COVID-19 and Grief

We are all grieving some loss during this COVID-19 world pandemic. We are grieving loved ones we may have lost to the virus. We are grieving the loss of our freedoms. We are grieving the uncertainty of our futures. We are grieving the lost moments spent with family and friends, and we are grieving the loss of our financial security.  

Grief is perhaps one of the most powerful emotions that humans encounter. Whether a personal tragedy such as a family death, the loss of a relationship, the loss of a job, abandonment, and loneliness, or any other circumstances, the experience of grief can be overwhelming and even overpowering.

Individuals who experience grief manifest their emotions in a multitude of ways. Emotional pain is often a result of grief, and many of us will try to avoid this pain by becoming “emotionally numb.”  

 

Emotional numbness 

Emotional numbness is a defense mechanism employed by the mind to avoid intense and overwhelming emotions such as fear, hatred, jealousy, and grief. When you go emotionally numb, you lose the ability to feel and experience your feelings on a psychological and emotional level. 

Many individuals assume that emotional numbness is healthier than negative emotions. However, this is not true as emotionally numb individuals are repressing their feelings subconsciously and can be in danger of lashing out or experiencing a flood of emotions when they least expect it.  

As the passing weeks of social distancing and self-quarantine go by, many of us are becoming emotionally numb as a way to survive and avoid intense emotions that are related to our grief.  

 

The five stages of grief 

There are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, despair, and acceptance. 

Negative emotions often will be manifested in these five stages, and emotional numbness can also play a significant role in the grief process.  

 

  • Denial: Some of us are in denial about the reality of COVID-19. We may believe that this is a media stunt or that this virus only affects the elderly or that COVID-19 is comparable to seasonal influenza.  
  • Anger: Some of us are blaming other countries for this virus, are refusing to self-quarantine because we are bored or are not taking the “social distancing” seriously because we are angry and trying to lash out. In reality, we are grieving our loss of freedom.  
  • Bargaining: We start to understand that COVID-19 is, in fact, very serious, but we will try to find a happy medium so we can still have control. We may spend time with others, but only if we wash our hands or stay six feet away. We may set future dates of travel or only trying to be around individuals who do not appear to be sick.  
  • Despair: Despair often mirrors depression and anxiety. The reality has finally set in, and instead of trying to find healthy outlets, we are sulking in our grief. We may be financially strained and, as a result, will become depressed about not being able to pay the bills and put food on the table. We may feel like our lives are over, our dreams are crushed, and we may all die from this virus.  
  • Acceptance: This last stage is when we acknowledge the reality, accept our grief, work through our negative feelings, and find healthy ways to cope. We may find ways to virtually connect with our loved ones, to enjoy the great outdoors, to take better care of our health when we are sheltering in place, to help others who are in need, and to come up with a financial plan for ourselves. When we reach this stage of grief during COVID-19 we have concluded that “I cannot control or cure this pandemic, but I can do my part in protecting myself and my neighbor. I can also find healthy ways to cope and remain positive through this trying time”.  

 

We are all grieving 

Remember that we are all grieving in one way or another. Whether we are grieving our jobs, our role in society, our freedom to move around, or our loved ones, these highly distressing life events involve a complex set of emotions and psychological issues to navigate through. We are in unchartered waters. We can allow ourselves to try to navigate rough seas with a swirl of painful thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, but we must give ourselves time, space, and compassion.  

How we each grieve will be different. Don’t assume your grief should look like another person’s grief. Or that theirs should mirror yours. Grief is individual. Give yourself and others space to grieve in ways both expected and unexpected. 

 

Helping you through the grief (and pandemic) process: 

  • Be aware of what you can and cannot control. You will encounter more suffering if you try to control everything. You can control your daily routine, your self-care rituals, who you seek support from, and how much news and social media you ingest. You cannot control the actions and behaviors of others, the future of the pandemic, the length of the lockdown, or how long after a funeral, people will take an interest in your welfare.  
  • Be flexible in your coping. Only having one coping strategy can impair your well being. Develop and practice a range of different coping strategies so you can remain flexible in your response to unpredictable times in your life.  

At Casa Palmera, our goal is whole-person healing; we treat the whole person and not just the disorder. Our dedicated treatment team goes underneath the surface of a presenting problem to determine the underlying triggers and address the root so that it doesn’t manifest itself in other ways. Our goal is not to treat the wound with a Band-Aid but instead develop a permanent solution to problems that are preventing you from living your happiest and healthiest life. Our clinical staff works with you to develop an individualized treatment plan that includes therapy approaches for your specific needs, as well as tools that will improve your life on a holistic level. Learn more about Casa Palmera here and see how Casa Palmera’s programs can help you transform your mind, body and soul.  

 

Kristen Fuller, M.D., is a clinical content writer and enjoys writing about evidence-based topics in the vital world of mental health and addiction medicine. She is a family medicine physician and author, who also teaches and contributes to medicine board education. Her passion lies within educating the public on preventable diseases, including mental health disorders and the stigma associated with them. She is also an outdoor activist and spends most of her free time empowering other women to get outside into the backcountry.