Eight Ways to Cope with Your Feelings of Grief During the COVID Pandemic

Emotions will vary widely based on how this pandemic has affected you personally. Local therapists offer advice on how to manage feelings of grief.

Photo illustration by Amanda Lucidi

During the past couple months, I’ve heard many times that the feelings of the pandemic are sort of like riding a roller coaster. Everyone is experiencing a wide range of emotions—some days you’re at the peak, sometimes you’re in the valley, and sometimes it feels like you’re getting emotional whiplash. We’re all clinging to a shaking safety bar on a very scary ride we never agreed to board, with very unclear rules and regulations.

Our emotions also vary widely, based on how this pandemic has affected us personally. Collectively, we’re all experiencing some type of grief or mourning for the way our lives used to be. The point isn’t to throw our hands (and emotions) in the air and laugh. The point is to learn to sit on the ride and feel all the feels until the ride becomes more like a steady stroll or a calm drift. But that’s easier said than done, so we reached out to local therapists for tips on how to cultivate your own emotional safety bar.

Understand which stage of grief you’re in

Janna Koretz, a psychologist and the founder of Azimuth Psychological, says these are the five stages of grief you may be feeling right now:

  1. Denial (This can’t be happening, or this won’t impact me)
  2. Anger (I can’t believe they’ve shut down work)
  3. Bargaining (I will be on time to every meeting for the rest of my career if things just go back to the way they were)
  4. Depression (I have no control over this, and this is going to last forever)
  5. Acceptance (This is my new reality for now and I need to learn to live within the constructs of it)

Obviously, the “desirable” stage is acceptance. Sort of like after a bad breakup, you just want to get to the point where seeing their name, or thinking about them, doesn’t bring up such intense feelings anymore. Simply bringing awareness to what you’re feeling and being able to name which stage of grief you’re in will help you to process what is going on and work through it to get to the point of acceptance. Spend some time journaling, talking to a trusted friend or family member, or meditating/exercising to really hone in on what you’re feeling.

Know that there is no time limit

Unfortunately, there is no time limit to grief, Koretz says, and there is no logical order to the stages. “It can be constant for any length of time or wax and wane over weeks, months, and years,” she adds. Coming back to those trusted methods of self-management like journaling, counseling, or meditating to get to the bottom of what you’re feeling is helpful. If you’re feeling worried or anxious about the future, or that you’re not “getting over” things quick enough, Lisa Lewis, psychologist and Northeastern professor, says to focus on the details of what is making you worried or anxious and pinpoint how you can take specific action. Sometimes taking action is the best antidote to feelings of grief, but she also says it’s simply okay to let things go or put worries to the side for now.

Everyone is going through something different. Be empathetic

“The nurse who is working overtime at Brigham and Women’s Hospital is probably in a different stage of grief than a single person working from home with their dog,” Koretz explains. Similarly, a married man who has been laid off with two kids to care for is probably experiencing something different as well. The feelings of loss for our daily lives are pretty immense. Nothing is quite the same, and that’s a lot to process. Remember this when a loved one has an emotional outburst or a stranger criticizes your social distancing measures. Sometimes people’s reactions are simply a reflection of what they’re going through on the inside. Show them, and yourself, some grace.

Put your mask on (literally and figuratively) before you help someone else put theirs on

You’ve all heard this message before while getting ready to take off on in an airplane. Never has it been more accurate for daily life now. Not only do we have to put our own mask on before we help others put theirs on, but similarly, we need to take care of ourselves (physically, mentally, and spiritually) before we can fully help others as well. “You can’t offer people water if there is nothing left in the cup,” Koretz says. It’s important to remember, she adds, that taking care of others and yourself are not mutually exclusive activities.

Constantly check in with yourself

The only way we can be there for those around us fully is by continuously self-evaluating. “It becomes obvious when we need to take space when we feel burned out, exhausted, apathetic, lethargic, or irritable,” Koretz says. It’s important to recognize when we’ve hit these walls, but it becomes even more important to take preventative self-care measures to prevent hitting those walls in the first place.

Replace draining activities with energizing ones

A good way to prevent burning ourselves out is to look at our daily routine and recognize which activities are draining us and which are filling us back up, and make changes where necessary. Processing feelings of grief, depending on the severity, can sometimes feel like a full-time job. No matter the severity, it is draining to do that, and when life gets small, it’s normal to feel depleted, Lewis explains. “It’s a good sign when you can identify this change in energy and finding any way to conserve energy can help,” she says. “It might require a bit of energy to add the activity, but if it adds more than it takes away, that’s a net gain!”

Look for the silver linings

It all comes back to the age-old adage: We have to make the most of what we’ve got. “We still have control over some positive things in our lives,” Koretz says. Focus on those. Depression is normal, especially during a time like this, but it helps to look for silver linings, brighter horizons, and happy moments and hold on to them for hope. Like all things, this too shall pass. If depression persists, though, and you can’t seem to recognize happy moments anymore, Lewis recommends reaching out to talk to a family or friend, or call a support hotline. We rounded up these free mental health resources as a good place to start.

Sometimes… you just need to have yourself a dance party

While we may not be jetting off to Caribbean islands this summer, attending concerts, or watching fireworks, we can still get creative and find things we enjoy. “They may not be on the very top of our usual summer to-do list, but they can still be fun, and we may surprise ourselves with how much joy these new activities can bring us,” Koretz says. Whether that’s being outside, running through a sprinkler, or planting a garden, we can all take solace in being fully present. Personally, I like to have a two-minute dance party every day. There’s nothing quite like getting out of my feels and into my body. It always feels good—and I know I could use more moments like that.