Are you aware that you’re grieving?

What are you feeling?

In this unexpected new global era — in which everything is changing rapidly and our daily activities have been suddenly altered — have you paused and asked yourself how you feel? Or have you just kept moving along and trying to get through your normal routine? Turning our backs on our emotions can often feel easier than facing them. With that being said, sooner or later our emotions still demand to be expressed, seen, and accepted. When we ignore them, they can sometimes shift in order to catch our attention and become physically and mentally disturbing. These ignored emotions may end up surfacing as feelings we can’t fully make sense of, such as anxiety, agitation, or uneasiness. Or they can manifest themselves in the form of physical discomfort, such as pain or insomnia. They sometimes appear in the relationship we have with ourselves or those close to us; they may impact our relationship with food or work. That’s precisely why opening up space for our emotions is so crucial for our well-being and our ability to lead a balanced life.

Have you been able to make sense of what you’ve been experiencing so far during this pandemic? What’s happened, and what’s changed for you? Right now, what kind of  emotions are rising up because of this situation? What do you most feel the absence of, or what do you miss? For example, you might miss being outdoors or running errands without feeling anxious. You may feel sad due to not being able to see your loved ones. If you’re living with others, you may be feeling overwhelmed by never having any time alone. And if you’re living alone, you might be feeling isolated and lonely. Not knowing how long this will actually last can add to those emotions even more. However you may be feeling, it’s absolutely normal and understandable; we’re all going through this in our own ways. Yet rather than dismissing and ignoring our feelings, by observing what emotions we’ve been experiencing during this period, we’ll be much more able to understand what our needs are. And once we become aware of these needs, we’ll have an easier time at coping with and processing this new ‘normal’.

Your losses and grief

Anger, worry, fear, confusion, and exhaustion. Calm, hope, and happiness. These are all feelings we may be experiencing during this pandemic period. We’re probably familiar with most of these emotions, but there’s another emotion we’re likely experiencing during this time as well: grief. These days, you may be grieving many things you’ve suddenly lost. Perhaps you lost a loved one, or a loved one may be ill and seeking medical treatment in more difficult conditions than usual. If either of these situations apply to you and you’re struggling in any way, seeking out a mental health professional can help you during this painful time. 

Now, while many of us fortunately haven’t lost anyone close to us, this pandemic has still caused us to experience loss and grief in ways that are perhaps more abstract. This experience of loss may be disorienting and painful in its own way. For instance, you may have lost your sense of safety or control over your life. You may be missing your habits, routines, being close with loved ones, or perhaps your job. What have you had to let go of  during this period? What has been suddenly taken away from you? What kind of things are you deprived of that used to make you feel good? What feelings are you missing that these routines used to bring? Happiness? Feeling loved? Trust? Calmness? Tranquillity? Fun? Grieving these mental states and feelings is very normal. Try putting names to these emotions and open up space for them by listing on a sheet of paper or in your journal what you feel you’ve lost.

In addition to the types of emotions mentioned and the experiences you may feel you’re missing out on, this pandemic’s disruption of your future plans may also be challenging. You may have been dreaming about new things to do in the upcoming months or you may have upcoming plans or traditions that won’t go as planned. All of these situations can cause us to feel sadness or frustration. And while most of us may dismiss these changed plans and missed opportunities as trivial, trying to convince yourself that you don’t feel upset or disappointed can end up with you feeling even worse later on. Instead, try to think of these changes in future plans, and the uncertainty of the future in general, as another form of loss to identify and work through. Journaling or talking with a loved one are both great ways of expressing your feelings about these losses.

What can you do to cope with grief?

Noticing grief and making room for it are the first steps towards healing. If we ignore what we’ve lost and our grief, it may affect our well-being, relationships, and bodies. Here, we’ll cover some suggestions to help ourselves become more aware of the grief we’re feeling:

Set aside time. In order to prevent grief from dominating your life while still making room to process it, set aside some time to just grieve whatever it is that you’re missing, craving, yearning for, or lamenting. During this time, you’re free to reminisce, dream, have a look at old photos, check canceled or pending plans and, if you need to, cry. This time can be a space for you to experience how your losses make you feel. Even though facing these feelings during a scheduled time may sometimes seem challenging, it can help you feel lighter and less stressed for the rest of the day. And most importantly, you’ll be creating a space for your own healing by observing and caring for your emotions.

Listen to your needs. Knowing that other people are going through similar difficulties can sometimes relieve our own feelings of stress or pain. However, we shouldn’t forget that everyone has their own experiences and forms of grief. Rather than focusing on how others are getting through the pandemic, we should remind ourselves that everyone is experiencing this period in different ways. Everyone has their own personality, life experiences, needs, and reactions. Even though we’re all facing the same event, it’s useful to ask yourself, “How do I feel during this period and what do I need?” Don’t forget that you don’t have to think positive and be strong all of the time. Try to write down your feelings and needs, or share them with someone you trust. If you’re feeling worried, try to list your worries and put them in groups. Afterwards, listen to what the emotion you’re sensing at that moment means to you. For example, worry can often be related to feeling safe and the need for control. So if the emotion you are experiencing is worry, it might feel better to focus on doing activities that you can control, that require you to be present, and that make you feel good.

Create a new routine. Have you had to give up some of your routines that are important and meaningful to you? We may have had to change some of our daily rituals that are just impossible to maintain right now. Rituals like going to the gym before work, having lunch with your friends once a week, chatting over coffee with a friend, or your day-to-day work routine. But what if you created a new routine to make reading the news or drinking coffee more enjoyable? For instance, you could create a new ritual while you drink your coffee and video chat with a friend. Or instead of going to the gym before work, do your workout at home or in your yard first thing in the morning. Your new routine can even involve a hobby you’ve been meaning to try for a while, a language you want to learn, or a habit you’re trying to pick up. Think about planning new routines that enrich your life and bring you closer to your dreams.

Explore joy. Even though this period has taken away some of the things you love, consider that the new rhythm you’ve found yourself in may also create space for new opportunities. What are some of the emotions, memories, and experiences you can create and share that are special to this unique period we’re in? Right now, all across the world, everyone’s experiencing the same fear, worry and longing — people from different cultures, and people you’ll never even meet. Perhaps this stillness in the streets has allowed you to notice sounds in your neighborhood or home that you’d never noticed before. Maybe you can start to spend the time which you’d normally spend commuting to work making a great breakfast, meditating, or sleeping in. Maybe you’re now spending more time with your child, partner, family, or roommates. For the first time in years, you’re experiencing being together all day long, day after day. Or this may be the perfect time to notice what lessons and revelations can come with solitude. You might be able to take the time to reflect, or perhaps come across corners, drawers, and memories in your home that you’d forgotten. The point is, even though this period is challenging, finding some opportunities to experience joy is more important now than ever. If you want, take a moment to list out some things you have appreciated or enjoyed during this period.

Create your own peaceful space. Imagine a peaceful and relaxing space that only contains things that make you feel good. Music, candles, writing, doing yoga, talking to a friend, meditating, playing games, supporting your community, being alone, reading a book, or starting or continuing therapy… this space may include these things, or any other activity you can think to add. During this period, try to make room in your new routine for connecting with these activities; things that fill your cup and make you feel at ease or fulfilled. To help put this into action, whenever you’re planning out your days, make sure to write in a time (it could even be just 5 minutes) when you get to do something for you.

Meditate. The practice of meditation gives you the opportunity to see how you’re feeling and makes you feel more in-control when it comes to these emotions. When you take your mind off of auto-pilot and are actively present, it’s easier to identify any feelings of grief you may have and make space for them. When you’re having trouble focusing and everything becomes too much to take, you can give your mind a break by meditating. If your mind is lost in the “what ifs” and other fears and uncertainties about the future, meditation can help your mind relax and reconnect to the present moment. You can also practice and experience emotions like compassion and acceptance through meditation, both of which may help ease anxiety. Compassion and acceptance help stop us from running away from our feelings and disassociating from the situation we’re in. 

Especially during these challenging times, observing what we’re feeling, identifying our emotions, and expressing them can help us feel better. We can use that information to prioritize and guide our daily routines and choices. Many of us aren’t used to feeling emotions like grief in the specific way we’re experiencing them now. But when it comes to this specific situation, paying attention to these feelings of grief can be one of the first steps in our healing journey.

Writer: Psychologist Gözde Ertekin

Translator: Ebru Peközer

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