Grief- Is That What This Is?

Grief: “Keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret.”

Sound familiar? For many of us, it does. In what seems like a moment’s time, life as we know it was turned upside down. How did it happen that a “normal” part of our reality became talking to someone while separated by a sheet of plexiglass, or braving a trip out in public only to be lost in a sea of people with their faces covered by cloth masks?

For many of us, our careers disappeared in the blink of an eye, or shifted to the new “business as usual.” We’re juggling multiple roles: parents, employees, support people. It’s no longer abnormal to see headlines in the news saying, “Tyson Foods chairman warns ‘food supply chain is breaking’ as coronavirus forces plant closures,” or “Top E.R. Doctor Who Treated Virus Patients Dies by Suicide.”

So, if you’ve been wondering what that confusing, painful ache in your chest is, it might very well be grief. And, for those social workers, aka, “professional helpers,” out there, it may be an incredibly unsettling feeling.

It’s sort of ironic actually, as social workers, we can appear quite cold to those who are not in the field. It’s like a survival mechanism. How else could one see the truly horrendous things, be exposed to the tremendous amount of human suffering that we are, without becoming a bit callused?

By definition, we’re professional stuffers. We shove those difficult emotions down deep, set our own well-being aside, and make sure that we’re there to care for those who need us most.

It’s a sort of badge of honor that many in the field wear. We work long hours to help society’s most vulnerable. But, we struggle with taking paid-time-off, many of us welcoming minor illnesses that create the excuse to take a much-needed reprieve from work.

What we’re experiencing now, however, is a new type of suffering we aren’t quite equipped to deal with. Not only are we being exposed to mass amounts of trauma, but we’re left powerless to help to a certain degree. We can’t stop this, heck, some of us can’t even sit with those we care about face-to-face to support them.

More so, we no longer have the distractions we once did. We can’t runaway, we’re forced to sit with it- all of it- everything we’ve been exposed to, all the suffering we hear about in the news, and that which we’re witnessing first hand. Meanwhile, we’re also grieving the loss of human interactions and our “normal” day-to-day lives- a reality that many of us took for granted prior to this moment.

So, if you’re struggling right now, you’re not alone. But, if you’re looking to “fix” that uncomfortable sinking feeling, I hate to tell you, but there’s no magic elixir that will make it disappear overnight. However, there are a few things that will help you bore through those unsettling feelings.

So, without further ado, here are five things that can help you move through grief.

Allow Yourself to Feel Those Difficult Emotions

As much as you might want to, you can’t run away from those uncomfortable feelings. The first step to overcoming grief is to allow yourself to feel it. The reality is, your emotions are planted inside of you for a reason. They’re a natural biological response to loss and a necessary part of healing.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross coined the five stages of grief that each of us passes through while experiencing a significant loss. The five gates of grief and loss include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance. Each of us passes through these gates differently- we express them differently, cope with them differently, and grieve for different lengths of time.

You must allow yourself to move through the different stages of grief to heal properly.

Find Ways to Express It

If you can find a way to channel difficult feelings, it might help relieve some suffering. We all need an emotional outlet. If you’re looking for something to help you deal with those heavy emotions, you could try journaling, meditation, painting, yoga, or any number of other things that help you channel that energy.

Find What Brings You Joy! Then, Do It!

It’s easy to see everything in black and white when you’re struggling. However, it can really help to find things that bring the color back into your world.

What do you enjoy? If you already know, great- go out and do it! If you aren’t sure, then why not experiment with a few potential hobbies? You could try gardening, painting, exercise, drawing, or whatever else you think will bring you joy!

Find Your Balance

While it’s important to let yourself experience those feelings of grief, it also helps to balance them with some activities that serve as a distraction. After all, it can be a bit exhausting to carry that heavy burden on your shoulders all day long.

Try some Netflix binging time or another activity that takes your mind of things. If you’re someone who typically finds joy in being around others, try reaching out to someone who can help pull you out of your hobbit hole.

Embrace Acceptance

At some point, you will need to stop fighting your new reality. You will need to accept the change or the events that triggered your grief. Only at this point can you truly move on and feel better.

It’s cliché, but the truth is, when all is said and done, you will come out of this a stronger person, even if it’s hard to believe at the moment.

If you’re really struggling and can’t see a way out, there are hotlines out there to help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached toll-free at 1-800-273-8255.

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