A couple days ago I was hit with a bout of pandemic sadness.
Have you experienced this?
For me, the timing wasn’t logical at all. It was a pretty, 60 degree day here in Denver. My parents have gotten their COVID vaccines. Things are looking up. The end is in sight!
I walked by a row of small, plastic-clad outdoor dining houses on the sidewalk, and my heart seized with collective grief for all the restaurant owners, cooks and servers trying to survive and persevere.
I stopped at the grocery store and the parking lot was full, which immediately raised my anxiety level. In the store I was struck by the plain weirdness of it all, a crowd of anonymous, masked shoppers trying to get what we need and stay six feet apart. My favorite checkers are shielded by masks and plexiglass, but I can still see the weariness in their eyes.
At home I read that we’d crossed the awful threshold of 500,000 deaths here in the U.S. I watched a news clip about the aftermath of the devastating winter storms in the South.
And then I crawled in bed, had a good cry and took a nap, weary to the bone.
Keeping a Strong Front
I certainly wasn’t going to write about this, or even tell anyone.
Like me, do you sometimes feel like sadness is a negative emotion to be subdued and overcome? Optimism, hope and positivity are admirable traits. Exhaustion and weakness are bad.
But the next morning I confided with a trusted friend, and she later wrote, “Thank you for sharing your COVID experience. It means a lot to me that you opened up, and helps me feel like I’m not alone. This past weekend I was thinking, “will we ever get through this?'”
After talking with more friends and reading about collective grief, I’ve come to realize that many of us are experiencing bouts of sadness and anxiety. We’re dealing with loss, added responsibilities, uncertainty and change—all at once.
If you can relate, these are some simple strategies that have helped me cope.
1. Be extra kind to yourself.
Imagine someone you love showed up at your doorstep sad, cold and wet from being out in the rain. How would you respond?
If you’re having a hard day, do those things for you. Give yourself permission to let down, cry, rest, or take a nap. Make yourself a cup of tea. Put on your comfortable Mr. Rogers-style sweater, or wrap up in a soft blanket. Listen to your favorite music. Cut yourself lots of slack.
2. Take a break from the news.
Sometimes I have to remind myself that the world will keep spinning if I don’t read the news for 24 hours. If a major event happens we’ll inevitably hear about it, right? Meanwhile, not watching or reading about the latest catastrophes can let our minds heal a bit.
3. Make future plans.
What will you look forward to when this is over? My parents and I talked about having a family weekend in the mountains later this summer. My goddaughter sent an invitation to her wedding this fall. Thinking about these events makes me feel hopeful.
4. Do the one thing you can do.
It’s an age-old paradox that giving blesses the giver, so we can watch for opportunities to offset the collective grief around us.
Maybe it’s getting a take-out meal from a favorite local restaurant, or donating to the Red Cross. Perhaps it’s something simple like saying a prayer, or sharing a kind word with the grocery checker.
Your gift might even be lending a sympathetic ear to a friend, and telling her she’s not alone in these challenging times.
How About You?
Now that we’ve been at this for almost a year, how are you coping?
How do you help yourself process sadness and grief? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Someday I bet we’ll look back and marvel at how we coped, adapted, and did our best during this global pandemic.
In the meantime, be extra, extra good to yourself.