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Coping with grief and loss

September 21, 2020

Many of us have experienced losses of one kind or another during the coronavirus pandemic. The structure and routine of our lives has been disrupted, and most people are missing things they enjoy doing, as well as contact with friends and family. Some people have lost their job, and the income and sense of purpose that brought, or have had plans for the future dashed. Others may have lost a loved one to the virus, while those who’ve had it themselves may be suffering a loss of health and energy as a result.

These losses may be accompanied by feelings of sadness or anger. We might also be anxious about what else we might lose, which can make us protective of people or areas of our lives. If we dwell on what we’ve lost, this can lead to depression.

Grieving is a normal response to the loss of something or someone important, and a natural process. We all cope with loss in different ways, with how we react depending on what it means to us and how we think about it.

Some people are able to deal with it; while they’re clearly finding things very difficult they’re slowly getting on with daily life, and taking care of themselves, and can see improvements in how they’re feeling.

There’s no time limit on grief, however. People often have expectations that they should move past their loss, and can feel frustrated, worried or guilty if they don’t feel better, or swing between feeling okay and feeling not okay. This is hardly surprising in the current situation: we’re still in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, and we’re reminded of it every day.

If you’re concerned that you’re not ‘getting over’ a loss as you’d expected, it’s worth challenging two ideas that you may have about grief.

Grief is a process that we progress through in stages.

Many people tend to move back and forth between two coping behaviours instead:

  • Focusing on the loss – for example thinking about a person who’s died, looking at old photos, talking about memories of them and crying.
  • Practical tasks – doing things that are necessary to help them to move forward, for instance someone who’s lost their job might get their CV polished up and register with employment agencies.

This can be a successful way of dealing with grief, because it helps an individual accept the reality of their loss and how the world has changed, while allowing them time away from the pain to concentrate on other things in life.

Grief always shrinks over time.

This isn’t necessarily the case – often grief remains the same size, and affects us in the same ways, but because our life has grown it doesn’t take up quite as much space as it used to.

One approach that might help with getting perspective around a loss you’ve experienced due to coronavirus is to reflect on whether you’ve also gained anything during the last few months. Is there something you’ve enjoyed, or which has improved your life in some way? For instance, you may be less tired due to not commuting to work, or you might have had more family time, learned a new skill, or got outdoors more often. Think about how you can take this forward with you.

There’s no specific cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) treatment for grief, as it’s a natural process, but if it’s accompanied by mental health difficulties such as depression or anxiety then CBT might help. For example, if a loved one has died in traumatic circumstances this can lead to PTSD, with symptoms such as flashbacks and nightmares. If you’re experiencing symptoms like these, or if you find you can’t think about anything else other than what you’ve lost, and you’re struggling with day-to-day tasks, you might need to seek support.

You can find out more about accessing CBT, on the ieso website.

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