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How Coronavirus Complicates the Grieving Process: Coping With the Loss of a Loved One

Heather Lyons, Ph.D.

Between the loss of lives and the things we took for granted, the coronavirus pandemic has caused unprecedented amounts of grief. 

Woman sadly looking away from camera

Grief is the emotional experience of reacting to loss or a traumatic event. It can happen in response to the loss of life and significant changes in daily routines and ways of life that bring us feelings of comfort and a sense of stability. Grief is not only a natural response to significant loss—it’s also a collective and universal experience. Some common symptoms of grief include:

  • Shock, disbelief, and denial
  • Feelings of sadness, despair, numbness, and/or loneliness
  • Loss of sleep and/or appetite
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Social avoidance and isolation

When it comes to the grieving process, figuring out what’s healthy coping and what’s not can be difficult. Now that we’re all navigating life during a global pandemic, the grieving process has become even more complicated. Whether you’re coping with the loss of a parent, grandparent, spouse, or close friend, here’s everything you need to know.

Don’t forget to take care of yourself.

Being kind to yourself, taking care of your physical health, and finding healthy ways to express your grief during the grieving process can help you take care of your mind, body, and spirit. 

  • Acknowledge your grief. Feelings of sadness and significant loss are a natural response to grief. It’s normal to feel this way right now. Remind yourself that there’s no wrong way to grieve. Try not to feel guilty about your emotions, even if you think you don’t “deserve” to grieve. Find ways to express your feelings of loss. Some people find comfort through art, writing, reaching out to loved ones, cooking, or other creative practices.
  • Prioritize your health. Taking care of your physical health is just as important as your mental health when you’re grieving. However, this might feel extra challenging. Practice self-care, incorporate physical activity into your daily routine, get enough sleep, and eat a balanced diet.  
  • Take time to unplug. News about the coronavirus can create feelings of stress and anxiety. Try to be mindful of how and when you consume media and how it makes you feel.

For caregivers and healthcare workers, coping with anticipatory grief and the loss of life during the coronavirus pandemic can be particularly difficult experiences. However you choose to do it, remember that making time for yourself isn’t selfish. Self-care can help you avoid burnout, chronic stress, and empower you to handle the challenges ahead.

Surround yourself with support.

Grieving the loss of a loved one while coping with the fear and anxiety surrounding the coronavirus pandemic can feel overwhelming. According to the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, it’s more important than ever to surround yourself with support during the grieving process. Exploring different ways to share your feelings can help you find empathy and understanding from people experiencing a similar loss.

  • Find new ways to connect with loved ones. In the absence of a memorial service or burial, it can be helpful to participate in shared grieving rituals. After a death, try asking friends and family members to share stories and pictures, along with memories of the person. Use social media, video chat, phone call, or Zoom call to honor the deceased person.
  • Continue practicing safety precautions. Between social distancing, quarantine, and stay-at-home orders, restrictions under COVID-19 have changed the way friends and family members can gather and grieve, including holding traditional funeral services. Remember to avoid large gatherings, wear masks in public spaces, and practice social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19. Additionally, be sure to avoid in-person gatherings with loved ones at known risk for COVID-19-related complications, including those with chronic conditions.
  • Grieve with your household. If you’re planning to make funeral arrangements, limit the number of people visiting the funeral home by encouraging loved ones to send condolences over Zoom or video conference. If you’re planning a burial, consider visiting the casket or gravesite with the members of your household. Encourage other family members to do the same. If you’re helping a member of your household cope with grief, offer practical, ongoing support and hugs.
  • Join a support group. Sharing your feelings with sufferers of grief can help you remind yourself that you’re not alone. According to the National Library of Medicine, support groups can help mourners fight stress by expressing vulnerability and connecting to people with similar stories. If you’re not sure where to start, online support groups are available for many. This includes widows, loved ones of those who have died by suicide, and COVID-19 patients.

Reach out for professional help.

Although the mourning and grief process is painful, most grievers experience a gradual lessening of emotional pain as time passes. Grief and bereavement take time—and adapting to loss involves a different amount of time for everyone. Some people might recover in a short time. For other people, adapting to this type of loss can take a long time. 

If long-lasting painful feelings and deep sadness interfere with your daily life, you may be experiencing complicated grief. When experiencing the symptoms of complicated grief, professional mental healthcare can help you come to terms with your loss and gain a sense of peace.

If you’ve been previously diagnosed with a mental health condition, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or an anxiety disorder, experiencing grief amid the global pandemic can set off a new episode or worsen symptoms. This can make the loss even harder to process. It can make it confusing to untangle whether your mental health condition is disrupting your healing process, especially if you’re experiencing feelings of grief for the first time.

Don’t feel like you need to hit rock bottom to reach out for help. Regardless of where you are in your journey and what type of grief you’re experiencing, therapy can help you start feeling better.

  • Remind yourself that help is available. If you’re having suicidal thoughts or need immediate support, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or seek medical attention at the nearest emergency room. If you’re experiencing psychological distress after a traumatic event or catastrophe, or you’re struggling to cope with the realities of COVID-19, call the Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990.
  • Consider grief counseling. If you’re a caregiver of a young child or teenager, keep in mind that grief may manifest differently in young children and adolescents. Young children and adolescents may experience changes in sleep patterns, isolate themselves, withdraw from social activities, or frequently appear irritable, according to healthcare officials at the United States Centers for Disease Control (U.S. CDC). Caregivers need to engage with young children to promote healthy coping. Caregivers may need to seek grief counseling or work with a school counselor to help the family deal with grief.
  • Search for a local therapist. Use an online therapy directory or ask a trusted professional for a referral to a licensed therapist. If you face increased risk factors for COVID-19 complications, consider searching for an online therapist.
  • Use an online therapy platform. Online therapy platforms like WithTherapy can help you jumpstart the healing process with the help of a licensed psychologist, counselor, psychiatrist, or social worker by exploring your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in response to the loss.

Grieving is a normal part of life, and the grief process is different for everyone. COVID-19 disrupted the grieving and healing process. For that reason it’s important to remember that support is available. If you’re struggling to cope with the loss of a loved one, reach out to a mental health professional through WithTherapy.

We’ll connect you to a licensed therapist that you feel comfortable with, regardless of your personal preferences and requirements. Whether you’ve been experiencing feelings of grief for the last week or the last month, one of the mental health professionals on the WithTherapy platform will help you navigate the stages of grief, build resilience, and learn healthy ways to cope with loss.

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