This is surreal

People have had it. Kids are over being home. Parents are tired of trying to juggle work, distance learning, entertaining their kids, managing their own emotions and cooking and cleaning around the clock. This week in therapy there were a lot more tears, a lot more sadness and ultimately what became clear to me...a lot more grief. I want to share what the collective seems to be experiencing and why taking a moment to think about this historic time and our response to it may be helpful.

This feels like a lot of loss

"I just want things to be normal! I want to go back to school! I miss my friends! I want to play soccer again! I want to swing on swings! I want to see my grandma!"

"When is this going to end?"

These are just a few of the things that made up this week in therapy. People are experiencing big emotions. The novelty of being home, adjusting to scarce food at grocery stores, not seeing friends, wearing masks outside, playing board games- it's fading for most people. A new stage has set in and I see it as grief. I have also heard a good deal this week about people feeling disillusioned. I see that too- people are disappointed that the "slow pace, not having to go to school and not running around like a mad person" feelings are over. They have made the best of it, played cards and games, adjusted to life on video and despite all of that - they want to go back to normal.

This is where my work begins. We will never have our old normal again. And when I say that to the families I am working with it is met with different reactions. Some agree, some are confused and some ask why can't they go back to the ways things used to be. This is where understanding grief begins.

By definition grief is an emotional response to change. The change is typically a loss or death. In this case, I am mostly talking about loss. people are grieving the loss of their freedom, jobs, schooling, social lives, sense of safety, structure and routine. 

Common symptoms of acute grief (which is where many people are right now):

Emotional

Sadness

Despair

Anxiety or Panic

Lack of Purpose

Fear

Loneliness

Irritability

Anger

Emotional withdrawal 

Lack of interest

Difficulty concentrating

Rumination 

Physical

Stomachache

Headache

Tightness in throat or chest

Muscle fatigue

Nausea

Dizziness

Hair loss

Crying

Over and under eating

Disturbance in sleep

Now that you may have identified whether you or your child are experiencing acute grief it may be helpful to know where in the grief cycle you and your family members are. Please note that you may be in different stages of grief which may be leading to tension or lack of empathy with one another.

Stages of Grief:

Denial - simply put this means that you don't accept what is happening. Someone in this stage during this pandemic may not believe things are that bad, or that things will end soon, or that social distancing and lock downs are unnecessary. They may not believe that school will stay closed or that cancelled events or flights will remain that way.

Anger - in this stage people feel angry or even rage. This anger can be misdirected toward strangers or directed toward anyone or anything (in this case a novel virus) that may be perceived as the cause of the loss. Right now, people are angry at the president, those who first traveled to the US with the virus, the government, superintendents of schools, hospital systems, stores with limited supplies, people who have hoarded supplies, God, the media, people of Asian descent, and strangers in public settings who may not be following orders or just appear suspicious in any way. Basically, it can be almost anyone at this point.

Bargaining - this is a stage in which you try to make a deal. Some people may be making a deal with God to take them instead of a loved one if someone has to die from Coronavirus. People who have been laid off from their jobs may be vowing to be a better employee or appreciate their job more if they can just return soon. I have heard parents saying that they will vow to slow down and make more time for quality interactions even after the shelter in place orders are lifted. These are all natural attempts to try to control something that is not in your control. 

Depression - in this stage you experience negative changes in your mood, appetite or sleep. While this is natural when experiencing a loss, it may require special attention to be able to work through it. Having awareness that you or a loved one is experiencing depression will be helpful in deciding what can be done. In the case of these extended shelter in place orders, getting exercise, sunshine, nature, good nutrition, hydration and quality sleep will be essential to managing feelings of depression (and anxiety).

Acceptance - in this stage people accept the change or loss and can move forward with living. What this looks like while we are living in a pandemic means that you follow shelter in place orders, social distancing rules, engage in distance learning, stay connected with friends and family via video, go into grocery stores being flexible with what you would like to buy, stop looking for concrete dates when this will end, and be open to living a life with many uncertainties over the next few months (yes, likely months not weeks).

For much of our country the start of this week marks about four weeks that we have been staying at home and many businesses have been closed. There is no doubt that there is much to be grieving. However, being aware of what stage you and your loved ones are in will help in managing your mental health and those around you. 

Happy Parenting, be well and safe.

About the author

Sheryl Gonzalez Ziegler, Psy.D. holds a Doctorate of Psychology, is an Author, Speaker, National Media Contributor, Non-Profit Board Member, Girl Scouts Leader, Girls on the Run Coach and Advocate for children. She has been treating children and families for over twenty years with areas of expertise in anxiety, trauma, divorce, stress management and depression. Dr. Ziegler is the author of the best selling book, Mommy Burnout: how to reclaim your life and raise healthier children in the process, the winner of Best Parenting Book of 2018 as awarded by International Latino Book Awards.

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