This is Grief • You are Not Alone

As a therapist in private practice, I am comfortable discussing a wide variety of life stressors. To be honest, right up until COVID-19 sent us all home, I felt I had more than a reasonable handle on exploring grief.  What I am realizing is this particular flavor of grief is more nuanced than any other form of grief I am used to deliberating with clients and in my own life.  

Since mid-March shelter in place orders, I have spoken with clients, family, and friends and noticed a theme.  Everyone is sharing an overwhelming sense of loss. 

Every single one of us is struggling to make sense of our new normal. Grief is a natural response to loss.  Many people believe grief to be the emotional suffering we feel when someone we love has died.  While death and grief are intimately connected, many among us are coming to the realization that grief is much more complex and not reserved for death.

 

COVID-19 has presented us with an epidemiological AND emotional epidemic. 

Collectively we are dealing with loss: loss of health, loss of freedom-the ability to leave our homes, go to work, play sports, workout in a gym, eat out, see a film in a theater, see a play, date someone new, have a baby with a partner present in Labor and Delivery, get married with friends and families in attendance, visit family and friends and hug one another. 

The list continues, pay rent, buy groceries (without wearing a hazmat suit or bathing said groceries once home), worry about our children’s future, see them dress for and attend prom and kvell over them at graduation, go to summer camp, teach in a classroom that is familiar. 

The loss of how life had been and the loss of what will be? These are only a few examples of topics I have discussed with clients through video screens (oftentimes freezing mid-thought) many times through tears and anger.  

One of the biggest losses is the loss of a sense of control and predictability that our lives had a couple of months ago. 

The belief that we can keep those we love, our partners, children and parents safe, is no longer a reality for many of us.

I recently read an article featuring an interview with David Kessler who co-authored with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, On Grief and Grieving:  Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss.  In the interview, Mr. Kessler discusses anticipatory grief.

With anticipatory grief we feel grief in anticipation of what could happen. This is particularly relevant in our current crisis because of our fear of becoming sick, the uncertainty about when life will return to normal, and what that normal might look like.

We feel the loss of what was, of our normal routines, the mundane aspects of life many of us took for granted and we worry about what is to come.

This resonated with me as the type of grief most of us are experiencing and why it is so confusing.  Cognitively, we understand something bad is happening (pandemic = bad) and yet we cannot see it (if we’re not looking through a microscope we cannot see COVID-19) unless we or someone we care for becomes sick.  Not since September 11 have we collectively lost our general sense of safety.  We are grieving on a community, national and global level.

Anticipatory grief is our anxiety for what will happen in the future when we imagine the worst-case scenario.  Many of my clients and friends are experiencing this.  Here are a few things we can do to calm our minds now.

 

Focus on the present moment

I get it, mindfulness and meditative practices have been getting quite a bit of hype, there is a reason for this, it is pretty easy to reap the rewards.  Think of what you are doing right this moment, “I am reading your article, lady.”  Great!  That is one thing.

Can you focus on where you are reading?  Is the place you are sitting/reclining comfortable?  Think about the temperature where you are, too cold?  Just right?  Now take a breath, a nice deep three second inhale, hold for three seconds and then exhale for three seconds. Right now, you are okay.  In this moment, you are okay.  Use your senses to help keep your present when you start to feel anxiety/anticipatory grief.  

Some of my clients have shared the loss of control is hardest for them right now. 

To them I try to focus on what they CAN control.  We all know by now that we must wash our hands, wear a mask in crowded public spaces and maintain a social distance of six feet or more.  Let’s focus on that and the other things that ARE in our control. 

 

There is no ‘correct’ way to mourn. 

No one else’s grief is more important (or less important) than what you are feeling.  Anyone who has ever worked with me professionally or been a part of my inner circle knows that I strongly believe in the power of giving feelings a name – Name it to Tame it

This is especially powerful in naming grief.  It is important to acknowledge what we are feeling and respect the feelings of those we care about.  Recently a friend posted an article about the graduating class of 2020 and shared her sadness for her child. 

It was her way of working through her grief and since it was on social media another “friend” took it as an opportunity to shame her by saying, “You shouldn’t feel sad about this, other people lost their jobs.” To this I say:

Do not “should” all over your (or anyone else’s) feelings.  Instead, allow your feelingsto be.

“I feel sad, disappointed and frustrated.”  Allow yourself five minutes to feel those feelings.  Fighting it does not work, if you allow yourself to feel freely, you are honoring yourself which is empowering – and yes, painful.

 

What if I allow the feelings and they never end?  

There is no recorded case of this occurring.  Feelings can hurt, the trick is to allow your feelings, the tears, the anger, all of it.  We are grieving right now, allow yourself to grieve, to breathe and be kind to yourself and those you love.

 

Reach out for help.

Teletherapy, or video therapy is an option.  Therapy via video is our best option now and it allows you and your therapist to use non-verbal communication, like facial expressions to express yourselves. It can absolutely work.  

Please reach out, you are not alone.

Article by Shari Grande, LCSW

Take a Moment: 5 Strategies to Manage Stress in Your Daily Life

By Ellen Ross, PsyD

Last week, Shari wrote about The Most Wonderful Stressful Time of the Year. She shared some strategies like saying ‘no’ and talked about how preparation is key (if you missed it, check it out!)

These months can feel overwhelming to manage, with the time change, shorter days, and busier schedules. What can you do when you have less time in the day and twice as much to do? How can you manage the pressure of the holidays? Take a moment! It’s sooo easy to get caught up in everything and lose touch with being right here right now.

When this happens sometimes we feel like we’re on autopilot and everything passes us by. Here are five strategies for building in the practice of taking a moment every day.

Practice being present for a minute at a time twice a day.

This is something I encourage many people who come to see me to start with. Heck, it’s also what I encourage myself to do whenI’ve fallen out of practice. Commit to a mini mindfulness practice for a week and then anchor this practice to something you already do twice a day (like brushing your teeth, taking a medication, being in your car before and after work, or when you take the kids to school).

Spend this minute breathing deeply and focusing on what it feels like. When you take a deep breath, your belly should expand. See how long you can breathe in, and out, and pause in between. When you first start this, a minute can feel like the better part of an eternity! If that’s the case it’s ok to drop it down to 30 seconds. You mind will wander and you’ll wonder if you’re doing it right. Remind yourself that you’re doing it right if you’re doing it!

 

Designate an electronics-free period of the day.

We have access to so much on our phones! Games that we can mindlessly play (guilty!), checking FaceBook, waiting for an email ping (really?!? Another ad for that sale? I was hoping this email was gonna be something better). All of this input is designed to keep us engaged, and it works! But then we’re engaged with our phones and not the people around us or the moment.

So, find a time to turn off the phones! This can be a family affair or something you commit to doing on your own. It’s helpful to pick a time and do your best to stick to it. You could designate the dinner table as a phone-free zone (remember, try turning it off!).

If the first thing you do when you wake up is check your phone, try to spend 15 minutes before touching your phone (buy an alarm clock and charge it in a different room!).

You could spend that 15 minutes connecting with someone you love, snuggling with a pet or savoring a warm cup of coffee or tea. Another great phone-free time is right before you go to bed. It messes with our sleep anyway, so designating the hour before you head to bed as an electronics-free zone will help with taking a moment and might help you get better sleep.

 

Go on a mindful walk.

We can all benefit from moving more in addition to being more present in the moment! Maybe you already take your dog for a walk every day , or maybe you feel overwhelmed with everything you have to do and think you can’t take a break. In any of these cases, a mindful walk can kill two birds with one stone.

Start with a small goal like a walk around the block or spending 10 minutes outside. To make it mindful, give yourself a scavenger hunt while you’re out – try to notice two things you haven’t really noticed before (I promise there are way more than two right there on your block!).

If a scavenger hunt doesn’t seem appealing you could try describing what you see as though you’re narrating for someone who can’t see what you’re seeing.

A mindful walk can be a chance to anchor to the present moment AND get a breath of fresh air.

If you are someone who feels stress in their body (it might be all of us!), stretching can be a fantastic strategy to become aware and release some tension. The cool thing is there is something we can do to stretch any part of the body. Stop for a moment, scan your body, and ask yourself what feels tight. If you work at a computer it might be your shoulders focus on your breath and roll your shoulders both forward and back, stand up and stretch you finger to the sky.

Sometimes it can be hard to focus on just our breath. Take a mindful moment by listening and noticing something in particular. Below is a 30 second video, take a look and listen. It’s just 30 seconds. Check in with how you’re feeling now, then start the video – focus on the colors and sound of the waves and imagine you are there. Can you catch the bird sing? When 30 seconds is over check in with yourself and see if you notice anything different.

Video Description – This is a 37 second video of ocean waves gently crashing on the beach. There is a bird on the sand for part of the video that sing and some land with tropical trees on the left hand side of the screen. The colors of the sky is light blue and there are tones of pink reflected in the sand as the sun rises.

When the feelings of stress and overwhelm take over, we often just go on autopilot managing this thing and then the next. Taking a moment to be present with whatever we’re doing in a given moment is a powerful antidote to autopilot.

If you want support managing overwhelm and developing present moment strategies that work for you – reach out, let’s talk!

Learn more about Dr. Ellen Ross, PsyD