For many, 2020 has been a year of loss: loss of routine and a sense of safety, loss of jobs and income, loss of important ceremonies and celebrations, and sadly, loss of loved ones. Parallel to experiencing losses, many people may also be feeling guilty: guilty for feeling sad over a loss that seems insignificant compared to loss of life, survivor’s guilt, and guilt for feeling okay sometimes. Here are three tips for coping with grief and guilt during the pandemic:
1. Acknowledge your grief
Millions of people have been impacted at multiple levels because of the pandemic, and perhaps because of our awareness of this, we may hesitate to recognize our own suffering. Perhaps you’ve noticed yourself thinking “don’t complain, it could be a lot worse”. Giving yourself a perspective check like this may help temporarily, but it is important to remember that suffering is suffering – it is not a contest. That is, you don’t have to have the worst situation or the worst suffering to be allowed to acknowledge it. If we are feeling guilty for feeling bad, we hedge our own emotions, interrupting the natural process of letting our feelings be felt so they can move through us. When you allow yourself to acknowledge your own grief, you are taking care of your mental health. Taking care of yourself does not make you blind or indifferent to the suffering of others.
2. Come back to the present
There is grief for what we have already lost, and then there is grief for what we are afraid of losing. This is called anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief is expected in the face of uncertainty. What if I lose someone close to me? What if I lose my job? What if my kids never go back to school? It’s normal to worry when faced with uncertainty, but it’s probably not helpful. What can be helpful, instead, is to practice coming back to the present moment – the “here and now”. Right now, none of these things you fear will happen have happened. Notice the details of this moment. What do you see? What can you hear? Where is the light? The shadows? While you’re here, take a moment to practice gratitude. What are you grateful for in this moment?
3. Allow yourself to have positive experiences, too
In a similar way that we may hold back from acknowledging our suffering when we are aware that others are suffering “more”, we may also feel guilty when good things happen, when we have positive experiences, or when we feel okay. Allowing yourself to fully experience positive emotions is an important component of mental health. Just like blocking your pain will not save others from pain, neither will blocking your joy.
If you are suffering, know that help is available from the safety of your own home. GLPG makes it easy to get started with online therapy. If you’d prefer to start online therapy in the wake of the pandemic but anticipate that you’d prefer to switch to in-office therapy at some point, you have the option of choosing a GLPG therapist located in your community.