What Anticipatory Grief Looks Like During COVID-19

Published on: 28 Apr 2020

For many of us, the initial stay-at-home orders have now been extended for weeks and we’re grappling with this new version of “normal.” We wonder if, and when, we’ll return to our regular day-to-day routines. Many are experiencing a mixed bag of emotions — sadness, frustration, anxiety, relief, happiness, anger, and often even a sense of grief.

Coronavirus Has Changed the Way We Think of Grief

While, for most of us, the immediate thought that comes to mind around grief surrounding death or loss, grief comes in many forms. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has brought the idea home as we start dealing with the emotional repercussions — and grief — of the loss of jobs; financial security’ face-to-face interactions; and milestones such as proms, graduations, and weddings. We are all uniquely experiencing grief during this strange and unprecedented time.

COVID-19 has disrupted daily life for everyone. Whether you are an essential worker keeping our society functioning with food on the grocery shelves and package delivery, a frontline healthcare worker saving our loved ones, working from home and dealing with added pressures and long hours, newly unemployed and unsure of how to start a difficult job hunt, a student struggling to stay focused or settling for graduation by video conference, or a parent teaching your children without a teaching certificate — everyone is impacted by the pandemic. The outbreak has brought with it universal difficulty and loss.

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It’s OK to grieve people, things, and events

While we are all familiar with grief when a loved one dies, or a relationship ends, the experience of grieving events, loss of normalcy, and socializing during COVID-19 is new for many of us.

These losses are not as tangible or concrete, so the feelings may be confusing at first. It is normal to feel sad and disappointed that meaningful events in your life have been postponed or canceled. Events like proms, graduations, and baby showers are one-time-only occasions for most. Their cancellations are significant losses of these milestone moments. Similarly, day-to-day losses such as seeing friends and family, along with unanticipated financial stress, and worries about life returning to normal also bring up feelings of grief.

At the same time, the uncertainty about the future elicit similar feelings of loss and sadness as we anticipate future events being canceled or taking place in ways different than we’d hoped or planned. If you’re feeling this type of sadness and loss, you may be experiencing anticipatory grief.

What is Anticipatory Grief?

Anticipatory grief is that lingering sense that more loss is to come, even if we don’t know exactly what those losses may be. Given all the current uncertainty, anticipatory grief is a common experience during the Covid-19 pandemic. We know the world is changing — but we do not know what the changes in the coming months will be, how long physical distancing will last, or what events we can or cannot plan for.

How to know if you’re experiencing anticipatory grief

Some common feelings associated with anticipatory grief include:

  • Feeling emotionally and physically drained
  • Frustration or anger with situations out of your control
  • Withdrawal from friends or loved ones
  • Being resigned to the worst case scenario

It’s important to allow yourself to feel whatever feelings arise and to acknowledge the sadness and grief. The feelings are completely valid and are nothing to be ashamed of. These feelings are generally like waves; they come up, you ride them out, and then they pass.

Signs You Need Help Dealing With Grief

During this time of tremendous uncertainty it is important to reach out for professional help — online therapy is a safe and convenient option — if you find these thoughts and feelings are disruptive in your daily life and are impacting work, school, or relationships. You do not have to experience these disruptions alone.

Grief looks different for everyone, there’s no set timeline for when and how you will start to feel better. Additionally, if the symptoms last over a year, it’s important to seek out a grief counselor or licensed therapist.

While grief and anticipatory grief are as unique as each of us, these signs might indicate unhealthy grief during the coronavirus outbreak:

  • You’re having trouble following your normal routine
  • You’re experiencing feelings of depression, deep sadness, self-blame, or guilt
  • You’re feeling apathetic or unmotivated to connect virtually, join virtual activities, or you’re dreading planned activities
  • You’re questioning the meaning in life or wondering if life has meaning or both
  • You’re experiencing a lack of appetite, increased worry, increased irritability, and anger or frustration
  • You’re having difficulties concentrating or feeling motivated

While we’re navigating grief and other complicated feelings during the pandemic, professional mental health care is still available with the help of a licensed online therapist.

While grief, in its various forms, is a normal part of life and we each experience a range of expected, and unanticipated, feelings — sadness, anger, longing, to name just a few — it is important to remember there are excellent resources readily available. Remember: these feelings will pass. While we may be weathering the storm right now, we’ll come out on the other side even stronger and more resilient than before.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to in the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.

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