Coping with grief during the COVID-19 pandemic

Written by: Dr Lars Davidsson
Published:
Edited by: Emma McLeod

Many things have been lost as a result of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. Even if you haven’t suffered the loss of a friend or relative, you can still grieve many things. Dr Lars Davidsson, a consultant psychiatrist, describes the several ways grief might manifest itself and he provides advice for those who are suffering.

Two women sat together in grief

Can you describe what grieving feels like?

Grief is usually preceded by some kind of loss. Sufferers might have an overall feeling of loss after losing something dear and valuable to them.

Other symptoms of grief can be:

  • Anxiety
  • Rumination – consistently experiencing deep thoughts about what has been lost
  • Impaired sleep because of rumination and anxiety
  • Excessive behaviour
  • Depression /low mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness - like things won’t ever improve
  • In the worst-case scenario, suicidal thoughts – having thoughts such as “everything would be better if I wasn’t here”

 

If someone’s life is relatively unchanged, they’re still working and they don’t know anyone who has died of coronavirus, can they still grieve during the COVID-19 crisis?

Even if we are still working, most likely from home, and don’t know anyone who has become ill or has died, there are many things we appreciated that have been lost because of the pandemic:

  • Going outside without worry of catching the virus
  • Exercise from activities
  • Socialising in pubs, clubs and other social venues
  • Meeting with friends and family
  • Our freedom of movement to travel

 

Overall, there are lots of things we have lost, some more severe than others. Nevertheless, these elements, among others, were not prevalent before.

 

How might people react to grief from COVID-19?

How you react to grief in isolation depends on how your life was before the lockdown. A huge majority of people would simply work through the grief: they would suffer in silence and think about what they have lost. Some people might have increased anxietysleeping problems and might turn to increased drinking. If not careful, this could turn to alcoholism. Reasonably stable people without many problems before the lockdown will have a certain amount of resilience. Most people will come through without a massive loss or damage to their life.

 

Some people might face additional issues due to isolating at home. For example, some people will be self-isolating with abusive partners. Families and couples with stable relationships might experience increased conflicts due to being confined to their home more often. Any combination of these with excessive drinking is something very toxic.

 

Taking positives from the situation

This will be an experience for all of us. For many, they can finally think, “I have the time to do things I haven’t before”. People could combat loss by focusing and redirecting grief into something positive with their new amount of free time. Also, gestures of kindness have increased as a result of the crisis: people are much more willing to offer help to those who need it.

 

How is the virus changing the way people cope with illness and death?

The pandemic has already changed the way we are dealing with grief. Now more than ever, we are all aware that old relatives are frail and susceptible to whatever might come with the virus. We are dependent on our rituals of what do we do when someone is unwell or when they die, but restrictions have broken these rituals.

 

Dealing with illness

When people get severely unwell, we are able to visit and sit by their bed, but now we can’t and this creates additional loss and sadness due to some relatives dying in isolation, without a loved one near them. We have the tradition to be there for people and this break of tradition can break behaviours. Knowing that relatives may have felt scared and/or unprotected can make emotional separation and grief worse.

 

Dealing with funerals

Funerals have been restricted in terms of how many people can attend. Traditionally, when someone has died, after the funeral people have a get-together – this is often a type of closure as many feel they have said farewell. A funeral is not always a sad occasion and can be a celebration of life with guests coming together. But now, there is a break in tradition and we can’t do that, which can make grieving more difficult.

 

What advice can you give to a person in self-isolation and grieving alone?

  • Firstly, don’t resort to drinking alcohol.
  • Secondly, communicate: use the means of communication that are available to you such as phone calls and video calls.
  • Furthermore, try to walk and/or do exercise at least once a day. If you can’t do those, go outside into the garden if you have one for fresh air.

 

The key to making grieving more bearable is to communicate with other people, one way or another. It’s difficult to bear everything yourself, so you can always talk to people.

 

History is good to give us a perspective on things. Similar things have happened in the past - we got through them and we will continue to do so. Even if we are losing lives and may be in financial crisis, we will still get through.

 

This virus will make a lot of changes to our working life; working from home will be much more common in many sectors. Regarding the clinic, we will eventually be able to continue our face to face appointments again but during the lockdown and after, patients can still talk with us online through e-Consultations. This is good because patients don’t need to travel.

 

If you’re experiencing depression, anxiety or other conditions due to the COVID-19 crisis or other events in your life, Dr Lars Davidsson and his team at the Anglo European Clinic know how to help. Learn more and to get in touch.

By Dr Lars Davidsson
Psychiatry

Dr Lars Davidsson is a highly trained consultant psychiatrist at the Anglo European Clinic with special interests including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, adult ADHD, and anxiety. He is also an expert in medico-legal work.

Since graduating from the University of Lund in Sweden and completing his specialist training he has gained broad experience, undertaking humanitarian work in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Lithuania before arriving in the UK.

Dr Davidsson’s approach is founded on evidence-based medicine, taking into account the patient's individual needs and preferences. Fundamental to his approach is the aim to return his patients to their normal lives as quickly as possible.

Well respected in his field, he has conducted research, been published extensively and lectured both nationally and internationally.

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