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Bouncing Back from COVID-19

Building resilience during a time of grief.

Nadja Donauer/Pixabay
Source: Nadja Donauer/Pixabay

Life can be stressful and challenging at the best of times. The coronavirus has turned our lives upside down — and it’s okay to grieve. Traditionally, grief is associated with the loss of a loved one. We know that loss is a part of life; loss is inevitable. Never before, though, have we experienced loss as a result of a pandemic.

We have lost many things: the ability to see friends and loved ones, to engage in most forms of social connection — and our sense of security. We are missing out on graduations, concerts, weddings, vacations, working days, our daily routines, and all of the things that we had planned. Many people are grieving; you are not alone. Our lives have changed dramatically in ways that we could never have imagined. We are living in a time of uncertainty.

The notion of grief describes the set of feelings or emotional responses with which we associate loss. Grieving is, thus, the process of trying to come to terms with a loss. Grief is a natural response to loss; the process of doing so, though, is different for everyone. Grieving and trying to heal from loss are not linear processes. Just like attempts to recover from physical injuries or illnesses, efforts to recover from loss can often feel like “two steps forward and one step back.”

Our brains are wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Grieving, though, is a painful experience. It is about finding a way to deal with loss. Grieving is part of being human. We suffer when we cannot accept things as they are; the grieving process ends when you accept what has happened.

The brain searches for answers as to why and how something has happened in order to help us to understand and process the event. Your brain is driven to make sense of things, to find an explanation. Sadly, some things do not make sense, and an explanation may never be found. Typical reactions to sudden loss are disbelief, numbness, and shock.

You may have difficulty concentrating, your memory may be impaired, and you may have trouble sleeping and eating. Other feelings that are associated with loss and grief are disbelief and depression. Disbelief is characterized by difficulty in accepting the reality of a loss. Depression is being sad or depressed about a loss. Symptoms of depression include a loss of interest in things that you usually enjoy doing, a lack of motivation, and a loss of energy.

Resilience is defined as one’s ability to recover and to adapt to life’s challenging, stressful situations, and traumatic events. Resilience gives you emotional strength; it’s the ability to bounce back. Individuals who lack resilience often feel helpless and turn to maladaptive coping skills such as self-medicating and substance abuse. Becoming more resilient empowers you to adapt, and to accept difficult situations and to move forward. It allows you to navigate life more easily in difficult times. It involves the implementation of positive thoughts, behaviors, and actions, letting go of that which you can’t control.

We can’t control what is happening right now, but we can control our reactions to it. While we must maintain social distancing, that doesn’t mean that we have to live in total isolation. Connect virtually with friends and family: people who are going to be understanding, compassionate, and caring, and who will remind you that you are not alone.

Becoming resilient involves practicing a positive lifestyle: getting adequate sleep, making an effort to have a healthy diet, and exercise regularly. Set some realistic goals and work towards them daily. Accept the fact that change is a part of life and that there are some things that you cannot change. Be grateful and focus on what you have — not on what you don’t have. Focus on what you can do – not on what you can’t. Maintain a positive, optimistic outlook.

We are all in this together, and we will get through it. If you were in physical pain, you would reach out to a medical professional. If you are in emotional pain, and you need help in building your resilience, reach out to a mental health professional. If you are — or someone you know is — having suicidal thoughts, please contact a family member, friend, a mental health professional, or contact the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).