The Covid-19 pandemic has caused loss that has rippled throughout every facet of life – for some, loss of a job; for most, loss of routine; for many, loss of loved ones. So how do we deal with this traumatic stress? Understanding and dealing with grief can be confusing and overwhelming even at the best of times. Linda Giuliano, Director of Mental Health Services at Greenwich House offers guidance to address grief and the powerful emotions that accompany these experiences.
Be patient with yourself
Healing is slow. It happens in very small steps over time and requires that you be gentle with yourself. Healing requires that we do not judge what we think or how we feel. It requires patience, time alone and time with others, which looks a lot different while sheltering in place. “Give yourself time and don’t feel discouraged if you feel stuck in the healing process,” says Linda. “Understand that it may take longer to heal while you’re dealing with so many other challenges during this time.”
Understand the symptoms
Loss and grief may manifest in different ways for different people. You may notice some of these emotional and physical symptoms:
Emotional signs to be on the lookout for:
- Shock and disbelief – a hard time accepting the reality of what happened
- Guilt – “Could I have done more?”
- Anger – anger at God or others you feel are responsible
Physical signs to be on the lookout for:
- Trembling or shaking
- Pounding heart
- Rapid breathing
- Stomach tightening or churning
- Feeling dizzy or faint
- Cold sweats
- Racing thoughts
Remember that these signs are normal and will go away.
Keep in mind that some of these physical symptoms are similar to symptoms of COVID-19. If you’re concerned you may have been exposed to the virus and are having trouble figuring out what’s causing your symptoms, using a self-check test online is a good start. Then schedule a Telehealth visit with your doctor if you’re still worried.
Take healthy steps throughout the healing process
Here are some things you can do to help yourself heal in a healthy way:
- Limit your media exposure
- Refrain from repeatedly watching disturbing footage or headlines
- Read the news in print or online — if you want to keep current, reading permits you to take in information at your own pace without disturbing images
- Take a complete break from the news
- Challenge your sense of helplessness through positive action like volunteering or helping a neighbor
- Create a space in your home to display pictures of a lost loved one so that you have a dedicated place to mourn for them until you’re able to partake in public grieving rituals
- Get moving: Physical activity is known to release feel good endorphins – especially exercise that is rhythmic and engages both your arms and legs. Exercise at home and take walks while wearing your personal protective equipment and keeping a distance from others.
- Reach out to others whom you know to be good listeners
- Try relaxation techniques like meditation or mindful breathing
- Engage your senses: listen to relaxing music, practice aromatherapy with calming scents like lavender, or look at art that soothes you
- Spend time with animals: playing with pets or getting some cuddles in is both emotionally comforting and can reduce the physical effects of stress like high blood pressure
- Make time for activities and hobbies that bring you joy
- Eat a healthy diet: processed foods can worsen symptoms. Diets rich in fresh fruit, vegetables, high quality proteins and healthy fats can improve how you cope
- Remember to shower or bathe – the comfort of heat and water reminds us to take care of this body of ours.
Know that help is available
If at least six weeks have passed and you are:
- Crying often
- Having trouble thinking clearly
- Experiencing frightening thoughts
- Having suicidal thoughts or feelings
- Having nightmares or difficulty sleeping
- Regularly triggered by disturbing memories
- Having difficulty relating to others
- Having headaches
- Experiencing stomach pain and digestive issues
- Feeling very tired
- Experiencing a racing heart and sweating
- Being very jumpy and easily startled
Then you may want to reach out for help outside of your social circle. Counselors can help you process loss if you’re overwhelmed or having trouble moving past your initial intense response.
Greenwich House provides an array of mental health services:
The Senior Health and Consultation Center provides mental health counseling, case management and internist visits for people ages 60 and up. There are bereavement groups, or therapists who offer individual counseling. If you are a senior and would like to speak with a social worker or therapist, please contact SHCC at 212-242-4140, ext. 251
The Children’s Safety Project provides specialized mental health treatment for children ages 3-21 and families who have experienced abuse, trauma or domestic violence. To speak with a therapist, please call 917-261-4598 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Chemical Dependency Program provides counseling for adults seeking treatment for substance misuse, and can specialize treatment for those turning to substances as a way to cope with loss. To speak with a social worker, please call (212) 691-2900 or email email@example.com.
Another resource is NYC Well, which offers free confidential mental health support 24/7 in over 200 languages. Find out how to get connected with this service here: https://nycwell.cityofnewyork.us/en/