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Sometimes It Helps to Name It: Talking About Loss During a Pandemic

By Dr. Christina Carson-Sacco

In Pennsylvania, where I live, we are about a month into the ‘lockdown’ caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve noticed there is a shared feeling among family, friends and patients. It’s like someone draped a blanket full of heavy feelings over the world. It’s even affecting our sleep, as most are tossing and turning with vivid, scary dreams.

Because so many people are struggling, it is important to recognize the evidence that suggests giving a name to the feelings and speaking about them can be helpful. In short, I think what we are all feeling is Loss and the resulting Grief.

In this unstable and uncertain time, it is easier to identify the anxiety we are feeling. But as time has dragged on, for many this has turned into loss and grief.

  • Sadly, for some, it is tangible loss due to the death of a loved one at a time when it is impossible to gather and mourn. For others it is a loss of less tangible things like routine, freedom, and normalcy.
  • Others have felt the loss of special events like celebrating birthdays, graduations, proms and other important milestones.
  • Most people are feeling a loss of connection with others due to the need for social distancing.
  • Some have lost financial security and jobs.
  • For many, there is a loss of a sense of safety and knowing what the future holds. People everywhere are feeling the change that is happening in the world as a loss. Maybe they are grieving for what they thought the future would look like. In many ways, this pandemic reminds me of the change in our country after the tragic events of 9/11. We all are grappling with the knowledge that things will be different after the pandemic, though we don’t know exactly how.

After we name it, what can we do?

  • First, don’t compare your losses to the losses of others. All are real and important. Just because someone else’s loss seems bigger than yours, it doesn’t make your pain any less valid. Have self compassion and allow yourself the space and time to grieve for your losses. Keep in mind that there is no ‘right’ way to grieve. As long as it doesn’t harm yourself for others, however you or your loved ones are doing it, is ok.
  • Crying is a natural human way to cope with pain. Go ahead and cry; find privacy to do so if you need to. Keep in mind children may be crying more, too. Or sometimes they show their grief by throwing tantrums or being defiant.
  • Then express it. Say it out loud to those who support you. Write about it. Make art. However you prefer to do it, just get it out.
  • Taking time to meditate, while doing some deep belly breathing, can help us cope with challenging emotions. There are many great, free meditation videos online or apps for your phone. Aim to take a few quiet moments to breathe and meditate each day.
  • Try to stay present and focus on what is within your control. Sometimes our grief can take us down the path of ruminating on the ‘what ifs.’ When this happens, bring yourself back to the present moment. One way to do this is to look for 5 things in your surroundings and focus on each one for a moment. Another way is to use your 5 senses by finding one thing you see, one thing you smell, one thing you taste, one thing you feel, and one thing you hear.
  • Even in times of tragedy, there are positives, though we may have to search for them. Limit your exposure to negative media stories. Spend some time each day looking for the good around you, however small. Maybe there are wildflowers blooming along the path where you walk. Maybe there are news stories about people helping others. Maybe you find joy in the funny things your pets do or a special song. Search out at least one thing that makes you smile each day.
  • Lastly, if you are in need of support, reach out to a professional. Many psychologists are providing video or phone sessions. Some organizations are offering online support groups. See the resources below.

Dr. Christina Carson-Sacco is a clinical psychologist and a partner with The Center for Neuropsychology and Counseling, P.C. with offices in Warrington and Lafayette Hill, Pennsylvania. To learn more about her group practice visit www.TheCenterInWarrington.com

Other helpful resources: