Coronavirus Grief & Loss: What You Can Do About It

Coronavirus Grief & Loss: What You Can Do About It

Feelings of grief and loss are normal, human experiences that many of us go through after losing something important to us.  Feelings of grief and loss – anger, sadness, denial, bargaining (“if only I had done x…”), and acceptance – are healthy reactions to the death of a loved one or a pet, but can also arise after a relationship breakup, getting fired from your job or being passed over for a job opportunity, or missing out on important events or significant experiences.  Basically any experience which feels like it robs you of something important is an experience where feelings of grief and loss can develop.

As the Coronavirus continues its grip on the world, people all around the planet are having to miss out on significant experiences, big and small.  From restricted travel to seeing family and friends, missing weddings, funerals, births of babies, changes in school, work, and home environments, to not being able to leave the house after curfew or drive more than five kilometres from your home… It’s no wonder that there’s been a widespread increase in anxiety, depression, and irritability symptoms among Australians since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The pandemic lifestyle has robbed many people of so much, so if you are feeling more stressed, down, irritable, or are grieving the loss of connection, opportunity, normalcy, and freedom, you are not alone.

Here’s a few things you can do to help you cope:

Start a pandemic journal – as the days blend into each other, journaling can not only help differentiate Sunday from Monday, but research tells us that opening up through expressive writing helps ease distress during difficult times1 and can even support your body’s physical health2-3.   Your journal entries don’t have to be lengthy or deep, just jotting down a few sentences each day about your thoughts, feelings, and learnings during the COVID-19 pandemic would suffice.  A note – try to avoid rehashing the same difficult feelings over and over as this can lead to a worsening of feelings4.  Instead, express the feeling (i.e., “Name it to tame it”), try to investigate or make sense of the feeling (“Where is this feeling coming from?  If this feeling had a voice, what would it say?”), and then start to observe patterns, make observations, and set goals for the future.

If you need help getting started, join the hundreds of people who have written journal entries on the Pandemic Project Website – a resource created by a team of psychology researchers that offers writing prompts to help people explore their emotions and experiences during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Connect with and support your community – Feelings of grief and loss are often lessened when shared.  If there’s one silver lining about this Coronavirus pandemic, it’s that we’re all in it together.  Make time to reach out to loved ones and tell them how much you miss them, share in the grief together.  Moreover, new brain research also tells us that giving support may have greater benefits to mental health than receiving support, including reducing stress and increasing feelings of reward5.  There are numerous ways to support your community – simply asking others how they’re coping, offering to pick up groceries for family/friends in need, or finding creative ways to volunteer your time in a physically-distant way – such as sewing and donating masks to shelters and community centres or donating to food banks.  Even donating money to an organization whose mission you support can measurably boost your wellbeing on a neurological level6.

Meditate – With so many benefits to mood7, sleep8, and physical health9, mindfulness meditation has increasingly supported people to effectively cope with difficult emotions and experiences.  However, new research shows that meditating for just 15 minutes a day over a period of eight weeks has a similar effect on our mood as taking a vacation day.  So, while many of us are unable to take holiday leave from our jobs, let alone travel to tropical beaches right now, cultivating a mindfulness meditation practice might be the closest thing to giving your brain a vacation-quality mood boost.

Find things you can control – Anxiety, sadness, and fear thrive in vast amounts of unstructured time.  On the other hand, routines have a calming effect on our psychological health10-11.  Structuring your time is one thing the Coronavirus can’t take away from you – so make a bucket list of things you want to do each day, and keep it simple.  Clean the microwave, weed that corner of the yard, take a walk, make a meal plan for the week.

Take a break from the news – Passive ‘doomscrolling’ on social media platforms is just that – doomscrolling.  The brain has a negativity bias12, meaning it likes to latch onto the bad rather than the good.  This is developmentally strategic – it’s more important for us to remember where the street is with all the landmines (the bad news) than to remember where the street is with the cool street art (the good news), because if we didn’t remember the landmine street, we might die.  But absorbing too much news and interacting excessively with social media platforms can weigh down our mood and exacerbate feeling of loneliness, fatigue, and depression13-14.  Plus, social media can be wrought with misleading information, rumours, and false facts about the Coronavirus which can fuel feelings of anger, sadness, fear, and hopelessness.  Make sure you are up to date on the latest Coronavirus facts and don’t let yourself get swept up by misinformation campaigns.

Aside from these strategies, regular exercise, eating right, looking after your sleep, and reaching out to a therapist are several other ways you can support your mood and cope with the grief and loss the Coronavirus pandemic has caused around the world.

If you’d like to speak to a therapist for some support, contact us at info@couplesmelbourne.com or 1300 784 184 to see how we can help.

 

References

1 Chan, K. M., & Horneffer, K. (2006). Emotional expression and psychological symptoms: A comparison of writing and drawing. The Arts in Psychotherapy33(1), 26-36.

2 Petrie, K. J., Booth, R. J., Pennebaker, J. W., Davison, K. P., & Thomas, M. G. (1995). Disclosure of trauma and immune response to a hepatitis B vaccination program. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology63(5), 787.

3 Esterling, B. A., Antoni, M. H., Fletcher, M. A., Margulies, S., & Schneiderman, N. (1994). Emotional disclosure through writing or speaking modulates latent Epstein-Barr virus antibody titers. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 62(1), 130.

4 Philip M. Ullrich, M.A., Susan K. Lutgendorf, Ph.D., Journaling about stressful events: Effects of cognitive processing and emotional expression, Annals of Behavioral Medicine, Volume 24, Issue 3, August 2002, Pages 244–250, https://doi.org/10.1207/S15324796ABM2403_10

Inagaki, T. K., Haltom, K. E. B., Suzuki, S., Jevtic, I., Hornstein, E., Bower, J. E., & Eisenberger, N. I. (2016). The neurobiology of giving versus receiving support: the role of stress-related and social reward-related neural activity. Psychosomatic medicine78(4), 443.

6 Harbaugh, W. T., Mayr, U., & Burghart, D. R. (2007). Neural responses to taxation and voluntary giving reveal motives for charitable donations. Science316(5831), 1622-1625.

7 Goyal, M., Singh, S., Sibinga, E. M., Gould, N. F., Rowland-Seymour, A., Sharma, R., … & Ranasinghe, P. D. (2014). Meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Internal Medicine174(3), 357-368.

8 Winbush, N. Y., Gross, C. R., & Kreitzer, M. J. (2007). The effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction on sleep disturbance: A systematic review. Explore3(6), 585-591.

9 Grossman, P., Niemann, L., Schmidt, S., & Walach, H. (2004). Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health benefits: A meta-analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research57(1), 35-43.

10 Lanza, H.I., Drabick, D.A.G. Family Routine Moderates the Relation Between Child Impulsivity and Oppositional Defiant Disorder Symptoms. J Abnorm Child Psychol 39, 83–94 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-010-9447-5

11 Murray, G., Gottlieb, J., & Swartz, H. A. (2020). Maintaining Daily Routines to Stabilize Mood: Theory, Data, and Potential Intervention for Circadian Consequences of COVID-19. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 0706743720957825.

12 Ito, T. A., Larsen, J. T., Smith, N. K., & Cacioppo, J. T. (1998). Negative information weighs more heavily on the brain: the negativity bias in evaluative categorizations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology75(4), 887.

13 Lin, L. Y., Sidani, J. E., Shensa, A., Radovic, A., Miller, E., Colditz, J. B., … & Primack, B. A. (2016). Association between social media use and depression among US young adults. Depression and Anxiety33(4), 323-331.

14 Dhir, A., Yossatorn, Y., Kaur, P., & Chen, S. (2018). Online social media fatigue and psychological wellbeing—A study of compulsive use, fear of missing out, fatigue, anxiety and depression. International Journal of Information Management40, 141-152.