In addition to the basics — getting enough sleep, exercise, and healthy food; doing activities you enjoy; building in a routine — here’s some suggestion for dealing with virus-related losses.
Don’t minimize your loss
Recognizing losses, both large and small, can ease the pain and protect your emotional health, said St. Paul psychologist Molly Ruggles. You are allowed to feel upset about canceling a vacation or missing your prom without judging yourself. “When you’re comparing your camp getting canceled to someone dying, people can feel shame about those losses or minimize those losses,” she said. “But the reality is it’s still a loss.”
Allow yourself to grieve
Giving yourself time and space to feel emotions such as sadness can happen in a variety of ways, with or without other people. “People can write about it, they can sing about it, they can do art, they can do prayer … they can participate in grief groups,” suggested Mary Jo Kreitzer, director of the Center of Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota.
Ruggles recommends paying attention to your feelings. “When you feel that grief coming up, rather than immediately pushing it away or engaging in something else, just take a moment to take a deep breath and exhale and let yourself have that feeling before moving on,” she said.
Notice the positive
Develop a gratitude practice, Kreitzer said, suggesting people write down three good things every day and then review the list weekly. “In the midst of despair and horrendous circumstances, there’s still kindness and beauty and joy,” she said. This difficult time can also reveal new ways of doing things we didn’t know were possible. It also can help us understand what’s most important in our lives.
Even though we are physically distanced, we still need to connect with our support systems, to love and be loved. Ruggles suggests letting your loved ones know you’ve been thinking about them and, if you know they’ve experienced a loss, mentioning it specifically. “It’s a way of giving the person permission to talk about it and communicating that you care about them,” she said. “We can’t give a person a hug, but we can communicate feelings of tenderness for them in other ways.”
Avoid binary thinking, said Pauline Boss, a professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota. Instead of thinking, “The world will never be good again,” shift to “both/and” thinking, such as “This is terrible, yet I can learn something from it.” That will help you cultivate resilience. “If you try to remain the same afterward, rigidly holding onto whatever you did before, you are probably not coping as well as the person who is able to be more fluid and flexible,” she said.
Control what you can
“We can’t control how long this is going to last or predict what’s going to happen, but we can control our actions and attitude,” Kreitzer said. Intentional choices to do something (clean a closet, play music) or not do something (reducing trips outside the home, limiting media consumption) can help. Kreitzer said she has been reminding parents who are concerned about their children’s schooling that kids’ mental health is more important than academic skills. “How they felt during this time is going to stay with them long after the memory of what they did,” she said.
It’s normal to feel sad, stressed and anxious now. There are abundant resources online, such as the Center for Spirituality and Healing’s extensive set of articles and videos and assessment/goal-setting activities. Therapy sessions are now accessible in so many virtual forms — video chatting, phone calls, texting. “It can be so helpful just to feel like you’re not in it alone,” Ruggles said.