while others feel more elusive. Along with feelings of depression and anxiety are angst, uncertainty, emptiness, loneliness, frustration, confusion and most certainly, grief. It is a full-body experience: it can manifest as fatigue, inattentiveness, low motivation, sadness, fearfulness, anger and disconnection, all of which are very much part of trying to cope with an ever-changing world during this global pandemic.
On an individual level, each one of us is coping in our own way. There is no one size fits all formula for healing the soul. Each of us will need to find the unique path that leads us from grief or despair to healing.
The global pandemic has created a new reality marked by grief and loss. Weddings, concerts, meetings, travels plans, school events, and more have been cancelled in the wake of the virus. It has forced us to process both individual and collective grief in the face of an uncertain future which we are powerless to control. There is a sense of loss of safety, insecurity, loss, and to top it all, we don’t know what is going to happen in future and how things are going to be.
“We are all dealing with the collective loss of the world we knew,” explained grief expert David Kessler in an interview with Brené Brown for her “Unlocking Us” podcast.
The disruptions in the normal routines of everyday life contribute to the lingering unease and sadness that we are all feeling. Not only are we mourning the loss of thousands of lives, but we are also mourning the loss of normalcy- embodied through so many activities- from seeing our co-workers, friends, classmates almost every day to engaging in the mundane routines that we previously took for granted.
It definitely is not a pleasant time for most of us. Pushing ourselves forward each day, continuing to do what is expected of us, and at the same time processing the negative emotions and the negativity all around, is taking a toll on all of us. Sometimes, the consequence of this is a feeling of physical fatigue. It has been scientifically proven that the mind and body are strongly interlinked, hence mental exhaustion does cause us to feel physically tired.
Stages of Grief
So how do we deal with this grief that we’re collectively going through?
One way would be to become aware of the stages of grief. However, I would like to remind you that the stages aren’t linear and may not take place in the order I am about to mention.
There’s denial, the feeling that, “this virus will not affect me. I’ll be fine.”
There’s anger, “I can’t go out. I can’t meet my friends and family. I have so much work piling up, this is insane. Who do I blame?”
There’s bargaining, “Okay, maybe if I stay in for 2 weeks this will go. Life will get back to normal.”
There’s depression, “When will this end? Will this ever end? I can’t cope with this anymore.”
And lastly, there’s acceptance, “okay, this is the current scenario and this is how it is going to be for a while at least. Let me think about new ways of doing things and proceed from here.”
We may often find ourselves oscillating between two stages. There is also no specific time limit for a stage to last. One also does not need to go through all the stages in order to heal.
Understanding Anticipatory Grief
Apart from these stages of grief, I would also like to mention what is known as anticipatory grief, in which, our mind comes up with worst case scenarios of losses: like fear that people we love will die, fear that we might die, fear of losing our jobs, fear about our relationships-“What if things change between my partner and I, because of this difficult period?”. Anticipatory grief during these times is normal, since we are faced with a lot of uncertainty.
These thoughts are but natural, considering the times we are living in. Our goal here then, should not be to avoid them and tell ourselves to “snap out of it!”. Telling ourselves this is not a good idea since our brains will inevitably come up with such thoughts in ways that are stronger than before. Also, by avoiding or trying to push these thoughts away, we are exhausting ourselves further. Because let’s face it, the energy that we need to put in to avoid or push away negative thoughts is a lot, and that obviously will tire us.
So what should we do when such ideas of anticipatory grief arise? We can acknowledge these thoughts. We can give them the attention and space that they need, However, at the same time our focus should be on not letting these thoughts dominate us.
By simultaneously thinking of a good thought when a negative thought arises, we are training our brains to balance and not fall completely into the negative side. For instance, a positive thought to the negative thought of, “What if I die because of the virus?”, could be, “I am taking the precautionary measures to keep myself safe. I am washing my hands, wearing a mask and gloves, and avoiding the activity of going out as much as possible. Apart from this, the survival rate of people who suffer from the virus is more than the mortality rate. Hence, even if I get the virus, I will be fine.”
Ways of Coping with Grief
So, what are some of the ways in which we could cope with this grief that we are facing?
1.The first and the most important step would be to accept our emotions and feelings and acknowledge that they exist. There is nothing wrong with having a sense of loss, because in reality, there is loss that we as a community are going through. Give yourself time to heal.
2.Trying to express yourself is also another strategy that you could try. How you express yourself is completely upto you- drawing, colouring, talking, poetry/story writing, journaling etc. Expression always lightens the feeling of heaviness.
3.Therapy, if you have access to your therapist/ or any other therapy network, is something that you could try out. You can be sure to get an atmosphere of unconditional positive regard and acceptance. Therapy is a place where you can vent, you can process emotions and get insight into yourself with the help of a trained mental health professional. (You can find a list of resources for online mental health support on this link.)
4.If you are someone who follows a particular religion, then you could also try looking for comfort in your faith. Praying, meditating and reading up more about what your religion has to say about loss and grief are things that might help.
5.Pamper yourself physically, if you can and are in the place to pamper yourself in whichever ways you can (having food that you like, grooming yourself, wearing your favourite clothes, having a warm water bath/bubble bath). The relief and pleasure that you get out of pampering yourself physically might be temporary, but it helps.
Do not force or pressurize yourself into healing fast. There is no “should’ when it comes to healing. Every individual has their own unique timeline. Comparing yourself to someone else, even if they are facing the same issue as you, is not a good idea because every person has their own resilience capacity and their own way of healing.
Normalise the grief and the feeling of loss that you are going through. Is is perfectly normal and is bound to happen. Try not to be hard on yourself.
If you are someone who thinks they are just surviving on a day to day basis, then that’s a definite accomplishment and you should pat yourself on the back for being successful with surviving during such times.
Sending lots of peace to all reading this!
For more information on grief, check out these links:
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I am a practicing psychologist. I’m interested in art and design. Mandala art is my stress buster. I’m also into the upcoming field of fashion psychology. Binge watching on Netflix is one of my current pastimes!
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I am a feminist and an artist with a keen interest in mental health. I have always found peace and the power of expression, in art and music, since a very early age. Empathy is my mantra and goal for life. The rest of me is essentially my love for dogs, swimming and food!
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