March 11, 2022

How to Move Forward with Pandemic Grief

Written by
Christy Lusareta, LMFT
Reviewed by
Updated on
April 30, 2024
Close-up of dense green leaves with a dark overlay

Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic over the past two years has been challenging, and many of us are still trying to understand the complicated emotional landscape we have found ourselves in. As a therapist who specializes in working with grief, I have been working with many clients on themes of loss that have been triggered as an outcome of this experience. 

We have all lost something along the way, and not just the physical loss of a loved one due to the virus. There’s a sense of loss around time, safety, jobs, predictability, control; themes we don’t always associate with the traditional sense of grief and loss. Regardless, these are still losses that can lead us to experience similar thoughts and feelings that come up when we experience the death of a loved one. 

Exploring grief

Death by nature is the loss of attachment to someone we care about. Our attachment isn’t limited to people, but can also be connected to places, possessions, jobs, ways of life, identity, and ideas.

The nature of the pandemic has forced all of us to experience the loss of these attachments, and so many of them directly impact our ability to experience happiness. With any loss that represents something important, we can experience a longing for what we no longer have. This longing is an integral part of the painful experience of grief, especially when we realize that what we have lost is not replaceable.

The experience of grief is uncomfortable but necessary. Most of us would rather avoid the discomfort of what we are feeling and so don’t allow ourselves permission to really go through the process of mourning. Healing from loss requires us to address these feelings head on so that we may heal. 

Healing through acceptance

Part of the healing process is the ability to accept what we have lost. Acceptance does not mean that you are content or okay with what has happened — instead, it’s about accepting the fact that this new reality can’t be changed. 

When we can accept what we have lost, we can stop fighting the need to regain or go back to what was, allowing us to be open to what is. Unable to accept the loss of what we had before the pandemic, many of us have put our lives on hold waiting for life to go back. This continues our suffering because we can’t go back, leading to a sense of feeling stuck. 

How to move forward

Acknowledge your feelings

To start, acknowledge and name what you have lost. Allow yourself to feel whatever feelings come up. Don’t minimize your sense of loss by telling yourself you ‘shouldn’t’ feel what you’re feeling because others may have lost more. 

The feelings that come up in grief are complicated and many feel confused by conflicting emotions. You may be experiencing: 

  • Depression and sadness
  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Shock, numbness, denial
  • Loss of sleep and appetite
  • Physical pain, stomach distress, muscle tension

Grief is emotional work and can be both mentally and physically exhausting. Be kind and gentle with yourself; schedule and plan for more downtime and self-care. 

Get creative and connect

Each of us experiences loss in our own unique way, so find a way to honor your thoughts and feelings that works for you. If words are hard to find, you may find it healing to express your grief through art, poetry, music or other creative practices. Nothing is off the table if it’s healthy and allows you to engage with your emotions of loss. 

Grievers can sometimes feel isolated and alone in their loss, so talk to friends and loved ones. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or to get additional support. It can be helpful to be with others who are also going through loss, so you may also consider joining a grief and loss support group or working with a therapist.  

Focus on strength

Try to see your experience as strength; bad experiences are painful to go through, but as you continue to move forward, you become stronger. Going through loss and learning how to heal gives you the skills to deal with future difficult situations.

As you have survived through the last two years, you have gained resilience and grit. Reflect on your ability to get through these unprecedented times and be proud of yourself for persevering. 

As you allow yourself to process and be with your grief, you will gradually come to find a place of acceptance and find ways to live with your loss. Acceptance actually opens us to seeing new possibilities: Find ways to reinvest in your life and think of what you can do now with what you have by embracing the present.

We can’t go back to how life was before the pandemic, but there are new things that we can hope for in the future if we are open to what could be.

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