Certain times out of the year tend to be particularly special: Christmas, with all the lights and colors and energy, and all the magic and especially the religious story that goes with it; Easter, and all the events leading up to it; birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s and Father’s day, to name a few. But this year things have been a bit different. In our family, we tend to celebrate birthdays as a major event, but when my husband’s birthday came around in March, we were all on lockdown due to the coronavirus. Easter, the apex of all Christian holidays, was cancelled, due to the virus. Mother’s Day is right around the corner. Will we be able to gather with our families to honor our mothers? How about Father’s Day?
We tend to order our lives around our significant people and significant events. Death tends to disrupt both. In our current climate, these are even more disrupted. Where surviving family members might naturally reach out to other loved ones in a time of loss, even this natural and important coping strategy has been ripped away for an undetermined period of time, leaving the surviving loved ones at increased risk for the common grief responses of depression, anxiety, and loneliness. How can one cope in such an unforgiving environment?
Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, an expert in the treatment of trauma, shares suggestions for coping with Covid 19 anxiety. These are relevant to the anxiety associated with grief as well. Find ways to move. People with anxiety feel immobilized, and this manifests in the difficulty with getting up each day or accomplishing even small things. Take a walk, put in an exercise video, play with your pet. Physical movement helps with serotonin in the brain, which in turn helps with overall mood.
Make a schedule. One reason that grief is so difficult is that everything predictable in life has just been upended. If you ordered your day before around caregiving or perhaps particular family rituals, you may not know what to do with yourself now. Create a schedule and stick with it. Get up at a particular time. Keep regular meal times. Plan on set activities at different times of day. These may include hobbies, work, calling a friend, or working a household project, The structure is therapeutic as you create a new normal.
Create something to look forward to. Maybe this would involve calling different friends each day. Maybe it involves working on a project you can share with a loved one once the lockdown is over. Maybe it is a trip you can plan with family members for after the lockdown. If you aren’t sure what to do, ask your family or friends for ideas, but take a definite role in working towards the goal. Goal directed behavior is therapeutic in its own right and encourages more goal directed behavior as you accomplish each step.
Here are some additional thoughts: Don’t be afraid to utilize the technology out there. Utilize tools such as Facetime, Skype, Zoom, or any of the myriad of other tools out there. It does a body good to visit with your loved ones face to face, if you can manage it. Explore options for games online. A friend recently shared with me options for multiplayer games with friends across the miles. When you need to laugh, this can be a wonderful option for maintaining contact and having a good time in the process.
These important dates can still offer opportunities for community and even celebration, even in the face of grief and uncertainty. One’s ability to survive, and even to thrive, can be enhanced when one intentionally uses strategies such as these even in the difficult times.