How To Cope With Pandemic-Inspired Grief

Individual Counseling Insights brought to you by California Psychotherapeutic Resources, Inc.

Dealing with the pandemic for two years has affected people in a variety of ways. Get into a casual discussion with friends and you’ll probably come up with a long list of issues you’ve dealt with. Anxiety. Stress. Boredom. On a more serious note — substance abuse. Suicidal thoughts. But here’s one that you may have missed: grief.

A couple comforting each other

Grief is a complicated set of emotions, physiological reactions and states of mind. Scott Berinato, writing for the Harvard Business Review, interviewed renowned grief expert David Kessler on the subject. (Kessler co-wrote with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross the groundbreaking book On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five States of Loss.) Kessler’s thoughts on our collective reaction to the pandemic provide valuable insight about our current situation.

In response to Berinato’s question about feeling more than one kind of grief, Kessler said, “We’re also feeling anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief is that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain. Usually it centers on death. We feel it when someone gets a dire diagnosis or when we have the normal thought that we’ll lose a parent someday. Anticipatory grief is also more broadly imagined futures. There is a storm coming. There’s something bad out there. With a virus, this kind of grief is so confusing for people. Our primitive mind knows something bad is happening, but you can’t see it. This breaks our sense of safety. We’re feeling that loss of safety. I don’t think we’ve collectively lost our sense of general safety like this. Individually or as smaller groups, people have felt this. But all together, this is new. We are grieving on a micro and a macro level.”

What can we do to manage our grief, whether it is anticipatory grief or the loss of, for example, a way in which we worked? Kessler says that understanding the five stages of grief is a good beginning. Recognizing that denial, anger, bargaining, sadness and acceptance are not only normal but necessary parts of a complex process is the beginning of some peace of mind. It is also necessary to acknowledge that the stages are not part of a linear process — you do not necessarily feel denial followed by anger and so on. Your first reaction may be sadness. But in any case, the final stage of acceptance is the point at which you find a new type of control. You discover or create habits that can help you establish a new way of life — your new normal.

Before you can get to a stage of acceptance, though, you need to cope with the other stages. The coping techniques necessary, fortunately, are the same ones we know are effective for all kinds of issues, from anxiety to general sadness. These techniques include mindfulness and meditation. What’s more, there is value in technology — it’s easier than ever to not only talk to a friend but also to see each other’s face.

Read more of Berinato’s interview with David Kessler here.