Handling Feelings of Grief and Loss During a Pandemic

Published April 14, 2020
Using tablet for video call with family at home

Coping with feelings of grief during a pandemic, such as Coronavirus, can feel incredibly difficult. Finding healthy ways to process feelings of grief and loss is really important during this time, as you may also be experiencing heightened levels of overall stress which can impact your general wellness.

Grieving During a Pandemic

You may experience feelings of grief if you have lost a loved one, if you anticipate the loss of a loved one or your own passing, or if you have a general feeling of sadness regarding the loss of what your life used to look like before the pandemic. Because pandemics may coincide with new rules and regulations regarding social connectedness, it's important to keep track of your emotional wellbeing as social isolation can lead to intensified feelings of loneliness, despair, sadness, and hopelessness.

What You May Be Grieving

During a pandemic you may be experiencing feelings associated with grief and loss which may include sadness, loneliness, anger, frustration, despair, hopelessness, rage, and numbness among many others. Feelings of grief and loss may come up due to:

  • The loss of a loved one during the pandemic period or because of the pandemic
  • Missing your old life
  • Feeling guilty about what you took for granted or expected on a day-to-day basis
  • Having health related flare-ups due to the increase in pandemic-related stress
  • Feeling sad about what your child or children are going through
  • Feeling helpless about protecting your family
  • Feeling upset about the world in general
  • Feeling a loss regarding your overall safety
  • Feeling anticipatory grief regarding your own death if you were impacted by the pandemic, or are in the process of dying due to another ailment or illness during the time of the pandemic

Anticipatory Grief

Anticipatory grief occurs when you experience feelings of grief prior to passing away yourself or prior to losing a loved one. During a pandemic, such as coronavirus, anticipatory grief can impact individuals in the process of dying or in the process of losing a loved one. You may also experience this type of grief if you anticipate the pandemic will harm you or your family. This type of grief can feel especially scary and painful as it may last a long time before a passing actually takes place or before the pandemic ends.

Concerned woman sitting on sofa

Collective Grief

Collective grief occurs when a body of individuals goes through a similar experience and thus may go through a similar emotional process. Collective grief can impact the culture and general energy in the area or areas impacted. Collective grief can arise for many reasons including a mass shooting, a pandemic, and a natural disaster where a large amount of individuals are impacted by the same circumstances. During a pandemic, many individuals may be feeling a loss of their normal routine and their ability to engage in their typical day to day activities. This can bring up feelings of sadness, anger, and guilt.

Processing Your Grief

Heightened levels of stress, especially when prolonged or chronic, are extremely tough on your immune system. During a pandemic, keeping yourself as healthy as possible is of the utmost priority, so it's critical to find healthy ways to process your emotions instead of dampening them, ignoring them, or pushing them as far down as possible. Confronting your emotional process head on may help you move through the grieving process in a healthy way so you can alleviate additional stress.

Finding Solace Alone

There are many exercises and activities that you can do on your own to help you better understand your grieving process. Getting down to the core of your emotional experience can assist you in moving through this process. You can:

  • Journal about your feelings related to grief and loss and what this means to you. Track your emotional experience using a scale rating and note that feelings of grief tend to ebb and flow.
  • Externalize your emotions and create a visual of how you are feeling. You can use any sort of art media you'd like. Externalization helps decrease the power of some thoughts and feelings and can help you feel more in control.
  • Draw or paint when you feel emotionally overwhelmed.
  • Allow yourself to feel whatever you need to feel and if this feels like too much, schedule some time for you to process and be sure to add a distinct beginning and end.
  • Listen to soothing music.
  • Give yourself a butterfly hug. To do so, cross your arms at your chest and place your hands on both of your shoulders. Very slowly alternate tapping each shoulder one at a time. Focus on the sensation of doing so and breathe deeply. This gentle exercise may help bring emotional intensity down for some individuals.
  • Create a mantra for yourself that helps you feel supported and loved as you process your feelings. An example includes, "I love myself and know that I will get through this. " You can also say, "I know this is temporary and I'm strong enough to make it out to the other side."
  • Snuggle up with your pet or pets or watch cute animal videos if you need an emotional break.
  • Take a walk and allow your mind to wander. The bilateral movement of walking helps your brain process information efficiently.

Connecting With Others

Connecting with trusted others can help you better process your grief as they can provide validation, support, and advice that you may find useful and comforting. Connect with others by:

Worried father on tablet at home
  • Join an online support group.
  • Reach out to trusted friends or family members and discuss your feelings over the phone or through text.
  • Speak with a counselor or therapist via tele-health methods.
  • Video chat with friends or family members who you can be really honest with.
  • Create a group text with friends or family members who may be experiencing similar emotions so you can process together.
  • Call a crisis line or the police immediately if you have thoughts of harming yourself or others. Keeping track of your emotions and thoughts can help alert you if you are beginning to feel physically or emotionally unsafe.

Coping When Someone Passes Away or During the Dying Process

If you're grieving someone who passed away, or if you are feeling alone during the process of dying, there are things you can do.

  • If you have lost a loved one during this time, you can set up a virtual memorial with their friends and family members as a way to honor their memory.
  • If you have lost a loved one you can create a virtual chat room and connect with their closest friends and family members and share your favorite memories of the deceased individual. Keep the chat room active and schedule time to meet on a regular basis.
  • Honor the passing of a loved one from afar if you are unable to see them. You can do so by donating to a cause close to their heart, taking time to jot down your favorite memories with them, and looking through your favorite pictures of you together.
  • Write a letter to a loved one who you have lost during this time. This can allow you to release some feelings of grief that you may be experiencing regarding their passing.
  • If you are in the process of dying, you may want to find ways to connect with your loved ones via phone calls, video-chatting, and texts. You can also consider writing letters to your most cherished loved ones to send to them especially if they are unable to come see you.

Pandemic Related Grief

Experiencing grief during a pandemic such as COVID-19, can make the grieving process that much harder as rules and sanctions regarding isolation and social distancing may be in place. Finding healthy ways to cope is incredibly important during a time of intensified stress and self-care should definitely be prioritized. Be sure to take extra good care of yourself and your loved ones during this time.

Handling Feelings of Grief and Loss During a Pandemic