Grief coronavirus

FatCamera/E+ via Getty Images

Coronavirus Loss: How to Handle Grief During a Pandemic

Coronavirus Loss: How to Handle Grief During a Pandemic

Don’t downplay the toll this crisis can take on mental health
Grief coronavirus

FatCamera/E+ via Getty Images

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been tens of thousands of deaths in the U.S. from the novel coronavirus. Beyond the loss of life, this pandemic has led to a grim news cycle, government social distancing restrictions and an economic crisis leaving millions of Americans unemployed.

Fear, isolation and economic uncertainty can all have negative effects on mental health. People who have lost their jobs, their homes, their businesses or even a loved one during this time might not have adequate time and space to properly process and mourn. And even people who haven’t lost anything as concrete as a job or a loved one can also be affected by grief over seeing the world upended as our economic, healthcare and education systems struggle, according to the American Psychological Association.

Here are ways to care for your mental health after experiencing loss during the coronavirus pandemic.

Take a break from sources of anxiety

Take a break from sources of anxiety

Guido Mieth/DigitalVision via Getty Images

Many Americans are experiencing anxiety because of the coronavirus. If you’ve recently gone through a traumatic event, it might be wise to tune out any additional sources of stress and anxiety in your life. The CDC suggests taking breaks from watching, reading or listening to news stories or from scrolling on social media. This could also mean avoiding worrying about things beyond your control right now, such as your economic future or about the health of loved ones.

Postpone major life changes

Postpone major life changes

kali9/E+ via Getty Images

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and grieving a significant loss, now is not the time to make any major life changes according to Mental Health America. If possible, avoid or postpone events such as moving, getting married, changing jobs or having a child in order to give yourself space to mourn and adjust to your loss.

Give yourself space to mourn

Give yourself space to mourn

Nicola Katie/E+ via Getty Images

Avoiding major life changes is just one way you can give yourself space to mourn your loss. “Space” can be physical space, like being alone with your thoughts, or creating a safe space where you can talk to other people. It can also mean time. That might mean slowing life down — like not jumping back into the job search or your regular routine right away — or clearing your calendar of any obligations.

Allow yourself to grieve

Allow yourself to grieve

valentinrussanov/E+ via Getty Images

According to Mental Health America, grieving is the outward expression of your loss, whether that be physical, emotional or psychological. It’s important to allow yourself to express the emotions you’re experiencing and work through them. Repressing your feelings can actually cause you physical or emotional illness.

Feeling guilty is normal

Feeling guilty is normal

Goodboy Picture Company/E+ via Getty Images

You might feel guilt for surviving while your loved one did not or for not being able to be at their bedside or attend their funeral due to the circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic. You could also feel guilt and traumatic stress over the difficult choices you’ve had to make that go against your values, such as laying off employees during this time. You might also feel guilty that you’re struggling right now, comparing your situation to others who you think have it harder or worse or feeling like a bad parent, friend or employee because you can’t perform your duties like you typically would. According to guidance issued by the University of California San Francisco, all of these types of guilt are normal and valid.

Managing guilt

Managing guilt

milanvirijevic/E+ via Getty Images

Coping with guilt is a process, and there are some steps you can take to combat feelings of guilt, shame and regret. Stop any self-talk about how you “should” feel or what you “should have” done. Focus on the positive actions you took, channel your guilty feelings into something proactive and forgive yourself.

Maintain social contact

Maintain social contact

Prostock-Studio/iStock via Getty Images

Even for the average American, lack of physical contact with other family members, friends and colleagues is a major lifestyle change that can be challenging to adjust to. According to Mental Health America, it’s important to stay in touch with supportive friends and family members who understand your feelings of loss — even if it’s remotely.

Open up to others

Open up to others

shisu_ka/Shutterstock

Connection can be difficult during this time of isolation, but it’s important to not only talk with other people but also open up and express all the feelings you’re dealing with. If you had to shutter your dream business, it could be helpful to vent about all the plans you had over the next few years. If you’ve lost a loved one, consider talking to someone who also knew them and sharing your favorite memories of the deceased.

Find a support group

Find a support group

10’000 hours/DigitalVision via Getty Images

Another outlet that can help you express your feelings and connect with people in similar situations is a support group. There are plenty of virtual support groups that have emerged specifically during the coronavirus pandemic for people dealing with mental health issues like depression, people who’ve lost loved ones to COVID-19 and more.

Check in with your loved ones

Check in with your loved ones

martin-dm/E+ via Getty Images

Even if you don’t feel like talking or socializing, your friends and family might be worried if they don’t hear from you at all for long stretches of time. Maintain regular contact with at least one person who can communicate how you’re doing to the rest of your social circle, even if it’s simply sending a thumbs up emoji that you’ve gotten out of bed.

Talk to a professional

Talk to a professional

Pheelings media/Shutterstock

If your grief feels overwhelming, seek professional assistance from someone who is trained to help you walk through your feelings of fear, anxiety, guilt, anger and more. There are mental health hotlines you can call if you need to talk to someone right away. Your primary care physician or health insurance provider may also be able to give recommendations for providers in your area.

Continue any treatments and medications

Continue any treatments and medications

fizkes/ShutterstockWAYHOME studio

If you are already being treated for a mental health condition, don’t stop following your established treatment plans. Continue to take your medication as prescribed and make sure you have a safe way to refill your medications. If you regularly saw a mental health specialist before the pandemic, maintain that pattern, even if you have to move your sessions to a phone or video call or use a chat application.

Destigmatize talking about mental health

Destigmatize talking about mental health

WAYHOME studio

If you are experiencing mental health problems, don’t be ashamed to talk about it. While there can be a stigma against openly discussing both death and mental health, you being open about your struggles actually helps destigmatize the topic and might even help you find common ground you didn’t know you had with family, friends or coworkers.

Recognize physical symptoms of psychological problems

Recognize physical symptoms of psychological problems

PeopleImages/E+ via Getty Images

Your grief might not manifest in the ways you expect. Even if you’re not crying all the time, there might be other ways your body reacts. According to the CDC, physical reactions to a traumatic event include everything from headaches, body pains, stomach problems and skin rashes. If these reactions are interfering with your life to where you are unable to carry out your normal responsibilities, don’t ignore these symptoms — seek professional help.

Establish a routine

Establish a routine

Willie B. Thomas/DigitalVision via Getty Images

An important tip for anyone handling the stress of living through the coronavirus pandemic, let alone someone dealing with grief and loss, is to establish a routine. The World Health Organization recommends getting up and going to bed at similar times every day and keeping up with personal hygiene — even if you aren’t going to work, leaving the house or seeing other people. This will help you maintain a sense of normalcy during this stressful time.

Get enough sleep

Get enough sleep

Maskot/DigitalVision via Getty Images

Taking care of your emotional health and taking care of your body go hand in hand. Getting plenty of sleep is a critical component of self-care during this time.

Maintain healthy eating patterns

Maintain healthy eating patterns

monzenmachi/E+ via Getty Images

Try to eat healthy well-balanced meals so you can stay energized. Grief and depression can lead to weight loss and malnourishment as well as weight gain, and it’s important to maintain a healthy diet regardless of what your appetite is like.

Exercise regularly

Exercise regularly

Zing Images/DigitalVision via Getty Images

Another important way to take care of your body is to get regular exercise. Even during coronavirus quarantine, there are ways to work out at home with free online exercise classes and apps. It’s also safe to take a walk or go for a run outside during coronavirus quarantine.

Make time to unwind

Make time to unwind

10’000 hours/DigitalVision via Getty Images

While it’s good to fill your day with healthy, positive activities to keep you going and doing, don’t forget to still allow yourself some me-time to continue to process, decompress and destress.

Monitor behavioral changes

Monitor behavioral changes

tommaso79/iStock via Getty Images

Grief doesn’t just look like sadness or depression. Feeling powerless and isolated after a traumatic event can also manifest as anger and being short-tempered, according to the CDC, as well as self-destructive or reckless behavior. Such behavior ironically stems from a place of self-defense but can endanger yourself and others around you.

Don’t abuse alcohol or drugs

Don’t abuse alcohol or drugs

Jose Luis Pelaez Inc via Getty Images

One particular dangerous behavior you could turn to in order to cope is using and abusing drugs and alcohol. The WHO recommends limiting the amount of alcohol you drink or not drinking alcohol at all during this time. Relying on drugs or alcohol to manage your feelings of fear, anxiety, guilt and more puts you in danger of developing a dependence, according to Mental Health America.

Limit screen time

Limit screen time

SeventyFour/iStock via Getty Images

The WHO recommends anyone struggling with their mental health during the coronavirus pandemic should limit their screen time. While there are plenty of feel-good shows that could boost your spirits as well as ways to stay connected through social media, it’s important to take regular breaks from on-screen activities.

Help others

Help others

Scott Heins/Getty Images

One way to lift your spirits and give yourself purpose during this difficult time is to find ways to help others. If you are safely able to, offer support to people in your neighborhood or community who may need it, such as going grocery shopping for people who are immunocompromised or who are taking care of someone at home who has coronavirus.

Honor service

Honor service

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Another small act of kindness you can do from home during the coronavirus pandemic is to show gratitude and support for frontline workers and first responders. If you yourself are an essential or health care worker, give yourself credit for the taxing, important work you are doing and recognize your coworkers for their service as well.

Find positive distractions

Find positive distractions

Annie Otzen/DigitalVision via Getty Images

One way to take care of your mental health during the coronavirus pandemic is to engage in activities that distract you from unproductive negative feelings or sources of stress. Tasks such as chores or home improvement projects around the house can give you a sense of purpose as well as a feeling of accomplishment when you complete them. Other activities include taking free workout classes, learning new things via cool online courses or enjoying your favorite movies and music.

Recognize obsessive behaviors

Recognize obsessive behaviors

heshphoto/Image Source via Getty Images

Spring cleaning can be a positive activity that gives you a sense of purpose. But some activities might tap into anxious fears and obsessive tendencies you may have. Grief can initiate or exasperate issues like phobias or obsessive-compulsive behaviors. For example, spending the day decluttering and deep cleaning could spiral into you cleaning too rigorously to try and control your environment.

Focus on positive aspects of your life

Focus on positive aspects of your life

Willie B. Thomas/DigitalVision via Getty Images

Along with finding enjoyable activities to help relieve stress, the American Psychiatric Association recommends focusing on positive aspects of your life and things that you can control during the coronavirus pandemic rather than worrying about things that were, are and will be out of your control.

Express your feelings in creative ways

Express your feelings in creative ways

Alistair Berg/DigitalVision via Getty Images

Beyond talking in therapy, art therapy is a way that professionals help people dealing with traumatic events and grief. You don’t have to be an artist to channel your emotions into a creative medium such as painting, drawing or sculpting. Engaging in a craft or creative project can help you process emotions without words and feel in control of something.

Be a role model

Be a role model

Morsa Images/DigitalVision via Getty Images

You might not have much motivation to take care of yourself, but one reason to address your mental health, ask for help or practice self-care during this time is to set an example for your children or other kids in your life affected by your loss. Kids take cues about how to handle stress, loss and grief from the adults around them. They’ll also pick up on your fears and anxieties. Model healthy behaviors such as expressing your emotions or finding creative outlets for them.

Treat this as a marathon, not a sprint

Treat this as a marathon, not a sprint

skynesher/E+ via Getty Images

Your mental health struggles due to grief from the loss of loved ones, shock at the loss of a job or anxiety over the future won’t disappear overnight. The psychological effects of the pandemic will be felt for a long time to come. Everyone processes loss differently and there is no “normal” timeline for how long your grief will last. Don’t put added pressure on yourself to bury or “get over” your feelings too quickly even as some states ease their strict social distancing guidelines

More from The Active Times:

Coronavirus Etiquette: Face Masks, Working From Home and More

Unemployed Due to Coronavirus? Here’s How to Get Health Insurance

Quarantine Haircuts: How To Cut Your Hair At Home According To A Beautician

Cool Pictures of Nature Around the World

Psychological Facts About Love You Probably Didn’t Know