5 steps of grief: how you’ll experience grief during a pandemic, plus how to avoid it consuming you

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    There’s a real sense of loss at the moment: physically, for the people who have lost loved ones to COVID-19, but also metaphorically, for the many new mums who’ve had to miss hours at playgroup, for the unemployed who’ve lost a stable income, for the families who’ve lost precious hours they could have spent with vulnerable elderly relatives.

    For all 2020 threw at us, we’ve overcome and adapted and grown: we’ve shown strength in the face of a pandemic and proven we’re resilient when things get really tough. But, with all of that comes grief, too, and a sense of mourning for our old routines, commutes, and day-to-day lives.

    It’s okay to grieve the life you’ve lost; for what could have been compared to what you endured instead, and for your 2020 (and 2021) too. For the missed work opportunities, family time, and social events; weddings, funerals, and holidays. For the lack of Grandma hugs, spontaneous catch-ups, and weekends away.

    Feeling weighed down and tangled up in your grief more than you’d care to admit? That’s to be expected after a year like we’ve all just experienced, but could do your mental health more harm than good, if left unaddressed.

    That’s why we’ve spoken to two mental health experts. Here, they explain the best way to address this grief and accept it, plus outline the five steps of grief, alongside a handful of simple ways to overcome it for the year ahead.

    How to deal with grief for the life you’ve lost

    Why are people currently feeling a sense of loss?

    Well, according to renowned healer, emotional trauma expert, and founder of divineempowerment.co.uk Antonia Harman, because we’ve all seen a vast amount of change in just a short period of time. Plus, your grief may be exacerbated because, what with it being a new year, we all held out hope for an improvement in circumstance which, sadly, hasn’t happened.

    “Let’s face it, 2020 was a long way from what we planned, and the uncertainty around this new strain of COVID-19 is gut-wrenching” she shares. “Many have lost loved ones, businesses, social connections and more, with no end in sight. We all hoped 2021 would be different and yet, a day in, the country was plunged into a deep sadness and fear. We have no idea when our old lives will resume, if ever. The loss is somewhat overwhelming,” she explains.

    A couple supporting one another through the steps of grief

    So, is it common to mourn your old life during circumstances like these?

    In a word, yes, or so specialist mental health adviser at BUPA UK, Caroline Harper thinks.

    “You may associate grief as being a response to losing a loved one, but it’s a lot more complex. Grief is often portrayed as one feeling, but it includes a range of emotions and reactions that can affect how we think and behave,” she explains.

    It’s completely understandable to experience feelings of numbness, guilt, anger, or sadness during this time. Grief can affect you physically too; you might suffer with a loss of appetite or find it difficult to sleep,” she goes on to share.

    Antonia agrees, adding that most people really miss their pre-COVID lives. “Simple things like hugs, seeing friends, and bonding in person with work colleagues have been in short supply this year. We all need that connection and love to strive, and so 2020 has been very isolating for many,” she adds.

    So yes, it’s normal to feel blue and miss your old life, but do know this: you are not alone. “This too shall pass,” Antonia reassures. “Do your best to connect in other ways and remember, it’s not forever.”

    What types of grief might you be experiencing now?

    What Caroline touches on above is important – you may not be grieving loss of a loved one or financial income, but you can still experience more subtle variations of the emotion.

    Like? The loss of your usual routine, the loss of certainty about the future, or the loss of what’s normal to you, she shares. “With new restrictions being introduced as we began the new year, you might have a lingering sense that more loss is still to come, too.”

    Learn the 5 steps of grief, and how to accept them

    Caroline goes on to explains that there are five steps of grief: denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance. “The grieving process looks different for everyone, and each person will experience them in a different order. That’s because everyone grieves in their own way, and at different speeds,” she explains.

    Her top tip for beginning to accept those steps of grief and pain you’re feeling? Acknowledge that the pain is there, and be aware of its presence. It’s an important step to accepting this grief and recognising how it’s affecting you, both physically and mentally, she says.

    Secondly, she advises keeping a record of your feelings. “If you can, note down the feelings you’re experiencing emotionally; whether it’s sadness, anger, or perhaps guilt.”

    Then, try and notice how your grief is impacting your physical health: are you finding it difficult to sleep, or experiencing a lack of energy?

    “Acceptance doesn’t mean you won’t experience these emotions or any distress – rather, it means noticing what you are feeling,” she shares.

    5 practical ways to overcome grief 

    Create an adapted routine

    While your routine may have changed, it’s important to focus on your new routine, Caroline reckons. “This can help maintain a sense of order, normality, and purpose,” she shares.

    Include activities in your new routine that you enjoy and leave you feeling relaxed or calm, she says. Think:

    “As well as these activities, try to maintain a regular sleep schedule and ensure your diet is full of fresh fruit and vegetables,” she adds.

    Stay connected to your loved ones

    This one is easier said than done. Caroline’s advice? “Set time aside to connect with your friends and family, whether this is virtually, or through a socially distanced meeting,” she recommends.

    Although you may find it difficult, she stresses that opening up about how you’re feeling to your close friends or family can really help if you’re feeling low. “Share how you’re feeling and then allow yourself to be supported by others,” she says.

    Limit your news consumption

    If what you are reading or listening to is making you feel overwhelmed, angry, or upset, turn it off. “Focus on something else you enjoy, or head outside for a walk, as this can help to clear your head,” she shares.

    Seek support

    If you are feeling regularly low or hopeless and it’s impacting your daily life, it’s important to speak to your GP or ask for help, Caroline stresses. There are lots of free resources available; from online therapy, to local support groups, to tips on dealing with depression, anxiety, and more. “It’s important to remember there is always support out there,” she says.

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