What was your year 2020 supposed to look like? How many travel and life plans did you have to cancel? How often did you feel scared, sad, overwhelmed or just completely unsure what you were (and are) feeling?

This might surprise you, but what you have been feeling might actually be grief.

The Many Faces of Pandemic Grief

While we are somewhat used to talking about grief when talking about the big losses in life, we aren’t that good at identifying it under other circumstances. And if a pandemic wasn’t what we expected for 2020, pandemic grief wasn’t either.

Hence, in my online counselling practice this has been a recurrent topic over the past few months and understanding this feeling better has helped many of my clients cope better. And not just that. For instance, it’s also helped myself because as a digital nomad being stuck somewhere for months at a time meant the loss of some of the core elements of my lifestyle and identity. And don’t get me started on all the events, marriages, conferences and more I was looking forward to this year…

So at first, I wanted to share some of those insights on pandemic grief with you.

Even if in normal circumstances some may find it easier to handle losses than others, COVID-19 has changed our lives to the extent that it’s taking a toll on everyone’s mental health in some way or another.

For many of us, the ‘new normal’ is not normal at all.

While some people found ‘social distancing’ easier than expected, many more have been struggling with the loss of routine and structure. That is, working from home is not easy when you didn’t choose it and the line between work and home is getting blurry. Our home life is being disrupted by work-life imbalance which. We are facing barriers to give our 100% in work. The world is not open for us to move freely. We have lost our sense of security and safety. There is a fear of the economic toll as some of us have lost their jobs.

“What does all this mean for our future?”, all of us are asking the same question.

These days, our resilience and coping strategies are being tested to their limits and it is becoming more difficult than ever to get ourselves back together. Therefore, it is more than just not being able to do the things we would normally do.

For example, many of my clients and friends have experienced higher levels of anxiety, fear, and sadness at this time. The pandemic has turned our world upside down.

In conclusion, in all this uncertainty, we are uncomfortable. And according to David Kessler, co-author of On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss and also the world’s foremost expert on grief, the discomfort you’re feeling is grief.

We are all grieving for different reasons. This time is unique as we all are doing it together.

Understanding pandemic grief

Moreover, according to the Kubler-Ross Model, there are 5 stages of grief. These are not steps but stages that one can experience in any order though. While some may experience all stages of grief in one day, some people might also experience only two or three of the five stages.

Regardless, the importance at this time is to understand and acknowledge the stages of pandemic grief. Only then we will be able to move to a place of acceptance.

Stage 1: Denial
“The virus won’t affect us. It’s a hoax!”

Stage 2: Anger
“My freedom and security is gone. Why are you making me stay home?”

Stage 3: Bargaining
“Will it get better if I social distance for 2 weeks?”

Stage 4: Sadness
“I want all of this end. It’s making me sad.”

Stage 5: Acceptance
“This is happening. I have to create a plan on how to move forward.”

Coping with pandemic grief

When we accept grief, as awful as it might feel, it also gives us meaning. It gives a purpose to recognize the loss and the need to adapt.

Here are some ways to cope with pandemic grief:

  1. Don’t let the myth of positivity get the best of you. You don’t have to make the most of this pandemic and use it “reinvent” yourself, start a new business or learn 3 new languages.
  2. Pay attention to your feelings, don’t control them.
  3. Write down the challenges you have overcome in the past.
  4. Stay connected with your loved ones through technology.
  5. Follow a routine. If the old one doesn’t fit, create a new one.
  6. Limit your news and social media consumption.
  7. Go through some good memories and cherish them. Be thankful for them.
  8. Focus on the small positive things in your daily life. This is a great time to start a gratitude journal.

This pandemic has also provided us with opportunities. For example, parents are home to spend more time with their kids, we are appreciating the freedom of going out and we are learning new skills. This proves how humans have immense strength to find meaning even in the worst situations.

What are your experiences with pandemic grief? Looking forward to your thoughts (positive or negative?) and comments below!

If you’re having trouble coping with your pandemic grief, don’t stop yourself from seeking help from a therapist. You matter. Your feelings matter.

This too shall pass.

how to understand and cope with pandemic grief