My colleague and mentor, Dr. Bill Hoy, and I have been doing several virtual grief workshops over the past few months since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We’ve talked with funeral directors, hospice clinicians and healthcare professionals, educators, faith leaders, and the community at large. One thing that has struck us are the familiar questions, concerns and fears that are almost universal amongst these diverse groups of individuals. Some common themes include how to provide support and care with new regulations and restrictions, how to be present for others while managing our own fears, how to keep ourselves healthy and safe, concern about what the future will hold, wonder about how long things will “be this way”, and a general sense of uneasiness about the uncertainty of our world.
Much like the grief we experience when someone we love and care about dies, the loss- stacking we have experienced both individually and collectively as a community has left many people feeling uncertain and anxious. Yet fear, uncertainty and discomfort can be our compass for growth.
The truth is... we were never guaranteed certainty; not now and not before COVID-19, protests and riots. I talk with grieving people whose lives have changed in an instant. None of us are promised tomorrow.
We tend to grieve like we live. Dr. Ken Doka, a leading expert and author on death and bereavement, examines styles of grief. Intuitive grievers experience grief in waves of feeling while instrumental grievers are more likely to talk calmly and describe more physical symptoms of their grief. There is no right or wrong, no better way to grieve. Most of us fall somewhere on this spectrum of intuitive and instrumental grievers. Dr. Doka goes on to state that there are differences not deficiencies. There is no best way to grieve. We all approach it differently, and that is okay.
Just like everyone grieves differently, we all react to stress and uncertainty differently. Have compassion for others who may be at a different point in coping from where you are right now. The level of anxiety each of us feels now and how we are able to cope with it, mirrors our ability to cope with anxiety prior to the unrest we’ve felt in our world and communities over many recent weeks. Internalizing the uncertainty is what creates our anxiety.
So, what CAN we do to manage the uncertainty we feel?
Make a mindset shift: expect change. As Greek philosopher, Heraclitus wrote “Change is the only constant in life.” Focus on what you can control, rather than what you cannot. Limit your news intake, move your body, eat healthy foods, get enough sleep, build in time for relaxation, and practice being in the moment. Notice your emotions and reactions. Allow yourself to feel all emotions and try not to label them as “good” or “bad”, rather “I’m feeling overwhelmed” or “I’m feeling scared” or “I’m feeling like I’m moving forward”. Know the facts and challenge your self-talk. As Dr. Hoy states, “facts override fear”. The more information we have, the better we are able to manage and cope with our fears.
I leave you with this inspiring quote from Dr. Maya Angelou that is so perfectly apropos for the time in which we are living: “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” What a beautiful thought...in the midst of uncertainty, go out into the world and sing your song.
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