I was driving in my car with our 4-year-old, Leo, in the back seat the other day. We came up to a red light where the library, one of his favorite places, was on the left. He hasn’t been there for story time or to play in the toy room since before the pandemic. I heard his little voice in the back when he saw the library, “Mom, when is the coronavirus going to go away so I can go back to the library?” I answered, “I’m not sure, buddy.” He continued, “Mom, why did God create the coronavirus?” I paused and took a deep breath before responding, “That’s a big question, bud. I don’t have an answer for that one right now.” He was quiet for a minute, and then I heard him whisper, “I miss the way it used to be before the virus.”
After that, I had a moment of “wow”. His little brain is trying to process all of this. It was obvious that he was dealing with a sense of loss of what was and trying to understand our new normal. It was the first time he communicated his feelings about missing “how it used to be”.
I think we can all relate to Leo. We are all dealing with feelings of loss from this pandemic. Psychologists recently identified what we are experiencing as ‘collective grief’ or ‘universal loss’. We’ve all lost a sense of normal, based on our jobs, school, community, businesses, mental/emotional/physical health, and in arguably the worst form — people that we love.
Often, we associate grief with the death of a loved one; however, it can go far beyond that. Grief can manifest itself in other ways and for other reasons and it doesn’t discriminate based on age, race or gender. Grief ultimately is a natural response to any significant loss. The Mayo Clinic considers it temporary but it can lead to long term disorders such as depression, if left unaddressed or untreated. I want to emphasize the importance of not only understanding this for your own health and well-being but the children in your life as well.
It’s important to understand that grief is very personal and each of us cope with it in our own way. The pandemic has been a battle in a variety of ways for all of us. We have all experienced loss in some way, shape or form and, in turn, are most likely experiencing grief in some way, shape or form.
There are 5 stages of grief that are widely recognized:
These stages of grief can be aligned with our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. There are some that were (and maybe still are) in Denial that the virus is real, that it can and will have a devastating impact in our lives. Some may have (or still) felt Angry about the virus itself, friends and family for not agreeing with our views on social distancing, masking or other protocols, or the changes it’s forced in our lives. I think many of us hold onto hope that if we do this, then x will happen. For example, hoping that if we all wear masks, then we will see the number of illnesses and deaths decrease and maybe get back to “normal” faster. This would align with the Bargaining stage. The numbers of Depression and anxiety in both adults and children during the pandemic is staggering. Many are experiencing a sense of hopelessness, as they deal with significant loss and changes. The last stage, and maybe one that many of us aren’t aligned with (and maybe never will be), is the Acceptance of this new normal and living with the coronavirus. Acceptance might be more possible with success of a vaccine and numbers of death and illness significantly decreasing.
Everyone is handling our current situation differently and in different stages, at different times. This can lead to tension and increased stress, as we try and understand why others aren’t handling this the same way we are. This can lead to mass frustration in families and amongst friends. I’m sure many of you are seeing the division either personally or observing it on social media.
The question is what can we do to get through this deep sense of grief? How can we help each other and our kids? Below is a list that I hope will help you and your kids as we navigate this very difficult time.
Grief is Normal in a Pandemic
Acknowledge that right now, in this moment…in this pandemic, grief is natural. It’s normal to feel a tremendous sense of loss. It would be abnormal not to! Our feelings of uncertainty, lack of safety, helplessness and exhaustion are valid. To go a step further, it’s so important not to compare your grief to someone else’s. We tend to live in a society where we want to compare everything we are, do and say to others. This is completely counterproductive! You get to have grief and feelings of loss and disappointment even if you believe someone else “deserves to more”. All grief counts! When we don’t acknowledge our own grief, it tends to show up in other ways related to well-being physically, emotionally or spiritually. You can be and should be grateful of the privileges you have while in this crisis, but you still want to acknowledge your losses.
Daily Gratitude Helps
Practicing gratitude on a daily basis has been shown to increase happiness. It helps us feel more positive, improves our health and provides tools we need to be more resilient in the face of adversity. Keeping a gratitude journal is a good way to keep up with this practice. It’s also helpful to do activities related to gratitude with kids. You can have them write or say one thing a day they are grateful for.
Full transparency- this is one I struggle with myself. It’s tough in a normal world to be present when you are juggling work, family and other responsibilities. Add a pandemic in the mix and it feels impossible. Sometimes, we just don’t want to feel the uncomfortable feelings at the moment – the stress, the anxiety, the sadness, the fear. Right now, these are daily feelings for many. But I still try every day. There is an exercise a colleague of mine does with educators in workshops. It’s called The Five Senses Exercise. This is great to do on your own and with your kids to help you exercise mindfulness and be more present.
First, notice 5 things you can see. Look around and be aware of your environment. Second, notice 4 things you can feel. Third, notice 3 things you can hear. Fourth, notice 2 things you can smell. Finally, notice 1 thing you can taste.
Express your feelings and emotions…just don’t live there all the time.
We are all burnt out and feeling more uncomfortable feelings more often than we are used to. Get those feelings out in a healthy way! Help your kids understand healthy ways to express their feelings too. Boundaries I use are that you can’t say or do anything that will hurt yourself, others or destroy property. It’s important to get the good, bad, and ugly feelings out. But just make sure you bring yourself back to a more productive and healthier mindset afterward.
Never underestimate the power of smiling and laughing. It can draw people together, strengthen your immune system, boost your mood, diminish pain, and protect you from damaging effects of stress. It can literally help you stay mentally healthy! So make sure you are finding something or someone that can make you laugh 🙂
I know I’ve talked about this one in past blogs but I will keep bringing it up because it is that important to our physical, mental and emotional health! I’m going to keep reminding you! I’m sure you all recognize the importance of health and fitness and we hear it from everywhere, right? But you shouldn’t be just moving your body to get in or stay in shape. Of course the physical benefits are important, but did you know that regular aerobic exercise reduces anxiety by making your brain’s “fight or flight” less reactive? It also reduces depressive symptoms and has been found to be as effective as medication and psychotherapies. Please note, I am NOT advocating for you to drop your medications or appointments with a counselor! I’m simply suggesting that if you haven’t prioritized exercise or moving your body in the past, now might be a good time to give it a try. The way you move can have a deep effect on the way you think and feel!
Make sure you are taking care of yourself. You can’t take care of your kids if you haven’t taken time to make sure you are in a healthy place. Find some time to take a walk, draw a bath, listen to personal development or journal. Self care is an important way to get through this in the most healthy ways.
Acknowledge the “Survival Mode” we are ALL in
I’ve seen a lot of content recently on toxic positivity. It’s important to acknowledge that this isn’t easy for any of us. Acknowledging that we are all surviving through this together helps us find connection, humor and normalcy. It’s also critical to allow kids to express their frustration with this too. Help them to get those feelings out and normalize them. Often kids don’t realize that adults have the same feelings too.
I know it’s been said a million times throughout this pandemic but I will say it again. We are all in this together. There is power behind these words because it’s not often in history we ALL experience a pandemic that EVERYONE in the world is facing! Connect with people. Be compassionate and patient with each other and your kids. At the end of the day, we each need to remind ourselves and our kids that THIS IS TEMPORARY. Eventually, we will have stories about the pandemic of 2020. My hope is to come out on the other side with some silver linings and wisdom.
Until next time…