Coping With Grief During the Holidays
About a year ago I gave the presentation above for the Well-Being Web Series. Now, it is important to acknowledge the grief many are experiencing related to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Think about what has been lost since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Initially, we didn’t know how long this might last. We thought the move to have many employees work remotely would only be for a few weeks. Almost nine months later, many of us are still working remotely and social distancing and mask-wearing continue. Health care workers have seen the number of COVID cases increase, level out and now increase again, with little end in sight—only hope.
What are you grieving since you began social distancing or working remotely? Many are experiencing the loss of jobs, school, graduation, birthday parties, weddings, funerals, social connections and things like hugs or a touch. Many of these events are anticipated milestones or celebrations in our lives that have been lost.
As the pandemic has continued, my colleagues and I are talking with more and more people (you guessed it, via Zoom) who describe feeling confused or disorganized more frequently. They describe feeling more anxious and overwhelmed, even more irritable. Some are sleeping too much or can’t get a good night’s rest. There is this sense of restlessness. More have described taking to drinking nightly.
Many of these same symptoms or reactions occur from grief and mourning after the death of a loved one or pet. You are not alone if you have been experiencing any of these. You are likely experiencing ambiguous grief, and the longer the pandemic has gone on, the more noticeable the symptoms may have become.
Ambiguous loss, a term coined by Dr. Pauline Boss, describes a loss that defies closure or there is some uncertainty about the loss. Dr. Boss described two types of ambiguous loss. The first is a physical absence with psychological presence, such as natural disasters, missing persons, kidnappings or loss of physical contact with a person or family (e.g., emigration). The other type of ambiguous loss is a psychological absence with a physical presence, such as when a loved one is experiencing dementia or Alzheimer’s, substance use issues or even chronic health issues. These types of loss can freeze an individual in an unending grief process because there is no clear end or resolution and the loss usually lacks verification.
Grief is not meant to be experienced alone. Humans are social beings. However, the measures needed to slow the spread of COVID-19 requires us to distance ourselves from loved ones, co-workers, friends and sports team, among others. So how do we grieve when socially isolated?
Here are some suggestions for mourning and getting through these challenging times:
- Acknowledge that this is a time of grief and what you have lost. Make a list of losses and the feelings associated with those losses. Take time to reflect on these and the impact on your life.
- Give yourself more space and time to grieve.
- Give yourself the right to say “no” as needed.
- Eat well and stay hydrated.
- Move your body each day with a walk outside or some exercise you enjoy.
- Reach out socially. Many have grown tired of Zoom. If that is true for you, try calling someone, writing a letter, sending a card, or running errands for an elder.
- When feeling overwhelmed ask yourself what you need. Are you hungry, angry, lonely or tired (HALT)? Address what is overwhelming you.
- Practice kindness and compassion to yourself and others.
- Stay connected to supportive people.
- Listen to and support others when you can or feel able.
- Identify one thing to do for yourself each day that brings you some positive feeling.
If you continue to grieve or feel stuck, seek the support and assistance of a trained professional. We are here to help. You would be surprised how many people we are seeing that had never been to a therapy session prior to the pandemic.
For more information about the five free, confidential therapy sessions offered to UK employees plus their spouses and children, as well as retirees, visit the mental health therapist webpage.