The Post Pandemic “New Normal” May Come with Grief
Community Psychiatry’s Leela Magavi, M.D. discusses grief as society enters a “new normal” post-COVID-19 life.
- Life post-COVID can bring about feelings of grief
- Whether you mourn the loss of a loved one during the pandemic or loss of free time you gained during a slower-paced pandemic life, there are ways to cope
- Accepting your feelings, nourishing your physical needs, and finding a support group can help you cope
As more people become vaccinated and the “new normal” post-pandemic is in reach, you may undergo mourning as you transition into this new stage.
“Humans are creatures of habit. For well over a year, people re-adjusted their lives nearly overnight. For many, they lost a stressful work commute, stressful office dynamics, a lack of work/life balance and so much more,” Gina Moffa, LCSW, psychotherapist, tells Verywell.
For those with no commute time, social distancing also allowed for more time with those you live
with, or more time for an activity or hobby you enjoy.
The pandemic also sparked life changes, such as health improvements, career choices, and relocations. “This time period is one like no other in our recent history and it’s taught many people that life is precious and fleeting. One can make a change they need for the betterment of their happiness and health, and it doesn’t always have to be drastic,” says Moffa.
She notes that many of her clients with social anxieties blossomed during the pandemic, “as they were able to be on a level playing field with peers since everyone was in the same Zoom box.”
While those who grew accustomed to a slower way of life might mourn the return to a “normal” in-person work life, Moffa believes the pre-COVID routine will come back slowly.
“The same way we grew accustomed to the work-from-home lifestyle, we will re-acclimate to the return,” she says.
Mourning Loved Ones and Traumatic Changes
Those who experienced the loss of a loved one during the pandemic may find their grief coming to the surface as life returns to normal.
According to recent research, people experienced higher grief levels when they bereaved due to COVID-19 compared to other causes of death .1
The study was conducted because researchers predict that circumstances before and after COVID-19 death—intensive care admission, unexpected death, secondary stressors, and social isolation—will cause an increase of prolonged grief disorder and persistent complex bereavement disorder across the world.
Based on their findings, the researchers stated, “We predict that pandemic-related increases in pathological grief will become a worldwide public health concern.”
Dr. Leela R. Magavi, regional medical director for Community Psychiatry, says she already sees this in her patients.
“Many individuals are tormented by the fact that they were unable to be with their loved one during final moments of life due to COVID restrictions,” Magavi tells Verywell.
Whether it’s the loss of a loved one or loss of financial security, sense of safety, human connection, or another loss, Moffa says that people will continue to mourn for years to come.
“I truly believe we are only beginning to see the grief emerge from the pandemic, as we were in the middle of a crisis, where most were still in survival mode, even if they did lose a loved one,” Moffa says. “As the dust settles and we begin to move forward in a new way, grief will become a large part of the mental health burdens people are carrying.”
Signs You Might Be Grieving
Magavi points out the following as signs of grief.
- Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
- Withdrawing from others
- Decline in appetite
- Avoiding hygiene measures, such as showering, brushing teeth, and combing hair
- Feeling fatigued, irritable, angry, or guilty
- Exhibiting apathy or denial
- Avoiding situations or places, which elicit painful memories
- Having anxiety-inducing dreams or nightmares
When it comes to children, Magavi says many of her patients who are grieving will display the following:
- Very young children may exhibit more emotional dysregulation
- Toddlers may cry for longer periods, have difficulty engaging in play, or have changes in sleep and eating patterns
- Some children will have regression in behaviors and appear more clingy
- School-aged children may act out death and dying or use superheroes in their play
- Some children experience traumatic flashbacks and nightmares and constantly remain
Moffa adds that grief looks different for everyone, and changes day-by-day, and sometimes hour-by-hour.
“The experience of grief is like a roller coaster, with a blindfold on. You don’t know where the large dips or sharp turns may come, but you know you must hold on tight,” she says.
How to Healthily Grieve
As you enter into society’s “new normal,” the following are ways to cope with grief.
Feel Your Feelings
Magavi encourages everyone to grieve at their own pace in a way that feels natural. When waves of emotions arise, such as sadness, anger, frustration, and guilt, she says let them flow.
“Other individuals may feel hesitant to open up and may experience catharsis later. Some individuals try to meet societal expectations and attempt to hold back their pain, while others feel remorse about not crying or appearing upset when everyone around them is,” says Magavi.
If expressing your feelings is difficult, she recommends journaling and writing down your thoughts in order to better conceptualize your emotions.
And if writing isn’t your thing, Magavi says painting and drawing can also help release emotions.
Ask For What You Need
Because your needs while grieving may shift as your emotions shift, Moffa says allow yourself flexibility when it comes to finding comfort.
“If you need to sit quietly alone, ask for it. If you need friends to be around more often, ask for
this as well. Honor the needs, respect the waves of emotions and continue being gentle with oneself–is the way, ever so slowly, forward,” she says.
Nourish Your Physical Needs
Ensuring basic needs are met, such as food, hydration, and sleep is important, says Moffa.
“This is the way to have the stamina for the emotional and psychological experiences that
accompany loss,” she says.
Create New Rituals
Moffa recommends scheduling in something nourishing to your day to bring a sense structure to a chaotic time.
“Whether it’s a hobby they once loved, an evening bath, or simply making a cup of coffee in the morning and writing down how they feel. The ritual itself doesn’t matter, only the feeling it elicits matters,” she says.
Remember Loved Ones
Try to think about loved ones you lost in ways that comfort rather traumatize, suggests Moffa.
“I recommend talking about the person as needed and doing whatever ritual feels comforting, whether rooted in religion or not,” she says.
Consider looking at pictures or videos of them, recounting your favorite memories with them, or going to their favorite park.
Join a Support Group
While friends and family can offer great support, talking with others who are grieving the same
loss as you can be helpful, too.
“Having objective support and comfort from an objective group of people, guided by someone who
can navigate the grief conversations, can be a genuine source of healing,” says Moffa.
Magavi agrees, noting that support groups online can also help you to engage in discussion and
brainstorm ways to embrace changes you’re having a hard time navigating.
Talk with a Mental Health Professional
Reacclimating to a new normal takes time, and if you are grieving that can be hard to accept. However, a mental health professional who is experienced in grief, can provide support and treatment.
“Some individuals benefit from attending therapy sessions short-term. Treatment is efficacious
for both children and adults, and I have witnessed this with my own patients. [It’s also] been observed in literature,” says Magavi.
She says therapy helps people feel at peace with their loss and with themselves.
“It can augment healthy connections within the brain and help expedite individuals’ recovery,” Magavi says.
What This Means For You
As society enters a “new normal” post-COVID-19, it’s normal to mourn the life you adjusted to during the pandemic. Know that there are ways to cope, and if you find it too difficult, reach out to a mental health professional who focuses on grief.
Click here for the full article in Verywell Mind.