Many describe grief as waves, and I agree. Sometimes grief hits like a tidal wave and you think everything you know and love will be destroyed by it. Sometimes it feels like an onslaught of big waves that threaten to suck you under; surely you will drown. With time, grief feels more like the tide. It never goes away; you just learn to live with, and expect, the ebb and flow. Sometimes the water is still, like glass, and you foolishly think that grief has gone away. But then, smash, a wave comes out of nowhere and you are struggling to breath again.
In this time of coronavirus, we are all grappling with grief. Some of us miss people we love, either because they have died, are in isolation, or because COVID restrictions and guidelines make seeing them impossible. All of us, on some level, are grieiving the way life used to be – when every decision we made wasn’t fraught and didn’t require a risk assessment. We may even be grieving the future, not knowing what the next normal will entail.
Grief is complicated by COVID. We grieve what we grieve while while we worry about the people around us. While we worry about the future and the state of the world. While we can’t seek company and support (Zoom calls and texts just aren’t the same) the way we’d like to. While we can’t distract ourselves the way we might if life wasn’t so restricted. So what can we do?
In times like this, we need to use every positive strategy we know to manage our well-being. Here are a few of my favorite tools and techniques to care for myself when the waves of grief wash over me:
1. Meditate. I just started my meditation practice this year. What was I waiting for? I have a very busy mind and I always thought it would be impossible to quiet it. And maybe it will be. But what is possible is learning to quiet it down somewhat, to find moments of quiet and peace, to learn how to create space between stimulus and reaction. Meditation is a practice and it is in the practicing, as imperfect as your practice may be, that you realize the benefit. I recommend the app Insight Timer. Check it out here. It comes with thousands of free guided meditations.
2. Practice yoga. Like meditation, yoga is a practice. That means you don’t have to be flexible or able to balance on one leg. All you need to do is attempt it. It is in the practicing that you achieve the benefit. I recommend Yoga with Adriene. She hosts a free series on YouTube that is accessible for all levels of practice.
3. Exercise. It’s difficult to find the motivation to exercise when the waves of grief are knocking you down, but if you can muster the strength for just a mile-long walk, or 5 minutes on the exercise bike, or even just a fraction of your favorite workout, it helps. It might not help you fit into your favorite jeans, but it helps you weather the storm of stress you’re dealing with. Nike got it right: just do it.
4. Phone a friend. Grief can be cruel. It can tell you stories that are mean and untrue – like you have been abandoned and that no one cares. These stories are easy to believe if you are waiting for evidence to the contrary to appear. Prove grief wrong by seeking out the truth: phone a friend. Tell someone how you feel. Ask someone to bear witness to your pain. Sometimes you have to spell out exactly what you want – as exhausting or frustrating as that might be.
5. Seek out people and spaces that “get it.” Sometimes, unfortunately a lot of times, friends and family just can’t sit with the discomfort of our pain. For those moments, we have books on grief, online support groups and even Instagram accounts. My favorites are @RefugeInGrief and @ModernLoss.
6. Practice gratitude. One of my greatest lessons from caregiving is that two things can be true at once. We can both hate caregiving and appreciate the gifts it brings. We can be frustrated by the same person we love. So it is with grief. We can carry sadness around while we’re having a great day. Seek balance in your life by focusing on what’s good, even, and especially, when you’re feeling knocked down by what’s not good. Start and/or end each day by setting a timer for just one minute. In that minute list everything in your life you’re grateful for. Don’t know where to begin? How about the fact you’re breathing?*
7. Feel your feelings. Grief feels awful. AWFUL. And it is natural to do whatever you can to avoid feeling the sad feelings of loss. But the fact is, there is no way around them. If you find a way to numb your pain for an hour, a day, or even years, know this – your feelings will find you. You cannot out-swim these waves forever. Try feeling them as they come. Even the biggest, strongest waves break. The key to feeling your feelings is to honor them. Acknowledge that you are sad. Show yourself some compassion. Stop what you’re doing and rest. It helps – I promise.
*Wishing you weren’t breathing? You might need some extra support. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 Help is available.