From one student to another: It's OK to grieve

As we enter what feels like week 100 of social distancing, we need to remember that what we are feeling is valid. 

To my introverted self, the thought of never having to leave my house sounded amazing, and I was ready to distance myself for as long as necessary. It has not been the vacation I imagined.

Today, I understand the importance of social distancing, and I only leave my house when it’s essential. I’m not enjoying it anymore though. I miss walking around aimlessly in Target for an hour. I miss seeing my friends, coworkers and teachers every day. And I miss being at Wichita State University for my final semester of college. 

I’ve noticed a drop in my mood and motivation because I feel like I have nothing to look forward to each day.

I’m grieving. And that’s OK. 


Another type of grief

In addition to typical grief, we are living with something called anticipatory grief, which is the feeling we get when we are unsure about what the future holds. We know something is wrong, but we can’t see it. 

Around the world, people worry about the health and safety of those they care about. They worry about their financial security. They worry about being able to return to some form of normalcy. Anticipatory grief on this scale is unheard of, but it is temporary.


The stages of grief

Most people know the five stages of grief: anger, sadness, denial, bargaining and acceptance. Identifying those stages within yourself, however, can be difficult, as grief is different for everyone and is not a linear process. 

One of the most important factors in regulating grief, though, is being able to name it. If we can name it, we can start to manage it and gain power over it, despite how overwhelming it may seem.

Here are some examples of the way grief has manifested during the pandemic:

  • When we started seeing the coronavirus spreading, many people thought it would not affect them, even as it got worse. This is denial. 

  • Sadness and anger are pretty self-explanatory, but both of them can show up in unexpected ways, especially because we do not have something visible to blame. You might get more angry than usual at your family, even though they have done nothing wrong.

  • The bargaining stage can be useful right now. Many people are being vigilant with social distancing and hygiene because they believe this will prevent them from getting the virus. A problem arises when other people do not follow the same rules, however, which can lead back to anger at those not staying home.

  • Finally, we have acceptance. You accept that the world around you has changed and try to proceed from there.

According to David Kessler, an author and leading expert on grief, there is a sixth stage: meaning. When he experienced personal grief, Kessler did not want to stop at acceptance – he wanted to find meaning and hope in the darkness. 

Today, people are realizing more and more how precious communication and socialization is. Afternoon walks around the block are celebrated, and we are recognizing how similar we are to those in other countries. 


How to push past your grief

If you are like me, you are able to find meaning but often still feel sad and overwhelmed. 

I recently heard our current situation explained like this: You run marathons every day, whether that is working, going to school, being a parent, cooking or cleaning. Dealing with the stress of the coronavirus is like putting an 80-pound backpack on. You can’t expect to continue running those marathons at the same pace. 

I remembered this because it is exactly how I’ve felt. Sometimes when I try to accomplish a task I have easily completed in the past, it feels like something is getting in the way and making it more difficult. We need to stop beating ourselves up when we can’t complete the marathon.

Kessler’s advice for this is to keep trying. Acknowledge your grief so you can feel it and move past it. If we allow the feelings to happen, we can feel empowered by them instead of feeling like a victim of them. 

Set aside time each day to check in with yourself and notice what you are feeling. Find balance. Instead of thinking only about worst-case scenarios, imagine what the best-case scenario looks like. Make sure you don’t linger outside of the present too long. Let go of what you can’t control. 

And remember, it’s OK to feel how you feel.

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