Are you grieving for the life you once had?

How many of us were looking forward to the long Easter break this weekend?

Most of us would have made fun plans to meet up with a group of friends and family, or perhaps go away for the long weekend. Maybe we should already be away on holiday, sunning ourselves somewhere exotic and having fun in the sun with the kids while they are off school for 2 weeks. Maybe you had been working so hard, and were holding out for four consecutive days off work?

Well, if that sounds like you, it would be totally understandable if you are feeling some kind of anxiety and grief for the fun plans you made and can’t fulfil.

We normally only think in terms of grief when we lose someone we love, but we can also grieve for our missed opportunities and relationships, or for the freedom we once knew and our anticipated futures, that were predictable to us only a few weeks ago.

Right now though, we may also be grieving the loss of connection to others, the loss of routine and any kind of normality, the loss of how we identify with ourselves or the loss of income and a job right now.

The world has pressed ‘pause’ on our lives, and we don’t know how things will be the world presses ‘play’ again.

We are all genuinely worried about our health and that of our families, and we currently do not know if or when we will see our loved ones. It is totally understandable that this makes us afraid and anxious. Some of us will be coping better than others but I want to offer you some suggestions on how to cope with this.

Generally, grief goes through several five fluid stages. Dr Elisabeth Kübler-Ross describes these as denial, anger, bargaining, despair and acceptance. It is evident than many people are still in denial when we see images of people sunbathing in the parks and trying their best to maintain the life they had before the outbreak. This is a normal temporary reaction and this stage may last longer for some than others. It is an evolutionary trait that has kept us safe for millennial. Take the example of someone who has just been involved in an accident. Their ability to ‘deny’ the physical pain initially and focus on the ‘fight or flight’ response will give them the best opportunity to get themselves away from the danger and seek help. The denial of immediate pain has just increased their chance of survival. Emotional pain can be temporarily denied in exactly the same way, and used as a coping strategy for self preservation.

Some of us may still be choosing to deny what is currently happening by downplaying the severity of the virus or thinking it won’t impact us, but by carrying on as normal, we may be putting other peoples lives at risk.

We may also fluctuate with feelings of anger, which is often our attempt to regain some control over how we are feeling. We are often not yet ready to accept what has happened so we may be prone to blame others and blatantly flaunt the governments advice to self isolate and stay at home whenever possible.

Bargaining usually follows on from the denial stage when we begin to acknowledge the reality of the situation but we are not yet prepared to accept it. It is our own way of compromising on the situation. We may set ourselves short term achievable challenges such as ‘I can stay home until Easter, but then I will not put up with this lockdown any longer’.  Or we might justify popping to the shops three times a day for non essentials such as a bottle of wine, chocolate or some Ben and Jerrys, as long as we are wearing gloves and a face mask.

Once the reality of the situation sets it, we may go into despair. This is when we have a sense of hopelessness of the situation. We feel sorry for ourselves and may start to feel vulnerable too. We feel we have lost control of the situation and we may start catastrophising about everything. An example of this would be thinking that you can’t work from home properly because the kids are too noisy, so you will be fired from your job, lose you home and your family etc. This is really not a good state to be in as your immunity will also be lower at this time.

We are not able to accept a solution until we have accepted the problem first so, we are far more resourceful when we reach the acceptance stage. We may realise that we can not control the spread of the virus, but we can control how we think about it. We may choose to acknowledge all the things we can control such as:

  • How often we wish to keep in touch with family and friends
  • How much time we spend on social media each day
  • What we choose to eat, and when
  • How and where we choose to exercise each day
  • We can create a schedule to add structure to our day
  • How we can use new technology to help us keep in touch with others
  • Learn a new skill, or research something of interested
  • Who we want to offer support to today, and how we can help them

We may even start to see positives in the situation, such as spending quality time at home with our immediate family, catching up more frequently with friends and family that live further away or finding hidden gems on our doorstep that we have never had the time to discover.

I am appreciating the sunny days and the onset of Spring. I am appreciating the way that everyone who passes us outside (a safe 2 metres obvs) smiles and offers a few kind words. I am appreciating that I don’t have to walk out the house and hear my lovely dog cry because he doesn’t like being left alone. But most of all, I am appreciating I get to go out walking with my darling daughter and our dog every day.

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