Food For Thought: Dealing With Loss During COVID

February 16, 2021

By Mary Parker Draper, Extension Agent – Smith County

COVID-19 has caused a mix of feelings and effects. Our routines and customs have been altered. Many individuals have been through some sort of loss: the loss of a loved one, less interaction with family and friends, missed trips and festivities, or loss of income. Dr. Kathryn Conrad, UT Extension Specialist, defines loss and gives strategies for coping with loss. 

Dr. Conrad defines primary loss as physical and psychological losses related to death or major life changes. Primary losses include:

  • Observing distress and death to COVID-19
  • Loss of loved ones unrelated to COVID-19 where individuals are unable to attend funerals
  • Separation from those we love for an unknown amount of time

Secondary loss is often the consequential loss of abilities and characteristics from primary loss.

Secondary losses include:

  • Job loss or economic distress
  • Increased seclusion
  • Strained relationships and conflict
  • Canceled celebrations
  • Loss of freedom
  • Loss of motivation 

Living in a state of uncertainty is labeled by grief researchers as ambiguous loss, a type of unclear and undefined loss. There are two types of ambiguous loss: physical presence with emotional absence and physical absence with emotional presence. Ambiguous loss is marked by uncertainty and lack of closure, which causes unresolved grief.

Dr. Conrad gives the following strategies to reduce stress caused by a loss due to COVID-19. 

Name it to tame it.

The feelings you have—irritation, grief, loneliness, or feeling overwhelmed—are normal. Validate those feelings and give yourself or others patience and understanding. 

Strategy: Check in with yourself to prevent “autopilot” reactions by increasing mindfulness to calm challenging moments. Use the following process: Identify the emotion in the moment by naming it: “There’s frustration.” Detect how you feel physically as a result of this emotion. What is going on physically (breath awareness, muscle tension)? Is anything making you feel physically uncomfortable as a result of this emotion? Note the cause of this emotion with openness and without judgment. What specifically triggered this emotion? Relate to others. How might your emotions impact others? Or how might others’ emotions affect you? Cope with emotions in the moment. For example, take five deep and long breaths, focusing only on the air entering and leaving your body, or listen to a quick mindfulness exercise available online or through free smartphone apps (e.g., Calm App).

Perspective sharing 

The act of merely talking through difficult feelings rather than bottling them up is an influential tool. Find someone you trust and feel comfortable talking with and share your experience and offer insight on challenging moments. 

Strategy: Create a “COVID-19 Time Capsule” that records your experiences during this historical time. Include photos, special memories, newspaper clippings and a journal that captures your daily routine, challenges, and triumphs. Write about what you have learned from this experience and what you look forward to in the future. Encourage your family and friends to make a similar capsule and share together.

Be socially distant but not emotionally distant.

Figure out ways to spend time with, laugh with, and have fun with one another. 

Strategy: Host socially distant driveway hangouts. Invite your neighbors or friends to socialize while remaining 6 feet apart, wearing masks and allowing less than 10 people at a time. Also, connect virtually by hosting virtual watch parties or online gaming. For example, Netflix Party enables you to watch a movie together, yet from afar. Jackbox TV Games and Kahoot! offer group gaming opportunities to play virtually over share-screen applications (e.g., Zoom or Microsoft Teams).

Move from stigma to strength. 

Talking about emotions can be uncomfortable. Judgment about emotions regarding self or others reinforces stigmas about mental health, often preventing people from seeking help. When we deny the existence of hard emotions, however, they come out in some shape, usually in the form of less healthy coping behaviors (e.g., angry outbursts, abuse of alcohol or drugs, overeating, etc.). Accept that emotions are part of who we are, just as bones make up our skeletal system, a brain helps us to learn, and lungs enable breathing. 

Strategy: Use strengths-based thinking and gratitude over self-judgment and criticism. To practice this type of thinking, keep a Gratitude Jar. Jot down notes throughout the day of things that you are thankful for, such as ways people are helping one another, moments that make you feel joy, or traits of you or your family members you appreciate.

For more information on COVID related loss visit https://utia.tennessee.edu/extensioncovid19/.

  • Georgia Cornbread Cake
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups pecans, chopped fine
  • Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly grease and flour a 9×13 baking dish. Stir together sugar, brown sugar, eggs, and oil in a medium bowl until smooth. Stir in flour and vanilla. Add pecans and stir until evenly mixed. Spoon into prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream or cream cheese icing. Submitted by Judy Long, Gordonsville FCE Club.