We are living in an unprecedented time of uncertainty. With so many unknowns, the one thing we do know for sure is that life has changed.
A quick scroll through your social media feed will tell you stories about weddings being cancelled, Olympic dreams being postponed, graduations that won’t happen, and even people with palliative loved ones who they aren’t able to visit.
No matter the size of the loss, we’re all experiencing it in some way. Loss of jobs, small businesses closed indefinitely, loss of our best laid plans. We’ve definitely all lost a sense of normalcy. So how do we cope with these changes?
What are healthy ways to cope with loss?
We found some great tips in the book A Liberated Mind, by Psychologist, Steven Hays. In his book, he talks about the concept of Flexible Psychology, which sounds like something we all need right now.
There are a small set of mental skills that impact whether people can rise to meet life’s challenges. These skills are necessary right now, or any time humans suffer a crisis of any sort. The good news is these skills can be learned. Here are some tips to get started.
1. Feel Your Feelings
So many different feelings come up when experiencing loss. From memories, to urges, sensations and an array of emotions. It’s what we do with those feelings that determines how we come out the other side. Research shows that people who respond to loss with tears and laughter; mourning and honoring; missing and appreciating, are more likely to recover and even prosper.
In order to grow through traumatic experiences, you must be willing to feel and acknowledge the feelings that come up for you. This doesn’t mean you have to feel everything all the time, but making the space in your day to focus on the feelings as they come up will be beneficial in moving through difficult situations.
2. Connect in with others
Humans are tribal creatures. Our nervous systems thrive on human connection. In difficult times, we need human connection more than ever. It might be tempting to be an ostrich in a difficult situation and bury your head in the sand, but that’s not what’s best for you or the people around you.
Yes, you can do this even while coping with loss, and even while social distancing. Call or video chat with a friend or a family member, especially those who live alone. We really are all in this together.
3. Practice awareness of your thoughts.
When a crisis first hits, you’re likely to try a variety of mental strategies at first to cope with what’s going on. This is when things like denial, blaming others, withdrawing, or trying to see the silver lining will come up. It’s natural for your mind to try different strategies when a major loss has happened.
The tough thing about this, is these strategies are not always helpful. They’re your mind’s knee-jerk reaction, but they might not be the best thought processes for the current situation. Know that this is normal and allow these thoughts to pass through your mind, without making too much of them.
Eventually your mind will quiet, and more subtle, useful thoughts may come through. These thoughts may encourage you to reach out to others, make healthy changes, or give extra kindness to yourself, your friends and family. These are the ones that will help you move through this time in a way that’s supportive for you.
4. Focus on what’s important in each moment
As you begin to wrap your mind around the loss, direct your attention to what’s actually important in the present moment. It’s most helpful to stay with the present and let go of what-ifs and worries about the future. You are here. You are alive. The only thing you can influence is this moment.
5. What would my best self do?
During times of loss, it’s natural to find it hard to make decisions or to know how to act or respond. It helps to have a real or imagined person to lean on who represents your best self. Here’s what to do; think of a person who might give you great guidance in this situation. They could be someone you admire from afar (like a former Prime Minister or author) or maybe it’s a family member. If you could pick anyone, who would it be?
Once you’ve chosen, think about how that person carries themselves in life. What are the values you admire about this person? How could you put those values into practice to deal with this loss differently? Thinking this way will motivate you to take different actions… a letter of gratitude, a phone call to a loved one, reaching out to the neighbour who needs help. Let the ideas come to you.
6. Seize the moment
In the last exercise you got in touch with your values and let your inner knowing show you what to do. Now it’s time to put it into action. Action alleviates anxiety. When you can participate in a helpful act, it allows you to be in the present moment and feel like you’re doing something about what’s going on.
It might be tempting to sink into the couch and watch Netflix, or to numb yourself with glasses of wine every evening, but this type of distraction only makes your experience of loss worse in the long run.
Instead, choose to take care of yourself and your loved ones, rather than disengaging. Take the actions that you know will be most supportive for yourself and the people around you. Let your inner voice be your guide.
Now’s the time
We are likely only beginning what could turn into a months-long worldwide slow down due to the COVID-19 crisis. These six skills will give you the resilience you need to rise up to this challenge and support and empower your larger life journey.