Ask an Expert: How to Process Loss during the Pandemic and Take Care of your Mental Health
Sociologist shares her expertise on stress, loss, and grief during the COVID-19 pandemic, and offers strategies for boosting mental wellbeing in the face of adversity.
According to Our World in Data, to-date, almost six million people have died from COVID-19 worldwide. And if you didn’t experience the physical loss of a loved one over the last two years of the pandemic, you likely still felt a loss of normalcy in your day-to-day life. For many, gone were the days of commuting to work, meeting up with groups of friends at your favorite spot on a Friday night, or even hugging a family member without fear of transmitting the virus. Given this shift, and the collective grief and trauma that ensued, people were left with many questions about resilience, navigating loss, and ways to take care of their mental health during a time of extreme uncertainty.
For expertise on these questions and many others, we turned to Boston University professor of sociology and inaugural director of the Center of Innovation in Social Science, Dr. Deborah Carr. Dr. Carr is known for her research on grief, health and wellbeing later in life, family relationships over the life course, and death. She recently took to Reddit to host an open conversation about bereavement, mental health, the COVID-19 pandemic, and more. The top takeaways from her conversation showcase valuable tips for people who are grieving, continuing to process the pandemic, or looking for effective tips and strategies to improve their mental wellbeing.
1) Offer a listening ear to people who are grieving.
While it can be difficult to know exactly what to say or do when someone has experienced a loss, Dr. Carr discusses steps you can take to show your support.
2) Maintaining a self-care routine can better your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.
Dr. Carr shares the steps she took to take care of her own mental health throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
3) Knowing a loved one has entered their end-of-life stage is distressing. Don’t be afraid to lean on the resources around you for support.
Dr. Carr talks through the complexities of anticipatory grief, and how to process the feelings with family members, friends, support groups, mental health professionals, and more.
4) There is no one “right” way to recover from the loss of a pet.
Dr. Carr emphasizes that oftentimes pets feel like our “children,” and when they pass it is normal to experience feelings of immense grief.
5) Talking about our unique experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic will help us “mourn.”
Everyone experienced the pandemic differently, but sharing our individual struggles can help us collectively heal.
6) Check in on the mental health of everyone in your life, including those who have been traditionally left out of mental health screenings.
Many people can go their entire life without checking in on their mental health. Dr. Carr says it is important to screen for these illnesses, especially among older men who are more prone to feeling the effects of inadequate mental health care later in life.
7) If you have had COVID-19, it is important to do your best to move forward.
During these uncertain times, it can be easy to blame yourself or worry that you may have unknowingly infected people you care about with COVID-19. Dr. Carr says dwelling on this reality is not productive for your mental wellbeing.
8) Grief doesn’t always pertain to the physical loss of a loved one.
While many people experience grief when someone in their life passes away, Dr. Carr explains that it’s just as common to grieve for other life events including changes to a personal relationship, health status, financial security, career paths, and more.
9) Be mindful and purposeful about the ways in which you use social media.
When scrolling through TikTok, Instagram, or Twitter it’s easy to get lost in the chatter. Before you know it, hours have elapsed and you may not feel so great about how you spent your free time. Dr. Carr suggests ways you can “check-in” with yourself about social media use and the time spent on the apps.
10) People may experience “post-traumatic growth” as more time passes from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Carr explains that ‘post-traumatic growth’ and the familiar notion that ‘life is short’ may inspire people to make changes in their lives in the years to come.