Managing Grief Over The Holidays During COVID-19

Managing Grief Over The Holidays During COVID-19

  • While Christmas is a time of celebration, they may also be difficult for individuals who are bereaved.

  • Social distancing might make it more difficult to grieve.

  • There are strategies to deal with loss around the holidays and COVID-19.

Managing Grief Over The Holidays During COVID-19

The holidays are a time of pleasure, enthusiasm, and happiness for many people.

Grief and sadness at losing a loved one might make the holidays extra difficult this year.

A lot of people are coping with the death of a loved one on top of other stressors caused by the pandemic, like no childcare for children at home, financial hardship, and other stressors they wouldn’t have had before,” Camille Wortman, PhD, emeritus psychology professor at Stony Brook University, told Healthline.

Grieving over the holidays may add to the stress. In fact, Teralyn Sell, PhD, is a psychotherapist and specialist in brain health says, grief is one of the key indications of stress.

This past year has been filled with all kinds of loss, which can be processed as grief. Even the loss of a schedule or of work friends on top of other more profound losses takes a toll,” Sell commented. 

She claims that when the body is under stress, it produces the stress chemicals cortisol and adrenaline as a normal reaction to things that come and go, such as those encountered in fight or flight mode.

However, as the pandemic lumbers on and the grief piles up, we are in chronic stress. Over time, our stress hormones will steal from our sex hormones and will deplete our brain chemicals in attempts to seek balance,” explained Sell. 

We could then feel fatigued, overwhelmed, irritable, have trouble sleeping, and more. Once this cascade of events occurs, our immune system will also be weakened, something that we absolutely do not need to happen during a pandemic.

How Does Grieving Differ During Covid-19?

While losing a loved one is always heartbreaking, losing someone during the pandemic brings its own set of difficulties.

It is challenging to stay with a loved one in the hospital during their last days and then not hold services when they pass away.

People can’t fly in and see each other and hug and comfort each other. The whole element has been ripped out of the memorial service now, so people don’t get the love and strength they need to move forward,” said Wortman.

The burden of grief is worsened by social isolation.

One of the things that’s so helpful for those who have lost a loved one is the presence of those who love them, and that means physical presence and physical contact, so this main coping strategy that’s known to be effective for grief isn’t possible now,” Wortman added.

The collective stress and grief felt by society make it more difficult for bereaved people. Because everyone is anxious and disoriented due to the pandemic, Wortman believes that many individuals lack the energy to help others.

One woman told me, ‘My daughter used to check up on me every few days, and now my husband has died, but she has her kids home from school, and her husband lost his job, and she simply can’t check up on me,’” Wortman said.

Source - HealthifyMe

It’s also difficult to know how to express support, particularly if the cause of death is COVID-19. Because of the nature of COVID-19, Wortman claims that individuals often say things that do not seem to be supportive, such as the following:

  • Did he put on a mask?
  • Was she suffering from a pre-existing condition?
  • Did he engage in social distancing?
  • Where do you suppose she got it from?
  • You should consider yourself fortunate that she lived for as long as she had.
  • There are so many people dying, so you’re not alone.

Of course, a lot of this is driven from the fact that people don’t want to get COVID, so they want to know how the person contracted it. However, saying these things is not supportive and only makes the person feel worse,” Wortman explained.

Comments that elicit a more emotional response, such as, “This must be very painful for you” or “I’d like to understand it better”, she emphasises that those are more supportive.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s vice president of programmes, Helen Rogers Pridgen emphasises the importance of remembering the individual rather than the reason of death.

In the search for words, an expression as simple as, ‘I am sorry for your loss, and I want you to know you are in my thoughts or ‘I am sorry you are hurting — I want you to know you are not alone’ can be heard and felt when expressed sincerely,” she said.

She went on to say that contacting, sending a letter, or bringing a meal are all ways to be there with individuals who are mourning.

Though you may be inclined to give them space during their grieving process, it’s important not to isolate them during a highly vulnerable time in their life,” said Pridgen.

Tips For Grieving During The Pandemic Holidays

While sadness may manifest itself in various ways over the Christmas season, the following coping strategies might help.

Plan Ahead Of Time

Wortman advises being proactive when it comes to the holidays. If you want to visit individuals, she advises you to consider several situations to avoid being caught in an uncomfortable situation.

For example, if you are going to a small gathering, think ahead about telling the host you might not be able to stay the whole time rather than announcing you have to leave in the middle of the party. This way you can get through it without feeling worse,” she said.

Having a plan in place also gives you more control over the situation.

Everything is so out of control when you lose someone, and right now the world feels out of control. This can be a little speck of light that makes you feel like you can figure out what you want to do and [actually] do it,” Wortman said.

Commemorate Before Or After

Plan a special way to commemorate your loved ones before or after the holidays, rather than doing so during the festivities.

Consider having everyone make a personal statement about their favourite story about the deceased and have them read it out in front of a camera or outside in a meaningful setting. Another option is to donate toys to a local hospital in memory of a deceased kid.

Each family will come up with something that feels special to them. The point is that honouring them before or after the holidays helps [alleviate] feeling bad about not doing so on the holiday, as well as helps from trying to feel happy on the holiday as you’re honouring the loss of someone. This pushes that all out of the equation,” Wortman said.

Establish New Traditions

Some individuals find it comforting, while others find it challenging when it comes to tradition.

If holding to longstanding traditions proves too painful, consider developing new family traditions,” Pridgen suggested. “There’s no right or wrong way to spend the holidays — it’s what works best for you and your family. It is OK to take a year off from your usual traditions and decide next year if you will resume them.

Even if you can’t be with your loved ones for the holidays because of the pandemic or other reasons, this advice still holds true.

It is a reaction to just let the day pass; but instead, try to celebrate on your own. Connect with your family and friends through the phone or Facetime. Make sure you include a family tradition in your own home that will bring the holidays alive,” said Sell.

Take A Step Back

For this reason, Wortman advises grieving people to reduce the amount of time they spend on activities that may seem like chores, such as baking, sending cards, decorating, or putting up the tree.

Cutting back helps us focus on what’s most important, like sharing connections with people and telling them what they mean to us. Sometimes those other activities are not as rewarding and can pull you away and make you feel scattered,” she explained.

Feel Your Emotions

As Sell explains, grieving is a process that doesn’t follow a timeframe and doesn’t have sequential occurrences.

Flow with the emotions that arise,” she said.

According to Wortman, it’s a good idea to recognise that emotions of pain are inevitable over the Christmas season.

Do not expect too much of yourself, and recognise that you are doing the best you can,” she added.

Feed Your Body And Mind

Identifying the physical effects of grieving helps, according to Sell.

Our body sends us signals all the time. Recognise those signals as a stress response, and take a minute or more to engage in stress-reducing activities,” she said.

For example, going for a brisk walk or taking some time off to meditate might be therapeutic.

Setting small daily health goals can give you a sense of accomplishment without feeling too burdensome. Tell others about your self-care plan so they can help support you,” Pridgen added.

Another strategy to deal with stress, according to Sell, is to consume protein every two to three hours to keep your blood sugar stable.

This will reduce some of the overall stress load on your body. It will also keep you in your thinking brain and out of your emotional brain more often. Additionally, protein is the basic fuel for all of your feel-good chemicals, like serotonin and dopamine,” she explained.

Seek Professional Assistance

If your grieving is severe and unrelenting, get help from a mental health professional who specialises in grief and loss.

Sell notes that support organisations and social media groups aided her patients throughout the pandemic.

Seek professional help if you can’t seem to move through the grief or if the grief causes excessive symptoms that don’t enable you to live the life you want,” said Sell.


Source: Healthline

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