5 Ways to Cope With The Loss of Your Pre-Pandemic Life

If you’re feeling a sense of grief, you’re not alone. Learn how you can find pockets of hope amid despair.

mother hugging daughter

Updated on April 29, 2020.

As you make your way through the COVID-19 crisis, you’re likely to feel a wide range of emotions—sometimes all at once. There may be anger interrupted by moments of hopefulness. You may be experiencing sleeplessness, anxiety and fear one day but then be overcome by a sense of appreciation for your family the next. And mixed in with all that, you may feel an overwhelming sense of grief.

There is profound sadness, of course, for the lives we’ve lost to the pandemic. But you may also mourn the way of life that you—and millions of others around the world—took for granted just a few months ago.

You may recall how you would casually grab a coffee with your friends or cheer on the sidelines of your kids’ soccer games and wonder if you’ll ever experience those simple pleasures again. You may also feel a sense of loss if you’ve had to cancel or postpone significant or exciting plans, such as graduations, proms, weddings, bar or bat mitzvahs, vacations or concerts.  

Even if your family has been spared the worst physical and economic effects of the pandemic, it’s perfectly normal to feel this type of grief, says Bethany Teachman, PhD, a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. “The losses each of us experience are real and meaningful,” she says. “It doesn't mean we don't feel compassion for those who have more challenging circumstances. But it's okay for us feel sad about our own losses and to take time to grieve for them.”

At the same time, says Teachman, it’s important not to let grief completely overwhelm you. It can not only get in the way of moving forward but also be detrimental to your health. Grief can cause exhaustion and make it difficult to concentrate, she explains.

How to cope with feelings of loss

If you’re struggling with sadness and mourning your pre-pandemic life, don’t deny these feelings, advises Teachman.   

When there are hundreds of thousands of people who have died from COVID-19 and millions who have lost their jobs, you may feel guilty about mourning the loss of, say, your child’s final high school football season. But you shouldn’t judge yourself for having these very natural feelings, she says. This can simply make it harder for you to manage your grief.

“If you judge yourself, not only are you dealing with the sadness of your loss, but you’re also adding anger at yourself on top of that, which can make the negative mood persist even longer,” Teachman points out.

Other strategies to help manage your sadness or sense of loss include the following:

Give equal time to mourning and move on. After a few days of feeling down, help yourself climb out of the grief cycle by scheduling time each day for more positive activities, Teachman advises, and taking breaks for compassionate self-care. This may include listening to music you love, taking a long walk, baking brownies—and also planning for the future. “Think about how you can continue to set goals for the things you want to do, and then break those down into manageable, concrete steps,” she says.

Come up with creative replacements. If you think about all those celebrations and vacations as being postponed rather than cancelled, that can help soften the blow. Teachman also recommends brainstorming with your family and friends to come up with substitute events you can do from home.

For example, Teachman’s extended family had to cancel a much-anticipated trip to Disney World. In order to quell their disappointment, they set up a time for grandparents and kids to play online games with a Disney theme together, knowing their trip will be rescheduled as soon as that’s possible.

Find gratitude. Grief and gratitude can go hand-in-hand, Teachman points out. So, even while you are grieving the things you’ve lost, you could try to be thankful for the things that you still have. Some research suggests that actually listing the things for which you are grateful—such as writing thank you notes or keeping a gratitude journal—is linked with having more optimism and a brighter mood.

Another great strategy, especially during this challenging time, is to express your appreciation for others. This may include leaving homemade cookies out for your mail carrier, clapping outside your window for health care workers every night or delivering canned goods to your local food pantry. A May 2018 review of 27 studies published in Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that performing altruistic acts like these can help people feel better about themselves, too.

Have good laugh. One of the best antidotes for grief is laughter. Renowned author and psychotherapist Esther Perel has said that when you are grieving, “Laughter gives you distance, and it gives you perspective.” So, if you’re feeling down, instead of watching the news, spend a half hour watching the silliest viral videos making their way around social media or take in a movie that will help you crack a smile—and even giggle. The laughter could have a healing effect and boost your mental well-being.  

Get help if you need it. If your sadness prevails despite your best efforts, it’s okay to ask for help. “I encourage everyone to monitor their moods at this time, and to recognize that there are going to be ups and downs, that they're going to feel sadness and grief sometimes,” Teachman advises. “But if their distress is persistent, pervasive, and impairing, then they should think about getting help.”

Many therapists and clinics are offering their services by videoconference during the quarantine. Call your healthcare provider or insurance company for referrals. You can also find listings for doctors in your area through Sharecare’s search tool. Listings can also be found through the National Alliance on Mental Illness or the American Psychological Association’s psychologist locator.

Article sources open article sources

Johns Hopkins University. “COVID-19 Dashboard by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE).”
United Nations. “COVID-19: impact could cause equivalent of 195 million job losses, says ILO chief.”
Harvard Medical School. “Giving thanks can make you happier.”
OS Currya, LA Rowland, CJ Van Lissa. “Happy to help? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of performing acts of kindness on the well-being of the actor.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Volume 76, May 2018, Pages 320-329.
Esther Perel. “We’re All Grieving. This Is How We Get Through It.” The New York Times. April 22, 2020.
National Alliance on Mental Illness. “Are there any online resources for therapy/support groups or mental health apps?”

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