Since the pandemic arrived, we have all been touched by loss. Maybe you’ve lost a loved one to the virus or been unable to see your friends and family. Maybe you’ve lost financial stability, a fulfilling, familiar routine, or your favorite coping strategies.
What’s more, we’ve lost our sense of normalcy: the ways we used to work, love, learn, relax, have fun, and spend our day-to-day lives have disappeared. As therapist and grief specialist John Sovec, LMFT, notes, such dramatic changes have left many of us with profound grief. This grief can become overwhelming to carry, particularly when you’re trying to juggle your newfound roles and responsibilities.
To cope effectively with such painful losses, it’s important to acknowledge your emotions and care for yourself. Below, you’ll find seven small suggestions for coping with your grief and feeling better—whatever losses you’re grappling with.
1. Know It’s All Normal
Don’t beat yourself up when different, often contradictory emotions arise. “There are as many different experiences of grief as there are those who grieve,” says Claire B. Willis, a clinical social worker and co-author of Opening to Grief: Finding Your Way From Loss to Peace.
Often, we don’t even recognize our feelings as grief, even though they are. According to Willis, grief can go beyond sorrow and despair to include anxiety, loneliness, fear, anger, numbness, relief, distractibility, and even gratitude.
2. Use Different Tools to Process Grief
Journaling is therapeutic for many people in processing their pain. But it’s not the only coping tool. Art can help you “move through your feelings of grief on levels that you may not even be aware that you’re holding onto,” says Sovec.
You might draw how you’re feeling or create a collage of images that reflects your grief. Another entry point is to use creative prompts, says Sovec, such as: What color is my emotion? What texture is it? How does my emotion want to be represented?
3. Keep Strengthening Your Bond
If you’re grieving the loss of a loved one, remember that your relationship with them can still continue to grow. Willis encourages readers to talk to deceased relatives and friends and to write letters to them.
For example, start your letters with: “Something I wish I could have done with you today or told you,” or “Something I want you to know about how I’m doing.”
Use a notebook to capture memories of your loved one and consider how you’d like to continue their legacy, says Willis: “What of their life would you like to bring forth in yourself as a way to carry them with you?”
4. Find Your Tribe
To help you manage your multi-layered grief, find individuals that can support you in different ways, says Sovec. For example, one friend might be a great listener, supporting you as you cry and share your pain. Another might send you funny, feel-good texts. A third might join you on weekly nature walks.
5. Create a Self-Care Kit
Assembling a self-care kit based on your senses can provide daily comfort and soothe you when you’re really struggling. According to Sovec, your kit might include a warm, fuzzy blanket (touch); a beautiful picture (sight); music that makes you happy (sound); your favorite essential oil (smell); and a beloved comfort food (taste).
6. Recognize What is Right
As you tend to your grief, try to also notice what is right alongside what is wrong, says Willis. For example, she cites the words of famous Haiku poet Issa, who lost his entire family and home:
“A world of grief and pain
For example, a woman in Willis’s bereavement group who lost her husband wrote about being grateful for neighbors who call and heat on a cold winter night. A woman with cancer wrote about her home and reconnecting to her heart.
7. Move Your Body
Because we bear loss inside our bodies—in the form of tension, tightness, restlessness, and pain—Sovec encourages individuals to participate in both gentle and intense physical activities. Sometimes, you might relax your body (and mind) with a walk, light gardening, or a restorative yoga class.
“At other times, the body needs to work things out and sweat through the emotional overwhelm” by doing activities like running, biking, or boxing, he says.
As you grieve your losses, remember that you are not alone in your pain. As Willis and her coauthor, Marnie Crawford Samuelson, write in “Opening to Grief,” you are “part of a larger community of people who all bear their own sorrow.” Reaching out and supporting others’ heartache can sometimes help to soothe our own.