Resilience: Why we Should ALL be Grieving the Impacts of COVID July 30, 2020 Reading Time: 12 min Share2TweetPinShare2 Shares23 years ago I was a chirpy 24 year old. I’d just bought my first house with the love of my life, my career as a project manager was nicely underway – and life was looking up for me. That all changed one Friday night (the night that Princess Diana’s funeral was broadcast on every channel) as I waited up for my boyfriend to come home from meeting friends at the pub. Well, that moment never came. I went out looking for him in the car, tracing all the possible routes he could have taken. When I discovered a road blocked at both ends by the police and flashing lights, I stopped to ask what had happened with a sense of dread. And that was the moment my world as I knew it, ended. I remember sitting in the back of the police car as they drove me to the station. I remember being asked who I wanted to contact and my brain being unable to recall anyone’s phone number. I remember talking to myself in the back-seat – a stream of consciousness about how was I going to pay the mortgage on my own, how he hadn’t yet set up the life insurance policy, that his parents were going to be devastated and had only just got back from a holiday in Spain. I remember being given cups of tea that I couldn’t drink. I remember that my hands wouldn’t stop trembling. I remember feeling physically sick and untethered – like I was floating outside my body. To this day, I still get anxious when I can’t remember a phone number, and have bad dreams where I just keep hitting the wrong numbers on the phone and am unable to call for help. This is the kind of loss we think about when we think about grief. And while our concept of grief will sometimes encompass a divorce or relationship break-up or losing a job, mostly we assume grief is about someone who died. Well, we need to change that – right now! The world is collectively grieving COVID has turned our world upside down. Some people have lost friends and loved ones to the coronavirus. And some have lost loved ones in accidents, through old age or something else. And many of these people have been stuck at home, unable to participate in the usual end of life rituals. It’s incredibly hard. I write this article for everyone In the last 4-6 months we have been forced to change how we do pretty much everything – from socialising to grocery shopping, from working (or not working) to exercising to going to a cafe or restaurant. Visiting the doctor or hospital, and visiting our elderly relatives especially has all changed – not just a little, but radically. And some of those things we’re simply not able to do at all at the moment! We have lost big things like jobs and businesses, access to loved ones and friends – and our freedom to travel and move. We have lost valued “nice to have” things like holidays and trips, visits to restaurants and shops. We have lost group gatherings for our hobbies or exercise buddies, volunteering and – and much, much more. We have lost normality! So what I’m saying is that even those of us who have not lost someone during this time are still dealing with unprecedented losses – on many different levels: the whole world is grieving multiple losses of “normality” and day to day life as we knew it. These losses add-up – slowly and invisibly. And if we don’t take care of them – see them, mourn them – we can’t let go and move forwards. We can end up stuck. A “loss” of certainty… This may not sound like an important loss, but it’s more important that you think. As humans we find uncertainty threatening. And right now there is so much that we don’t know as well as being largely powerless (as individuals) to do anything about it. Without certainty it’s hard to make decisions and take action. Which leads us to feel helpless/powerless – losing our autonomy. And ‘loss of our autonomy’ is one of five universal human fears. Consider that until recently, we knew what to expect from our world. The bus, ferry or train times. School hours and holidays. Our experience at the gym or yoga class and what it would be like to go to the supermarket, out for dinner, or even just to go for a walk. We knew if we looked up a store’s business hours on Google that they would be accurate, and we could safely assume that the stores we know and love would be open. We also had a fairly certain idea of how people would interact with us, and (much as I am not a fan of Amazon’s business practices) we knew that Amazon Prime meant next day delivery. ALL of that has disappeared. Everything we do has been “tainted” by COVID restrictions and requirements. And we don’t know what to expect from people around us either because everyone is reacting in a different way – even close family and friends. Some friends and family are following the ‘letter of the law’ and others ignoring guidelines. Some people are afraid, others gung-ho or and some simply pragmatic. And we certainly don’t have any idea how the people we don’t know (but still come into contact with) will react either. Loss of certainty is a form of “Ambiguous Loss” Dr. Pauline Boss coined the term “Ambiguous Loss” in the 1970s specifically for human experiences of loss that are hard to express. These are challenging losses because the ‘facts’ are complex, compounded, unclear and/or the experience fluctuates and/or has paradoxical elements and/or there are so many elements that it’s darn near impossible to articulate! So this would normally include horrendous things like war, natural disasters, major illness, the disappearance of a loved one without answers and even incest. But it ALSO clearly applies to this COVID pandemic situation we are all in – a melting pot of losses in a great big stew of uncertainty! Not only does the COVID pandemic represent ONE BIG “Ambiguous Loss”, it also consists of many smaller, amibiguous losses ranging from “simple” separation from loved ones, loss of faith in our institutions and leaders, a loss of helpful boundaries between family and school or work life and the loss of celebratory events like birthdays and weddings. And what about the huge economic uncertainty – for ourselves, our friends, countries and even the world? And the loss of innocence when we see how unfair the world really is, how hard the people at the bottom of the economic pyramid are hit? If we do not attempt to articulate and acknowledge these ambiguous losses, and if we do not find ways to become comfortable with the uncertainty – ambiguous losses can become frozen grief. Now add in the painful irony that our normal path to managing stress and threat has been removed… Recently I attended a now online conference about trauma, where leaders from the fields of neuroscience, attachment research and trauma treatment shared the latest advances in brain science and treatment. This year’s conference focused on “Psychological Trauma in the Age of Coronavirus”, and the theme that consistently played out was: This pandemic has left us feeling stressed, threatened and stuck. The public health strategies meant to help us (physically) are actually having a negative impact (mentally), because we are not able to “co-regulate” by being in proximity with others. In other words, the one thing we want to do when we feel unsafe, unsure and threatened (to talk, get mutual reassurance and a hug) is the VERY thing we’re NOT allowed to do! Yes, there are other coping techniques we are probably already doing We’ve all learned how to “Zoom” and hangout with our loved ones online in new and wonderful ways. And there are definitely some great opportunities to grow by considering this time an important life journey. I’ve also written about some coping techniques like creating a routine, managing our feelings and learning acceptance. And lastly, there are many interesting ways we can use this crisis to grow. But it’s essential that we grieve our losses! Most cultures have processes and rituals to help us through a loved one’s passing, like funerals. These rituals bring family together to collectively honour and mourn the loved one – allowing us to cry and release our grief in a supportive atmosphere, and reconnect with people who are important in our lives. Right now, COVID has halted many people’s ability to fully grieve a loved one’s death, postponing that for some unknown date in the future. But we CAN deal with our COVID losses now… The Purpose of Grief Grieving is more than a process to help us through the death of loved ones: it gives us something to do. Grieving helps us slow down, connect with ourselves and learn what we need to do to recalibrate to the new world we’re living in (and keep recalibrating as things change, lockdown, loosen up and lockdown again). Just as for grieving a loved one, grieving our COVID losses will help us solve the difficulties that come along with each loss. Our nervous system doesn’t do well with uncertainty unless it’s framed with a path to solve the problem. Stephen Porges, PhD and neuroscientist. Grieving our losses makes us more RESILIENT Naming our losses, feeling sad – and coming to terms with them is resilient behaviour. And naming and grieving our losses makes us more resilient too, as we learn that we can handle more than we realised. And sadness – an essential part of grieving – is central to the process! Sadness slows things down and takes our focus inward so that we can heal and move forwards. And did you know that sadness may give us some beautiful personal qualities – and improve our cognitive capabilities? Here’s what Joseph P. Forgas, PhD, a psychology professor, University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia has to say: Findings from my own research suggest that sadness can help people improve attention to external details, reduce judgmental bias, increase perseverance, and promote generosity. All of these findings build a case that sadness has some adaptive functions, and so should be accepted as an important component of our emotional repertoire. Stuffing down your feelings is not going to work Pre-COVID, our first or preferred response to loss or discomfort might be to stuff down and avoid, look away or try to fix whatever we see as the problem. And as long as the losses aren’t too significant and/or don’t pile up too close together, this enables us to “soldier on” with life. The problem is, that under COVID, life has changed so much that this avoidance technique isn’t enough to get us through. And if we keep looking away from all the losses and changes in our lives, without naming and grieving them, there is a risk that they build up and fester. Specifically, there is a risk that we end up depressed, resentful and stuck – frozen in grief and loss. On the other hand, if we name, acknowledge and allow our griefs, losses and discomforts to be, it makes it easier to take care of ourselves, let some go, and create a kind of ‘life baseline’ we can move forwards from. And then we can use this difficult time – and our losses – to help us figure out what matters most, gain perspective and create a new narrative for our lives going forwards. It isn’t any one thing. We have a tendency to call it “stress,” but it’s multi-dimensional. Breaking it down into parts—and giving those parts names—is crucial to our health, safety, and sanity. Esther Perel Our losses are unique to us There is no “one size fits all” answer. Our losses are completely unique to us. For example, where adult children have returned home from their jobs and studies this may be a wonderful opportunity to re-connect. But for some, the adult children especially, it can mean a depressing return to parental oversight and a curtailment of hard-won freedoms. And in particular, the hardest losses to grieve are those that are related to our identity – who we see ourselves as being. So if you see yourself as a hot shot lawyer doing acquisitions and mergers, and now you’re sat at home twiddling your thumbs, that’s going to be a lot harder than for someone who simply sees their job as a way to earn a living. Why this article now? I remember when country borders started closing early to mid-March I still thought my husband and I might get to go on our much looked forward to holiday to Europe at the end of June. Of course that didn’t happen. I felt inspired to write this article because I have been journaling and following my own ups and downs during this strange time. And I slowly began to realise how upset I truly am – underneath. So I got out my journal, and decided to write a list of my losses. And I was shocked by both the length of my list, and some of the things I was upset about. This is a perfect example of Fierce Kindness – facing the truth of things, and being kind to ourselves. There is a (rather horrible parable) which asks, “How do you boil a frog?” and the answer is something along the lines of, “You put it in cold water and slowly heat it up, so that it doesn’t notice until it’s too late”! The message of course is that when changes occur slowly – one small shift or restriction at a time – we don’t notice the build-up. With just one degree change each time, we keep adapting and adjusting until it’s too late and we’re cooked… Don’t let this happen to you! Below I invite you to do this written exercise so you can notice and take stock of the shifts and losses that have occurred in your life, so you can find ways to take care of yourself before you boil over… So, what are your COV1D-19 losses? Here’s a 4 Step Journaling Exercise to Identify – and Process – Your Losses: So much has changed, so much is still uncertain, and this is going on so much longer than any of us expected. We must take the losses and discomforts we experience during COVID seriously, and treat ourselves with care and compassion. Below, I have adapted the 3 As process for dealing with difficult feelings to help us make a list of our losses and process how we feel about them. By identifying our losses and grieving them, this will help you naturally start approaching and thinking about things differently. It will help you meet your needs and make better choices about what and how you do it. In short it will make you more resilient. Step 1: AWARENESS – Identify what you have lost What are you missing? What have I lost? Make a list and NAME IT. Include everything that is on your mind – big, small – and the seemingly trivial. – Remember that not only do small things add up, but sometimes they’re deeper than we know – or they can be a tipping point… Here are some journal prompts to get you started: I am angry about: I feel frustrated by: I am upset by: I am worried about: I am afraid of: I am saddened by: Step 2: ACKNOWLEDGE – Witness and Validate Review your list. Witness and validate what you have lost. If my list is anything to go by – it’s going to be a much longer list than you expect. And remember: No self-judgement! Step 3: ALLOW your feelings and whatever comes up It’s now time to reflect. I wonder what you notice as you look at your list? What common themes, powerful messages or surprises can you see? How do you feel? It’s important to allow yourself to grieve and ALLOW the losses to be. You may cry or get upset and that’s often an important part of the releasing process. It’s important that you stay WITH the process. Simply compassionately support and BE with yourself as you release your feelings and emotions. Finally, beginning to look ahead, what might you be able to do differently – to support yourself – going forwards? NOTE: You may find that you get a delayed emotional response. So if you find yourself needing a cry (often after something small!) later that day or a few days later, don’t be surprised. OPTIONAL: Share some of your losses in the comments below! I’d love for you to share some of your COVID losses in the comments below. I’ve shared mine already (be sure to only include losses you’re comfortable sharing). Step 4: Journaling Reflection & Action Now that you’ve made your list of losses, perhaps you’re already thinking of ways you can bring some more certainty to your life. Or perhaps you’re considering where you can choose to accept the uncertainty – and let go of worry… Write down ONE specific action you’ll take to bring more ease to your life. Remember that your feelings are just sign-posts. Often underneath an initial feeling may be other feelings and layers. For example, I wrote in my journal that I was angry about quite a few things – but underneath that anger was actually sadness, disappointment frustration – and an unpleasant feeling of powerlessness…. To be truly compassionate with ourselves we must acknowledge the feelings without judgement. We must see and allow them, so we can take care of ourselves accordingly. Emotional pain is simply an invitation to explore and understand ourselves more deeply. It’s also an invitation to heal our wounds, to create a more resilient identity and self – not so subject to the vagaries of life. Resilience is important! What resilient people do People who are resilient pay attention to – and will talk about their feelings when needed. They also don’t bottle things up, expressing their feelings and crying when necessary. They accept a situation – in other words they “don’t fight reality”. But they don’t simply “roll over” either. Instead they do what they can. And importantly, resilient people still find ways to enjoy life. What resilient people believe Resilient people believe they CAN handle whatever happens. They believe they have “agency” – the ability to act and influence their situation. Resilient people learn and grow – so that they have the option of many coping techniques depending on the situation. They know, deep in their bones, that everything is temporary – even COVID. I read this and thought, “This means anyone can be resilient…” Finally, we must find ways to laugh and enjoy life Challenge and difficulty makes it even more important that we find ways to enjoy life. We must find ways to celebrate in the midst of uncertainty. Humans have done it for millennia. Small victories, little pleasures, consciously developing a habit of gratitude, present moment joys (try the What makes your heart sing? exercise). Wrap-up There have been (and will continue to be) some positives that come out of this COVID crisis – and I am all for recognizing these. But it’s unhealthy to force ourselves to stay upbeat – when we have very good reasons to feel sad and upset. Of course, as always, the key is to find a balance. Remember: The key is to ALLOW the negative feelings and losses, but don’t WALLOW! I really hope this article helped put things in perspective for you – and see that this COVID pandemic has created a situation that is much harder for everyone than we are currently aware of. I hope it helped you realise you’re not alone, and that your situation is also unique to you. And I hope you see that there is more we can (and need to) do to take care of ourselves during this pandemic – in particular to name and grieve our losses. Because when you know the truth of what you feel, you can use this knowledge to begin to mitigate situations, make plans, reach out and do something differently – and then move through COVID with a new spring in your step! And if you need it – please get help! IMPORTANT: If you find you’re struggling with the impacts of COVID – beyond a natural sadness and frustration, please seek the help of a qualified counsellor or therapist. If you still have access to hope and some enthusiasm for life, you may find working with a qualified life coach enough to get you moving. But if you feel depressed and like there’s no way forward, please reach out and get help. And if you’re having suicidal thoughts, know that there is hope. Please reach out IMMEDIATELY to your therapist if you have one and/or your local suicide hotline (just google “suicide hotline”) – they are trained to listen AND have at their fingertips a directory of resources for you. Finally, a request from me! My articles aren’t usually this long – but I felt this needed saying. And the more I thought and researched, the more I found that was relevant. Knowledge – as they say – is power… So, if you liked this article and found it helpful, I’d love for you to share it with others who also might benefit. And maybe you’ll sign up for our weekly inspirational Fierce Kindness newsletter… Love Emma-Louise x Image of Person considering their losses and writing in a journal via Shutterstock Share2TweetPinShare2 Shares 3 Comments Emma-Louise Elsey July 30, 2020 OK, here are just a few(!) of my actual journal entries (includes some of my thoughts): I am angry about: • I can’t meet up with my friends in person. Meeting over video is just not the same, “No, you must stay home!” It’s like being a teenager again, I want to go out but my parents (the government) have grounded me. I feel frustrated and trapped. (LOSS OF AUTONOMY/FREEDOM/LIFE ENJOYMENT) • I can’t go out for dinner (whether for pleasure or because I worked too late or to celebrate). I feel like my freedom has been taken away. (LOSS OF AUTONOMY/FREEDOM/LIFE ENJOYMENT) • I can’t hug my friends! This feels so weird and I’m upset and angry about it. I feel like someone has tied my arms and legs together with an invisible cord! (LOSS OF SOCIAL CONTACT/SUPPORT) • I didn’t get to go on the holiday I’ve been so looking forward to – and I’ve been working so hard! It’s not fair. (LOSS OF ENJOYMENT/RELAXATION/REWARD) • Masks: I hate wearing a mask – it feels restricting and steams up my glasses so I can’t see. I feel like an alien wearing one. Everyone looks so weird, you can’t see when they’re smiling, and it’s hard to hear what people say. (LOSS OF AUTONOMY/FREEDOM/EASE-VISUAL CUES FOR SOCIAL INTERACTION) I am sad (and angry) about: • My grandmother (last remaining grandparent) died, and I’m not going (can’t go?) to her funeral. I feel guilty, like I should just go anyway. I haven’t even really cried yet – it doesn’t feel real. It’s so confusing!!! (LOSS OF EMOTIONAL CLOSURE/AUTONOMY/FREEDOM/EASE-ABILITY TO MOURN & FEELING GUILT) • My mother-in-law died and I didn’t go back to see her before she died – or to her funeral (although my husband did – and that was a really tough decision). I am angry – and I feel guilty about that too. (LOSS OF EMOTIONAL CLOSURE/AUTONOMY/FREEDOM/ABILITY TO SUPPORT HUSBAND/EASE-ABILITY TO MOURN & FEELING GUILT) I am worried about: • All the people in Canada and other countries who can’t work, who don’t have enough money for food or to pay mortgages. I try not to think too much about poorer, less industrialised countries and what’s going on there because it’s so upsetting. (LOSS OF EASE/COMFORT/EQUANIMITY) • The world economy, Canada’s economy, where all this money comes from to help everyone, and how it will all be paid for. (LOSS OF CERTAINTY/EASE/COMFORT/EQUANIMITY) • My local economy – friends and other people I know who depend on tourists for their income who are struggling. (LOSS OF CERTAINTY/NORMALITY/EASE/COMFORT/EQUANIMITY) • I worry about my retirement investments (I had 10 years while I was building a business of not contributing to any pension!) (LOSS OF CERTAINTY/EASE/COMFORT/EQUANIMITY) • Getting COVID. While I’m healthy, you just never know. (LOSS OF SAFETY/CERTAINTY/EASE/COMFORT/EQUANIMITY) • What if someone I love gets COVID and dies? (NOTE: When these thoughts go too far, this is called anticipatory grief – where we trigger ourselves into feeling something that hasn’t actually happened yet.) (LOSS OF CERTAINTY/EASE/COMFORT/EQUANIMITY) • I’m worried these COVID restrictions will never end!!! (LOSS OF CERTAINTY/AUTONOMY) • That we will lose income in our business and not be able to pay people and ourselves. (POTENTIAL LOSS OF FINANCIAL SECURITY and LOSS OF CERTAINTY/EASE/COMFORT) I am saddened by: • The way some world leaders have responded to the crisis, and by the lack of “working together” by big companies to create a vaccine… (LOSS OF TRUST/FAITH) I am afraid of: • Angry or frightened people who are upset and might yell at me or tell me off! (what an interesting thing to be frightened of – but it explains why I don’t want to go grocery shopping!!!) (LOSS OF SAFETY/CERTAINTY/NORMALCY/EASE/COMFORT/EQUANIMITY) This is just a subset of my “losses”. And this doesn’t even include many more things, including many small things I think I shouldn’t be upset about (because they’re so small that I think I “shouldn’t” think them when people going through much worse). We need to ‘own’ these too! Reply Judy Frabotta August 2, 2020 Thanks for posting. This is really good. One of the most important things about naming and experiencing our grief is coming to grips with the new reality. If we stuff it down, we keep being ugly surprised when everything isn’t the way we expect it to be. And, as always, being in touch with reality, both internal and external, makes everything else possible. Reply Emma-Louise Elsey August 3, 2020 Hi Judy, yes, that is so very true. Sometimes it is hard to “be in touch” with reality – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t (and perhaps it makes it more important that we should!) make every effort to know the truth of our experience… Warmly Emma-Louise Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYour email address will not be published.CommentName* Email* Website Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.