I paid a visit to campus the other day for the first time since we were all separated by Covid-19. It was a surprisingly emotional experience. It struck me, what a sense of loss I have been feeling and didn’t even know it. Of course, the big things are missed. The big events. What struck me hardest, however, was missing the day to day interactions of the people that I care about so much. The interactions with the students in my class. The deep, and not so deep, conversations with students sitting in my office. The short office visits with beloved co-workers throughout the day. All of those small interactions (which aren’t small at all) is what hit me that I am truly missing. Then it occured to me that I am grieving. We are grieving. We are going through the process of coping with a loss. A loss of expectations, a loss of hopes, a loss of experiences, and a loss of control in our lives.
When we experience loss, we often look to the well known stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Sadness and Acceptance. While grief can rarely be put into a neat little package of five stages, I have seen myself and others bounce around these five over the past few weeks.
Denial: “It’s not going to be that bad. It won’t affect us that much.”
Anger: “I’m going to have to do what? Stay at home for weeks and not see my friends? Cancel all the things I had planned? You’ve got to be kidding me!!”
Bargaining: “Okay. I will do this for two weeks and then things will go back to normal.”
Sadness: “I am really missing my friends. Will this ever end? I need to be around people.”
Acceptance: “I don’t like it, but I can do this. This is reality for a while and I’m going to find a way to make it work.”
Okay, I am grieving. What now?
Fortunately, there are some things we can do when we are going through grief that can, at least, help us cope a little better. These are not quick fixes, and you have to work at them if they are going to make you feel better.
Allow Yourself to Feel your Feelings
So often when we are grieving there is a pressure, either from ourselves or others, to move past it. A pressure to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and move on. While there is a time and place for moving on, first we need to allow ourselves the chance to be sad and know that it is perfectly okay to cry, scream and curse about what is going on. We often need those outlets as an emotional pressure valve. If you need to cry, then cry. If you need to scream, go for it. The key is to not get stuck in those moments to the point that it becomes detrimental to your mental health.
Check Your Thinking
During grief, our minds tend to resort to extremes. Try to restore a balance in your thinking and fight the tendency to have all or nothing thinking. “This will NEVER get better.” “There is no end in sight.” “People I love are going to get sick and die.” In checking our thinking, we are trying to restore balance. We are trying to remove the absolutes. We want to try to make our minds go from “this will never get better” to “it is bad now, but it will eventually be okay”. “I may know some people that get sick, but the vast majority are getting better”.
Stay Focused on What You Can Control
With so much outside of our control right now, practice identifying the small things that you can control.
You can’t control what is in the media, or what your neighbors are doing, or when your life will get back to normal. Focus instead on the things that you can control. You can control being responsible for your own social distancing behaviors. You can control reaching out to friends and family through the phone or computer. You can control setting a daily routine for yourself. You can control how you are caring for yourself through nutrition and exercise.