Not feeling yourself during COVID-19? It could be grief

By: CVH Team

When grief goes viral

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted lives all over the world. Many people are struggling with ongoing change and uncertainty about safety and have worries about the future, finances, and the well-being of friends and family. You may find that you feel “not quite yourself”. You may be distracted, anxious, irritable, angry, and fearful.  You might feel alone, with a sense of despair or hopelessness. The pandemic has stirred up emotions and thoughts that are very similar to those we experience when we grieve.  

Is this grief? Common reactions in uncommon times

Death is not the only time we grieve. It’s normal to grieve whenever you lose something or someone important to you. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a whole series of losses that are affecting our sense of safety, social connections, personal freedom, and daily routines. At the same time, the pandemic has caused significant changes and losses in our healthcare, education, economic, and government systems. When life feels uncertain and what you used to count on is no longer predictable, you may also experience grief.  These feelings are part of a sense of collective grief as everyone lives with the impacts of COVID-19.
Some common grief reactions include: 
  • Worry/Stress/Anxiety
  • Helplessness/Hopelessness
  • Fear
  • Guilt
  • Sadness/Despair
  • Irritability/Anger
  • Aloneness/Loneliness
It is normal to have difficult thoughts or questions that may not have answers if you are experiencing grief. These may include: 
  • Will I and people I care about survive?
  • There’s nothing I can do; it’s out of my control.
  • Will things ever feel or be “normal” again?
  • Is it inhumane to keep me from visiting someone I care about who is ill or dying?
  • If the virus doesn’t get to me, the loneliness, boredom, or stress might. 
  • Did we do something deserve this?  
  • How bad will this get? Am I strong enough to survive this?
  • Will I infect a family member if I see them?   
Common signs you may be feeling grief or difficulties with your emotions related to grief:
  • A change to your usual sleep, exercise, or other routines
  • Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy or find rewarding
  • Refusing to see people even for safe, physical distanced visits, or phone or video connections
  • Avoiding places, people, or things that remind you of what you have lost. This may be especially challenging if being at home reminds you of your loss
  • Rejecting or avoiding activities or people who might offer positive feelings, thoughts, comfort, or reassurance
  • Unhealthy changes in your use of food, alcohol, or other substances

Taking action means caring for yourself 

The emotions, thoughts, and behaviours described above are common and normal. There are things you can do that may help you through the pandemic and may make you feel better, such as:  
Feel what you feel – Feelings are not right or wrong. These are unprecedented times, and it’s natural to experience intense and unexpected emotions. Let your emotions move through you. Try not to avoid or suppress uncomfortable feelings, as this tends to make them bigger. Name your feelings and think about what you have lost. 
Stay informed but set limits on exposure to ‘bad news’– It’s important to know what’s happening but set limits on how much time you spend on news reports and ‘bad news’ stories.  Look for ‘good news’ stories that focus on positives, such as kindness, humour or creativity. 
Focus on what you can control – Learn about what you can do to keep yourself and those you care about safe by following the guidance of public health experts. Try to look after your health by eating healthy meals, getting exercise, and getting enough sleep.
Connect with others – Have regular phone calls with family and friends. Connect using Skype, FaceTime, or social media.  “Share” a meal together, or watch a program together over the internet.  Help friends and neighbours, following the guidelines for social distancing. Show support and appreciation to those in essential service roles.
Get support for your mental health – If you need more help, reach out. Many national and provincial mental health programs and local organizations have set up online and telephone supports and services to respond to the COVID pandemic. If you have a faith community, connect or re-connect with them.
When you are in the depths of your grief, it can be hard to believe that you can heal and fully take part in life again. Grief comes in waves. It’s more like a hilly, winding road than a mountain. Everyone grieves differently. The changes you see in those around you and yourself could be your response to your grief. Try to be kind and patient with yourself and others in these challenging times. For more information about grief and bereavement, and to learn what has helped others, go to:
Candian Virtual Hospice

Canadian Mental Health Association

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