Coping With Corona Virus Fear, Worry And Grief.
It’s to be expected at this time that many people regardless of their age will be experiencing feelings of fear and worry as well as having a grief reaction in response to the novel Corona Virus (COVID-19). Additionally, changes in sleep and eating patterns, difficulty sleeping or concentrating, worsening of chronic health problems and increased consumption of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs may be occurring.
We will continue to get through this together by being present with what is, empathetic, and having compassion and patience for ourselves and others. Due to the stress of the COVID-19 there are going to be times when your significant other, family members, friends, co-workers and neighbors are just not going to be themselves. We can only expect that at some time or another we are going to have a” Corona Virus moment” – a freak out moment when our emotions get the best of us. The goal when on the receiving end of this is to remember the person as they usually are and not how they appear to be in that moment.
In the service of growing our empathy it’s important to remember that people will feel different levels of fear, worry and grief based on some of the following factors: age, mental and physical health along with that of their loved ones, the status of their support network, whether they live alone or with others and if they still have a job, how COVID-19 has changed their work routine and whether they work with the public such as healthcare employees and people working in essential businesses such as grocery store employees.
Grief is not only the emotional reaction we have in response to the loss of a loved one. We can also have a grief reaction without losing a loved one. We can have a grief response to anything we experience as a loss such as a change to our health, job, or a relationship. Each time we experience loss - it can trigger feelings from all the losses we’ve ever had in our life, depending on the extent to which we grieved the prior losses. Today we are grieving over several different losses.
In general, that the world as we’ve known it has changed. The loss of the life we lived prior to the COVID-19, the loss of jobs and small businesses, the loss of connection, the loss of non-essential services and businesses such as dining out and going to the movies, and access to non-essential destination such as beaches, parks and sporting events. We know that some of these losses are temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way perhaps because we don’t know when this will end.
We are also anticipating losses that may occur in the future, which is referred to as anticipatory grief. On some level I think we realize that things will be different once the COVID-19 pandemic is stabilized due to our experiences with 9/11. For example, today the Transportation Security Admission (TSA) Precheck prior to getting on a flight is significantly different than what it was prior to 9/11.
We are starting to get in touch with worry and fear- anticipatory grief regarding what life will be like once the COVID-19 pandemic has been stabilized. As well as experiencing concern about our ability and our loved ones' ability to survive this. We are grieving some or all these real and anticipated losses currently.
Anticipatory grief is feelings of fear and worry we get about the future when we’re uncertain about what to expect. It has to do with anticipating a loss or losses in the future. Examples of this are how we feel when we hear there will be layoffs at work, or a loved one has been given a dire diagnosis or when we think about losing a parent someday. Anticipatory grief can also include more generally imagined futures such as there’s a recession coming or there’s something bad out there.
The way to cope with grief due to loss differs from how to cope with anticipatory grief, which I'll cover next. The first step to managing grief is to understand the stages of grief. It’s important to remember that the stages of grief are not linear, and one may feel more than one emotion or mind set at a time and may not feel or exhibit all the feelings or mind sets prior to getting to a place of acceptance. The stages of grief are not a map, instead it’s a way of understanding what your feeling and/or your mind set toward the loss and why.
There’s denial and shock, which is common to see in the beginning: This virus only affects those who aren’t healthy.
There’s anger: I’m putting my health at risk by continuing to work with the public.
There’s bargaining: If I wash my hands and stay in place, I won’t get sick, right?
There’s sadness/depression: I miss my family and don’t know when I’ll be able to hug them again.
And eventually, we get to a place of acceptance: This is the new reality and I will figure out how to move forward.
Acceptance doesn’t necessarily mean you’re ok with the new reality. Instead it means you now feel more in control. You are now thinking about the things that are within your control that you can do to keep yourself safe such as: I will wash my hands; I will practice physical distancing and distant socializing.
The work of grief due to loss is feeling our feelings, allowing ourselves to be with the thoughts and memories that trigger those feelings and attitudes in a safe, comfortable place. That’s how we get to a place of acceptance.
It's the opposite strategy for anticipatory grief. Because every time we experience high levels of negative emotion we're triggering our "fight or flight " response. When this happens often it will weaken our immune system and could lead to the manifestation of genetically predisposed conditions as well as high blood pressure, clogged arteries, weight gain, affect your sleep and relationships to others.
When it comes to coping with anticipatory grief it requires observing the worry and fear and learning how to decrease the amount of time you feel those feelings.We're experiencing worry and fear about what may happen in the future. Our worst fears come to life in the theatre in our mind. Such as: my parents getting sick or not being able to pay the rent or mortgage. We imagine the worst scenarios. Because that’s our minds way of being protective, to prepare us for the worst possible outcome.
Our goal is not to ignore those images. It’s normal for our mind to do this when we’re scared and nervous. And once the intensity of the emotion has gone down - the goal is to be able to identify the facts of the situation. For example, there’s no sign at this time my parents will get sick because they’re “staying in place” and are having groceries delivered and there’s no sign at this time that I won’t be able to pay my rent or mortgage because I have a job and the rent or mortgage hasn’t gone up. Each time you ground yourself in the facts you’re reducing the likelihood that you’ll feel that same worry or fear as intensely as before.
A helpful technique for calming and grounding yourself when in touch with anticipatory grief is shifting your focus to deep breathing and what your senses are aware of in this moment. For example, look around your room and name five things that you see in the room; and remind yourself that you’re safe in this moment-nothing that you’ve been ruminating on is happening currently, you’re ok. Putting your focus here in the present moment while deep breathing and thinking positive thoughts instead of negative thoughts/images/memories/and stories will help those negative emotions go away.
There are things you can do to reduce your likelihood to engage with the thoughts/images/memories/negative stories that keep the negative emotion alive and intense. Such as learning how to let go of what is outside of your control. What your friends are doing is outside of your control. Instead focus on what’s in your control -practicing distant socializing, physical distancing and washing your hands. If you have a spiritual practice it also helps to turn over things that are outside of your control to your higher power.
Practice gratitude by writing down a few things you are grateful for each morning. Studies suggest finding something to be grateful for every day improves mood.
Be mindful of your intake of alcohol/tobacco and other drugs which weakens your immune system and can create distance and discomfort in your relationship with yourself and others. Practice self-care. It will make you feel better and it will strengthen your immune system. This includes getting enough sleep, eating healthy balanced meals, drinking lots of water and managing stress.
Grieving your losses with the support of loved ones and learning how to manage anticipatory grief is going to improve your ability to cope with COVID-19. We can learn to control our thoughts even though we can’t control the things going on around us. The more we practice the better we’ll get. It’s about deciding how you want to feel. You can manifest a more peaceful mind.