Generally, we equate grief with the death of a person we love. But there’s something called anticipatory grief. The sudden loss of life as you knew it—a life you may not have had the chance to say goodbye to—is also true loss. In the wake of COVID-19, so many things have become off-limits, seemingly overnight. You may be feeling sad about losing your old life and anxious about what’s to come as the pandemic continues. And as the uncertainty continues, worry about what life will look like afterward, and how long these changes will last, can take a toll.
In addition, worries about your and your loved ones’ health, plus the bleak reports in the media may fill you with an underlying sense of dread and fear or the many unknowns.
Here, some strategies to help you manage these complicated feelings.
Identify some of the specific things you miss, whether by telling a friend or writing in a journal.
You may have been looking forward to a visit from family, hosting a holiday dinner, or going to a Broadway play. It may seem silly to grieve these “small” losses when others are grieving lost jobs or the death of loved ones. But try to recognize that it’s not a competition. Your feelings are real and recognizing them is important.
Once you’ve identified some of the things you’ve lost, you can look for ways to reduce feelings of sadness. Video conferencing apps make it possible to have virtual get-togethers, even graduations and holiday celebrations, with friends and family. And, while you may not be able to see the play you had tickets for, all kinds of performances are being broadcast online. In some neighborhoods, people are able to come together in a safe way by sitting on their individual stoops, porches, or balconies for cocktail hours or sing-a-longs.
You can’t engage in all the activities that you took for granted pre-pandemic, but that doesn’t mean life has to come to a standstill. Even if you’re working a full day from home, you’ll still have more downtime than usual. You might decide to take up a hobby that’s always appealed to you or read a book you’ve wanted to for a while. If you’ve got young children, brainstorm an activity you can all do together.
One way to take the focus off your grief is to help people who are also struggling. You may be able to help someone with daily tasks like running errands or walking the dog, or with loneliness and isolation. If you’re able to go to the store yourself, you can offer to pick up a few things for a neighbor and drop them off at their doorstep, for example.
With terrifying statistics so much in the news, it’s no wonder that fear and dread are such common emotions now. And remember, the media tends to focus on the bad news because that’s what keeps people watching and listening. Try to limit your media consumption to an hour a day, or once in the morning and once in the evening—including social media.
Yes, COVID-19 is something to take very seriously. And restrictions on travel and gathering may continue for several months. But maintaining social distancing is key to avoiding illness, and limiting contact with others may be in your control.
Remember too that most people who get the virus either don’t have symptoms, have mild symptoms, or are able to remain at home while they recover. You may not be able to control whether you get sick, or how sick you get. Follow the current guidelines for keeping yourself and your loved ones safe, which will give you some sense of control over your fears.
Anticipatory grief is about fearing the future and trying to know in advance what it holds so that you avoid being caught off-guard. Practicing meditation and mindfulness are all about staying in the present moment by focusing on your breath and other areas of your body and not getting ahead of yourself or thinking about the past.