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4 Ways To Be With Your Grief During Coronavirus

This article is a collaboration between Courtney Harris M.Ed of Courtney Harris Coaching and Lindsay Camp LMFT of Austin Teen Therapy.

To all of the young people who a feeling a lack of closure, a loss of normalcy, a void, we see you. During this pandemic, we are collectively experiencing grief, as we do our best to put one foot in front of the other. This blog is an invitation to name what you are experiencing and to honor your own process. 

Content warning: We are addressing the emotion of grief, which can be heavy and may bring up the emotions, memories, and traumas of past grief or difficulty.  

What is Grief and How Does it Show Up?

Let’s start by defining grief. This definition comes from The Grief Recovery Method: “Grief is the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior.”

This definition is both specific and general– specific in the sense that we feel grief when we experience loss or change, and general in that a wide range of experiencing can elicit the emotion of grief. 

The emotion of grief can show up in a variety of ways. For example, you might notice that it’s hard to focus, your sleep could be impacted, your memory isn’t quite the same, it might harder to regulate your emotions, and your appetite may have changed. Grief is a normal human emotion, and there is nothing “wrong” with you if you are grieving or experiencing any other kind of big, unpleasant, confusing emotions during this time. 

What are We Grieving Right Now?

During the time of COVID-19 so very much has changed and continues to change. Youth we work with have shared some of the aspects of life/things they are grieving:

  • Graduation
  • Prom
  • Connecting with crushes
  • The opportunity to connect with people in classes
  • A sense of freedom
  • IRL dates, parties, family gatherings, and hangouts with friends
  • Random trips to a coffee shop, the grocery, or a restaurant
  • Jobs + Income
  • Family members who have passed away
  • Vacations and the ability to travel 
  • Sense of safety
  • New identities and communities built at school/college (that don’t exist at home)

Some of these items feel really big, and others feel small. We are each experiencing loss in different ways and to different degrees. We are truly facing “collective grief;” meaning, we are all experiencing some type(s) of loss during the pandemic. However, it is crucial that we also recognize that we each live with different degrees of privilege and oppression. These realities intersect with the elements of loss coronavirus is creating in our lives at current. 

This important post by Inclusive Therapists, names some of the communities that are being disproportionately harmed during the pandemic. People who carry greater privilege— folks who are white, cis, heterosexual, employed and insured, and able to stay home– are being called to understand they their lived realities are not the same experiences that everyone is having. Check out this article about a guide for how to “check your privilege.”

We invite you, whenever you are ready, to Stop. Breathe. Feel. What are you feeling the loss of? What else are you grieving? If it’s helpful, pause and make a mental or written list.

Ways to Be WITH Your Grief:

Just as with any emotion, it can be an uncomfortable (especially at first) experiencing to be with or in your feelings, and it can be powerful and healing. These 4 steps are tools you can explore in the process of being with your grief during coronavirus and beyond. 

  1. Let your grief be seen and heard. Naming your grief and allowing yourself to share it with a trusted other is important. This may be a therapist, coach, parent, friend, or anyone else you feel safe with. 
  2. Express your emotions in concrete ways. When you feel ready, invite yourself to write or draw or collage or create anything that helps you process and express your sense of loss.
  3. Make time for quiet. Allowing yourself time to be still and quiet can support you in relaxing your nervous system. This can be a guided meditation, taking a solo walk without audio-input, or prayer.
  4. Practice gratitude. This is not about putting a band-aid on the pain; however, it can be soothing to remember what is good, working, and beautiful. Find ideas for gratitude practices here.

“This And…”

In closing, we’d like to share a favorite tool, which we call “this and…” This phrase can help you remember that you can experience joy in seeing a friend on Zoom, in eating your favorite ice cream, in laughing at a show, AND you can experience grief over the losses you are facing. All of these things can be true at once. When you are feeling confused or even guilty for the emotions you are facing, we invite you to try “this and…” Here’s how I used this tool today: “I’m really worried about my grandparents, and I am enjoying relaxing on the couch this afternoon.”

Your experiences of loss will have layers. Some days will feel heavy, others will feel light. Know that you are not alone, and there are resources and people and support available to you when you are ready. This list is a great place to start if you’d like ideas for self-care, mental health, creativity, and more.

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