5 Suggestions For Coping With Prolonged Pandemic Grief

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Does your sadness not stop? Do you feel trapped in a cycle of despair?

You’re not alone. Almost one year of a global pandemic is enough to put anyone in a state of prolonged grief. But there are things you can do to cope.

It might be hard to believe that. With all the losses: Life as you knew it, grieving a job or loved one who passed, the sadness and grief can feel like too much to bear.

How do you go on? What can you do?

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Here are 5 suggestions to help you heal from prolonged grief during the pandemic.

1. Try not to fight it.

This may sound counterintuitive. You probably think you should do everything to stop feeling the way you feel. That does make some sense. You want to get to the other side.

But trying to cut off feelings of sadness isn’t the way to do that, as strange as that might sound. Fighting how you feel doesn’t make it go away. Honoring your sadness helps heal prolonged grief.

You might wonder, "How?" when the sorrow feels like too much. You’re scared it will get in the way of work, of life, and all the things you must stay on top of and get done.

Fighting your feelings and keeping them under control actually takes up a lot of energy. It’s hard emotional work. If you give space to grief, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming.

In fact, it’s a healing thing if you can go with your feelings of sadness. Feelings are feelings, not enemies. To be safely felt, all feelings need a place to be heard.

2. Make a place for your grief.

Trusting in feeling your feelings begins early in life. The first place for your feelings to be heard, in the best of worlds, is in childhood, with loving parents who listen and soothe.

When that doesn’t happen, you reject your feelings. Your sadness is unwanted. Anger goes underground. You “learn” to believe your feelings are wrong, “bad,” or too much.

Loving parents provide a safe container for your feelings. But even if you didn’t have this container in childhood, it’s not too late. Write in your journal, or start one now.

A container can be writing poetry, an essay, a letter. Paint your feelings. Sing them. Yell — grief is anger, too. Talk to friends. Sadness doesn’t have to be unmanageable.

The point is, make your feelings welcome. If you grew up being told you’re too sensitive or even had your feelings criticized, that makes it much harder. Feelings are normal.

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3. Allow yourself to cry.

Tears are a big relief. If you can cry, it helps a lot. That’s a part of grieving. If your tears are blocked, you must have a good reason for pushing them aside. You might feel they’re a sign of weakness?

Or maybe you’re afraid of being overwhelmed by sadness, all alone. You think you’ll start crying and never stop. That is a scary thought. It’s hard to be alone with grief.

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Be sure you have a network of support. Gather your family together, even if it is by Zoom or telephone. Any contact can make you feel you have virtual arms around you.

Use all your resources as much as you can. Schedule daily or weekly calls with someone you love. Connect. Open up. If you live with someone, talk. Find things to laugh about.

Prolonged grief, with no end in sight, builds up over time. It can feel like you’re in a pressure cooker. It’s important to let off some steam. That’s why crying is a good thing.

4. Find bits of hope.

Hope is necessary. When grief continues, it’s not so easy to believe in hope.

Look for silver linings, even now. Find bits of hope to hold onto, a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s important to try, in this very difficult time. Where are those bits in your life?

Think about it: Has quarantine offered you a chance to do a project or start something you didn’t do before? Time to get closer to your partner? A chance for soul-searching?

If you can, find what you have, not only what’s been taken away. Also, to feel that help is close in sight. Someone to lead you to both healing and a return to some semblance of normalcy.

A close friend. A partner. People who remind you that you are loved and heard. Or even a therapist who can reach out a hand.

5. Reach out to a therapist.

Do you believe nothing will get you out of this terrible sorrow? You likely have complicated grief. This is different than the prolonged situational grieving a pandemic brings.

If you’re lost in grief and can’t find a way out, even with the strong support of people who love you or by trying to put these suggestions to use, it’s time to get professional help.

Complicated grief is grief that causes you to withdraw, ruminate constantly about your losses, feel hopeless, bitter, and distrusting. You feel life has lost any sense of meaning.

Maybe you’ve withdrawn from all activities, avoid feelings or reminders of your losses; or have numbed yourself. The reality of what’s happened or is happening can’t be faced. You’re running away.

If you can think of nothing else and living your life has come to a halt, you aren’t able to grieve.

It’s time to find a therapist who can help you feel your losses along with your sadness; cry, mourn, and work it out. With help, you can move through prolonged grief to the other side.

It’s time to start living again. Even in the life-changes of a pandemic, there can be room for joy.

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Dr. Sandra Cohen is a Los Angeles-based psychologist and psychoanalyst, who specializes in treating childhood trauma, persistent depressive states, and all types of anxiety. For more information, visit her website.

This article was originally published at Sandra E. Cohen Ph.D.. Reprinted with permission from the author.