It is hard to know how to navigate through these unprecedented times. Millions of people have been forced to adapt, and very quickly, to a brand new way of being in the world. This new way of being looks very different from person to person – whether this means adjusting to working from home, suddenly finding yourself unemployed, having to homeschool your young ones, or saying goodbye to someone you love. There is no one person out there who has not been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. None of us had a choice to be here, but we’re all in this together. Something big that ties us all together is our collective experience of grief – grief for the loss of our routines, our future plans, our feelings of safety and our loved ones.
So how can we process this grief as individuals?
As quoted in an article from the American Psychological Association, George Bonanno, PhD states: “Grief is about turning inward and recalibrating”. It is an acknowledgment that, “This is not the way the world is anymore, and [we] need to adapt” (Weir, 2020).
Often in the face of challenge and tragedy, there lies opportunity for growth, resilience and a return to self that stems from grief. Below are some questions that aim to fuel some self-reflection in order to recalibrate, return and reorganize self and recognize our resilience.
How Do I Cope?
When reflecting on the way in which we cope, it is important to remember that there is no “right” way to cope. There is no guidebook for what is happening in the world right now– so we cope the best ways we know how.
As we are move through challenging times, the body and mind work hard to protect themselves – often using our oldest evolutionary processes to keep us safe when threat is detected. When our fight, flight, or freeze mode kicks in, our limbic system has taken over, and it becomes increasingly difficult to engage with our prefrontal cortex (our decision-making and executive functioning mind) as the body and mind is doing its job to protect us from danger. When we take time to recognize how we are coping, and name what is going on, it allows us to reconnect to our prefrontal cortex (Samuel, 2020).
For some, coping looks like exercise, reaching out to family, colleagues or friends, or making sure to get some fresh air. For others, right now coping looks like making sure to shower at least once a week, continuing to take medication, or sleeping more than usual. Sometimes to cope is to simply remember to breathe.
How do you cope? Remember: this reflection is not about naming what the “right” or “wrong” way to cope is, but more of an opportunity to reflect on how we are coping, what our survival technique is, and how it is serving or not serving us.
What am I Grateful For?
Especially in times of uncertainty, and in order to protect ourselves from potential danger, we can often become fixated on the negative – the “what ifs”, the “shoulds”, and the “worse-case-scenarios.” While this can be helpful in keeping us safe in urgent situations, it also makes it easy to overlook the small joys and beauty that is still available to us. The good news is that just like exercise, we can practice intentionally finding and celebrating things we are grateful for in order to create new neural pathways that are outside of the automatic, fear-based pathways. The trick is in the intention.
Now more than ever is an important opportunity to ask yourself: “What am I grateful for?” Remember – it can be difficult to acknowledge the things that we are grateful for when we are simply just trying to survive, so it’s ok if you can’t come up with a laundry list of gratitude.
Start small – what is one thing that you are grateful for each day? Is it a pet, something in nature or your cupboard, or perhaps your favourite pyjama pants? If this feels extra difficult right now, try engaging a friend or family member in the process with you. How can we share what we are grateful for with others, and what is it like to listen to what others are grateful for?
What Happens When I Slow Down?
When we are partaking in the “normal” life grind – we can become preoccupied with the things around us that we feel need our urgent attention, or we tend to become entwined with routine, often finding ourselves on autopilot. Whether we are attending to these urgent needs or cruising along, it can be easy to ignore the signals from our bodies to slow down, take a break, or practice self-care. These signals can include muscle tension or tightness, headaches, or stomach pains to name a few. As we are self-isolating and our routines are disrupted or we are required to stay inside, we may notice a shift in the pace of how we move through our day-to-day life. What happens for you when you slow down? Are you finding you are eating lunch sitting down today instead of skipping it all together? Are you noticing muscles that need attention? Are you finding your body needs more or less sleep right now? Again, this is not about a “right” or “wrong” way of doing things, it is about a noticing. When we notice, we can attend to.
How Do I Show Myself Love?
Now more than ever it is important to show ourselves a little self-love and self-compassion. There are many different ways that we can show ourselves love – whether it be psychologically, socially, biologically or spiritually. Sometimes showing love to ourselves simply means reminding ourselves, ‘I am doing the absolute best I can in these very abnormal times’. Acceptance paves the road for self-compassion and self-love, so try to meet your coping with compassion.
Psychologist and meditation expert Tara Brach shared the helpful Buddhist mindfulness tool, the acronym RAIN, in a recent interview for Vox. RAIN stands for R-recognize what is happening; A – allow it to happen, don’t try to control/judge the emotion, I – investigate it by feeling where the emotion lies in your body, and N – nurture – by putting a hand on your heart or telling yourself a nurturing message (Samuel, 2020). Dr. Kirsten Neff echoes the importance of accepting moments of pain and embracing ourselves with “kindness and care in response, remembering that imperfection is part of the shared human experience” (Neff, 2020).
As you reflect and bring about new awareness about your own processes, remember that we are all connected in this.
Neff, K. (2020). Self-Compassion: Tips for Practice.
Samuel, S. (2020). “Our calm is contagious”: How to use mindfulness in a pandemic. Vox.
Weir, K. (2020). Grief and COVID-19: Mourning our bygone lives. American Psychological Association.