Tips for coping with grief and loss during COVID-19
By Elizabeth Carrillo, Senior Program Manager, Health, UnidosUS, and Selene Tituaña Jurado, Program Specialist, Health, UnidosUS
As we’ve marked the one-year anniversary of the pandemic, most of us are probably reflecting on how drastically our lives have changed this past year. We have been challenged to adapt to a “new normal” and to cope with this ever-changing environment we live in now. We have experienced and seen much loss in our community, often, in more than one way. Whether it be losing a sense of normalcy or stability, losing one’s job, losing in-person time with our loved ones, or perhaps losing a loved one to COVID-19.
Navigating through these drastic changes is hard in normal circumstances and coping with loss and grief during a global pandemic is even harder because COVID-19 has changed the way we socialize, making it difficult to feel like we can be “there” for one another, for our friends, neighbors, and family. However, there are ways in which we can safely support the emotional needs of ourselves and our loved ones during the pandemic. These six tips are some of the things we can do to help us cope with loss, grief, and support each other.
- Allow yourself to feel and know that all feelings are valid. Every person reacts and processes emotions differently. Some of us in the Latino community may have been raised to bottle up or hide healthy signs of expressing emotion—such as crying or talking about our feelings—but know that sadness, disbelief, anger, pain, and other feelings are all normal and valid, it’s part of what makes us human. Talking about our emotions and allowing ourselves to be truthful to them, even if it feels uncomfortable or uneasy, is not a sign of weakness but rather a healthy way of coping with loss and a part of the healing journey. We can welcome these feelings, but once we unpack those feelings of sadness and disbelief, it is crucial we re-center and refocus on the bigger picture, which is healing.
- Manage guilt in a healthy way. Loss of our daily routine may seem small in comparison to the collective loss our community is facing due to COVID-19. As we continue to see people in our circles experience illness, economic hardship, and loss of their loved ones, feelings of guilt may emerge for feeling upset or sad over something that may seem small, but we must remember that it’s okay to feel upset or mourn the loss of something that may seem minor. Comparing our pain to the pain of others won’t be conducive to our own journeys of healing. Try to acknowledge this feeling and recognize your emotions. The more we strive to ignore or suppress our guilt, the more counterproductive it can be to mourn and process the changes we are experiencing, resulting in a delay in adapting to a new way of life.
- Practice self-compassion, unexpected loss can be difficult to comprehend. In general, unexpected losses or endings can cause strong emotions. Some of these emotions—such as disbelief, anger, sadness, pain, and acceptance—are not always linear, they are cyclical. Self-compassion and acceptance are key to the process of mourning and healing. Self-compassion means being patient and kind to yourself even when you are feeling angry or sad. Acceptance is eventually letting go of the pain and slowly accepting what we cannot change. This could mean accepting the loss of a loved one, for example, but also recognizing that your life and soul has changed because your loved-one is no longer physically here. This could also mean accepting the pandemic itself and its consequences by confronting our new reality. Acceptance does not mean we approve or agree with what is going on, it simply means changing our perception and outlook of the present time. In the process of acceptance, we can also ask ourselves what change is possible under our circumstances or what is needed to adapt to a new reality, and then show courage, creativity, and strength to change or adapt.
- Be patient during the healing process. We should not expect others to process feelings at the same pace or in the same way as us. Some people may want to talk about their feelings with others, while others may want space to process their emotions on their own through other outlets such as exercising or meditating. If you want to be supportive of someone experiencing grief, check-in on them via a phone call, text, or if in person, in a way that is safe due to COVID-19. Be non-judgmental about their feelings, listen to them if they want to vent, show them you care through other small acts such as cooking for them, writing them a card, or sending flowers. If you are experiencing grief, give yourself grace through self-compassion during the process and try to find support in a trusted person or circle of people. Above all, remember that everyone heals on their own schedule but usually with time, the loss is accepted as reality and part of restoring well-being means adapting to the new reality.
- Be mindful of thoughts that can hinder the process of healing. There are certain kinds of thoughts, feelings, or behaviors that can derail healing while you grieve, if they occupy too much space in your mind. Initial shock may be normal but an extended period of denial of a loss or death, feeling overwhelming guilt, self-blame, anger, or shame, or even imagining ways of how events could have unfolded differently are not healthy in the long run. Losing faith in yourself or others, isolating yourself in an extreme way, or excessively avoiding reminders of the loss don’t help the process either. While some level of guilt may be normal, be mindful that it doesn’t consume you. Allow yourself to feel joy in your life, to laugh, and to have positive emotions once again.
- Be proactive with your mental health. After you have started to restore your well-being and overcome grief, focusing on what is under your control can be helpful. Taking care of our mental health is one thing that we can choose to have control. While it can be tempting to let our mental health take a back seat during these difficult times, having a strong foundation to stand on will be most beneficial during a future time of hardship. Take this time to start developing or strengthening your resilience and mental health. Lead with actions that align with your personal values or interests and strengthen your sense of self and belonging in this world. Start small and begin with intention, follow with action, and be consistent. What can this look like in real life? It can be something as simple as setting a goal or intention to take 15 minutes of each day to take a small walk or drink your cafecito or tea every morning in silence, even if this means waking up a little earlier than the rest of your family. It can even be an action like remembering to be grateful for what you do have each day, learning to say no to things that bring you stress, or building in 10 minutes of uninterrupted connection time with your child or a loved one. Any one of these actions may not always happen but trying to be as consistent as possible will help you be your best self, which in turn will help you better support your own and your loved ones’ emotional needs.
Above all, reminding ourselves that this sense of loss or grief is temporary is key. While the virus that causes COVID-19 may be with us for some time, the pandemic itself will end. This past year we have been tested as individuals, as communities, and as humanity, but through a combination of collective efforts and tools, including the development and rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines, hope is on the way. It is knocking at our doors and opening up our worlds to new beginnings, to new opportunities to improve life as we knew it. It will take all of us—individually and together, unidos—to continue to advocate and work towards creating stronger and resilient communities. It will take some time to heal but as we grieve and heal through the pain, even if it is difficult, let’s lift and help each other through the process.
If you, or someone you care about, is feeling overwhelmed with emotions like sadness, depression, or anxiety, or feel like you want to harm yourself or others, know that you are not alone. Please contact your local health provider or seek professional help. In an emergency, call 911. For support and to connect with a trained crisis counselor 24/7, visit the Disaster Distress Helpline or call or text 1-800-985-5990. Spanish-speakers can call the hotline and press “2” for 24/7 bilingual support.
UNIDOS US ADVOCACY
UnidosUS has taken an active role in speaking out during the COVID-19 pandemic, from creating a webpage in English and Spanish where people can find information about the virus, to hosting town halls about the impact of COVID-19 on the Latino community, to putting forth recommendations to policymakers—including President Biden—on action that needs to be taken in order to ensure that all Americans can emerge out of the pandemic with the opportunity to thrive. UnidosUS has also recently begun publishing videos on Instagram every week aimed at answering questions that our community has around the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines.
Visit the CDC’s webpage for additional information. For resources, go to National COVID-19 Resiliency Network webpage.
DISCLAIMER: This content is provided for general information only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding your emotional well-being. The ideas expressed solely represent the views of the authors.