Dealing With Grief in the Age of COVID-19
by Shannon Smith
Grief is a normal reaction to a loss. It’s typically also associated with death, but grief can follow any type of personal loss. It affects us emotionally, physically and mentally. At some point in our lives we all experience grief. We can expect to feel shock, numbness, sadness, anger and anxiety after any life-altering loss. This is especially true in today’s chaotic world. We’ve all experienced different types of losses during the pandemic. We have lost much of our freedom, normal life, contact with friends and family, finances and job security. Some people have lost much more.
In the workplace, employees may be struggling with intense grief caused by the unexpected death of a loved one, co-worker or friend to COVID-19. Those who have lost a loved one may be experiencing feelings of guilt and lack of closure. This is especially true if they were unable to be with that person in their final moments.
Under normal circumstances, we would typically gather with friends and family to offer care and support to one another. However, the coronavirus pandemic prohibited many time-honored rituals, making it more difficult to cope and process grief because we were physically isolated from others.
Stages of loss and grief
While it can be helpful to understand the stages of grief, these emotions don’t necessarily follow a sequential timeline or a linear process. Grieving people are likely to go back and forth between these feelings throughout the grieving process. Five well recognized standard stages of loss and grief are:
• Denial and isolation
Should you (or your employees) be seeking professional help?
• Some outward signs of grief, in light of the pandemic include:
• Trouble focusing on normal tasks
• Sleeping much more or less than usual
• Feelings of anger and irritability
• Headaches and upset stomach
• Fatigue or low energy
• Re-experiencing unresolved feelings of past grief
• Engaging in negative coping skills (eating, drinking too much) to cope with anxiety
If any of these signs and symptoms consistently impact a person’s day-to-day life, seeking professional help may beneficial. If your organization partners with an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), employees should be reminded that EAPs offer no-cost, confidential support to help to address grief and any other personal concerns they may be facing.
Importance of self-care
In the immediate aftermath of a personal loss, caring for yourself can seem like an overwhelming task. Don't put too much pressure on yourself to maintain normalcy in the face of a crisis. However, it’s important to focus on yourself — making sure you are eating, sleeping, exercising and practicing positive self-care routines.
Adjusting to a new normal
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected people in so many ways. No matter what we’ve experienced individually, we all share the reality that our lives have been upended. Everyone has suffered loss and has the right to grieve and express their emotions. They needn’t dismiss what they are feeling. The losses we’ve experienced individually, or collectively, are all valid and should be acknowledged.
It’s important to remember that losses resulting from the pandemic were beyond our control. Continued disruptions to the normal routines of everyday life may contribute to a lingering sense of uneasiness and sadness. These feelings are normal. It will be an ongoing process to learn how to accept those things we can’t control and to adjust to a new “abnormal” normal.
Whenever loss occurs, it takes time for people to accept a new normal. Everyone grieves differently and moves through the process in their own way. The good news is that most people tend to be resilient in the face of grief. People are usually able to reach a place of acceptance where they can adapt and find ways to cope with their loss. The pandemic offers us opportunities to be creative in finding new ways to celebrate life, connect with others and begin processing our own grief.