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Coping with Grief and Adapting to Change During a Pandemic

To a certain extent, March 2022 marks the start of the third year of the coronavirus pandemic. Much of the world is in a state of grieving over losses they either have suffered or continue to suffer through while trying to adapt to changes in the news regarding the pandemic. Coping, healing, and recovering through this grief and loss is challenging, let alone adapting to the changes in one’s daily routines and lifestyles. In this blog, I aim to touch on what grief and losses are, a strategy on how to make informed decisions, share four different methods on how to build coping strategies, and why maintaining some form of a routine is beneficial. 

Let’s start: what is grief? Simply put, grief is the natural reaction to loss and, depending on the loss, can be both a personal and a universal experience. Loss can include losing a loved one or missing a funeral, loss of employment or financial stability, loss of missing a significant event, like a wedding or get-together, loss or reduction of supportive services. The list goes on and on. Grief can also be the response to changes in a person’s daily routines or ways of life that typically brings comfort and a feeling of stability.

I often hear from clients in therapy how challenging it is to make decisions right now because of the pandemic. When we think about decision making in general, one method I’ve shared with clients is to think about decision making as a two-step process: 

1. information gathering- collect as much data as possible about the decision you want to make before you make it (pros and cons)

2. decision making.

Gathering information first, and deciding second, supports that that decision is not only an informed decision but also a decision you can trust given the information or evidence you have acquired. Practice patience and take your time with the process. Write down all your findings and come back to them every now and then.

Therapist Pauline Boss published a book called The Myth of Closure: Ambiguous Loss in a Time of Pandemic and Change in November 2021, where she writes how the pandemic has resulted in many of us experiencing anger, despair, and anxiety-related emotions. Pauline shares that when it comes to coping through this grief and loss we’ve experienced and continue to experience by the pandemic, to try and increase our threshold of ambiguity and recognize our resilience as we process through our grief and continue to look to the future with possibility and hope. Coping through grief and loss is different for everyone, and healing and recovering from the loss may be a prolonged process, especially if we’ve experienced multiple losses at the same time. There are various types of coping strategies that therapists share with their clients, however, I usually break it down into four categories: 

1) active coping strategies- engaging in an activity, such as physical activity, like going for a walk, cooking, or exercising

2) passive coping strategies- strategies where you are passively engaging in the activity, such as watching a movie or television, listening to music, or meditating

3) removing yourself from the stressful environment- moving to a different space, such as another part of your home, going outside, or going for a drive

4) talking to someone- talking to a counselor or therapist, a friend or family member, or anyone who you consider to be part of your support system.

Coping through grief and loss is different for everyone, so find the coping strategies that best supports you with the healing and recovering process. 

Changes in our daily routines and lifestyles have happened numerous times due to the pandemic, and it’s difficult to keep track of how often we’ve had to rearrange our schedules, postpone plans get-togethers with family or friends, read up on the newest guidelines, or adhere to the new policies and procedures. 

Adapting to change may be challenging, whether that change is positive or negative. One intervention I’ve shared with clients is to create a routine as soon as possible. When we encounter stressors, those stressors can have the potential of lowering our coping capacity. If enough of those stressors hit us, our coping capacity can be exhausted by the end of the day. Having a routine can help so that there can be a sense of familiarity as our day continues and we have some sort of idea of what is going to happen next, which in turn lowers our anxiety. Try to keep a structured, yet flexible morning, afternoon, and evening routine, so that you can rely on those routines to support you as the day continues.

Written by: Bernard De Wet

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