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Are You Putting Your Oxygen Mask on First?

Hello again, Wellness Warriors! Have you checked in with yourself lately? Often, we are so focused on taking care of others that we ignore or are oblivious to our feelings. It’s important to remember to check in with ourselves and evaluate our emotional state to keep our mental health top of mind. When you fly on an airplane, the flight attendants tell you to put on your oxygen mask first in the event of an emergency and then attend to your children or elderly passengers. When dealing with grief, it’s the same idea that you can’t help anyone else unless you take care of yourself first.

Grief in a Pandemic

According to the CDC, many people are experiencing grief during the pandemic. Grief is a normal response to loss during or after a disaster or other traumatic event. Usually, when people think of grief, it is related to the loss of life. However, drastic changes to daily routines and ways of life that usually bring us comfort and a feeling of stability can also be grief triggers. Identifying grief is often the first step. Some common reactions include shock, disbelief, denial, anxiety, anger, sadness, trouble sleeping, or loss of appetite.

During the pandemic, many tragedies have occurred, and you might be unable to be with a loved one when they die or unable to mourn someone’s death in-person with friends and family. Other types of loss include unemployment, loss of relationships, lack of social support, and other changes in daily life such as isolation. Unfortunately, some of these losses are happening simultaneously, which can complicate or prolong grief and delay your ability to adapt, heal, and recover.

Right now, many may be grieving their loss of freedom or their ability to connect with people in meaningful ways. I found coping extremely stressful as my wife and I learned to adjust to staying home and distancing ourselves from others. It’s especially challenging if someone you loved has passed away during the pandemic, whether the virus caused their death or not. If you find yourself dealing with feelings of grief, I would like to offer these suggestions for healing and recovery during this challenging and isolating time.

Permit Yourself to Grieve

When someone you love dies, it is common to experience a range of emotions. These emotions may include sadness, anxiety, loneliness, regret, anger and guilt. It is normal that emotions are intensified due to the pandemic’s current condition. Our society has had to implement changes to prevent the spread of the virus. As a result, there are likely to be many other losses that need to be mourned, such as not being present when a loved one died or not holding a wake or a funeral.

I have worked with many families of our Aegis Living residents over the years. In my experience, I have found that denying your feelings over a loss delays the inevitable. Greif will not resolve on its own, and it’s vital to make room for how you feel. Give yourself permission to hold space for your feelings and find ways to work through them. Carve out time to grieve. Being sad is normal when you are grieving, and it’s essential to permit yourself to be sad and to acknowledge the other emotions you might be feeling.

Create a Daily Routine

Routines are important when dealing with grief or losing a loved one; it is even more critical during a pandemic. You can take small steps toward creating a routine, such as getting out of bed at the same time each day or taking a shower every morning. For some, grief can be so overwhelming that it is difficult to do everyday tasks. If you find this happening, try planning your day in “chunks” of time for meals, exercise, work and connecting online with family and friends. Writing a daily to-do list and checking off items as you complete them can give you some visual reinforcement to put one foot in front of the other.

Focus on Self-Care

When people think of self-care, they tend to think of bubble baths, massages, and papering. Real self-care is not a luxury or indulgence. Self-care requires a deep and personal understanding of your priorities and a respect for both yourself and the people you choose to spend your life with. It’s something grief experts always recommend because of how stressful grieving can be. Some self-care tips include:

  • Practice increased hygiene, especially hand-washing with soap.

  • Eat small meals, even if you don’t have an appetite.

  • Where possible, avoid processed foods.

  • Limit your alcohol intake.

  • Exercise as part of your daily routine. Consider an online exercise or yoga class.

  • Try an online meditation app.

  • Keep a journal of your thoughts and feelings and list any questions you have.

  • Prioritize rest and try to get at least 8 hours of sleep.

Ironically when you genuinely care for yourself, you are actually in a much healthier place to give of yourself to those around you. You will be a happier parent, a more grateful spouse, a fully engaged colleague. When you take care of yourself, you will have the energy to take care of others joyfully because that caregiving doesn’t come at their own expense.

Be Okay with Saying “No”

If you’re like me, you want to help everyone, especially those you love. Saying no is a revolutionary form of self-care because it enables you to prioritize your well-being over your obligations. During times of loss, everything can seem pressing and urgent, but boundaries help us prioritize what we need to do right now versus what we can do later when we’re in a better mental and emotional state.

Each time we say yes, we pour from our proverbial cup. Too often, we’re pouring from an almost empty glass, especially when dealing with grief. Permit yourself to say no, and don’t stretch yourself too thin during already trying times.

Reach Out for Support

During times of loss and grief, staying connected to your family and friends is especially important. You could keep in touch daily using technology with your family and friends to check in and maintain your support system. Draw comfort from your faith by praying, meditating, or attending online religious services. Joining an online support group with others experiencing loss is another valuable resource. There are options to make a virtual appointment with a grief counselor, especially if you feel overwhelmed or have little support. It’s important to acknowledge that, in this challenging time, there are layers of loss going on around us. We need to be patient with ourselves and patient with others. People cope with losses in different ways. If you need help dealing with your loss, here are additional available resources:

Until next time, Live Well, Live Long!


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