Counseling Center

May 6, 2020

Good Grief Charlie Brown!

Posted by Iris Song, Psy.D., Licensed Psychologist, UWCC

Maybe you have lost someone to Covid-19, or maybe you know someone who has lost someone…

Perhaps it’s not a death that you are confronting, but a different sort of experience – a more indescribable, vague and shadowy feeling that Pauline Boss describes as “ambiguous loss.” This is the idea that an individual has experienced or is experiencing loss, but without any clear understanding that a loss may be occurring, or without any foreseeable closure.

Regardless of the circumstance, it is pretty clear that our whole world is feeling something…grief.

Whether it is the passing away of a loved one, being unable to hang out with your favorite people at your favorite spot, having to attend classes in an unexpected way, or simply no longer being able to move about in the world without fear and worry, there is an effect on all of us. We grieve.

Grief is our internal experience to loss – sadness, anger, confusion, bitterness, the sometimes desperate longing for what was or what had been. These feelings, emotions, and thoughts are all a part of our grief response. They are all possible, appropriate, and valid human reactions.

When a death has occurred (related to Covid-19 or not), it is generally socially acceptable to have intense emotional reactions. However, the experience can become confusing when a person is unable to make a clear connection from their internal experiences to an explicit loss. This is where it feels more ambiguous.

Instead of an outright tearful sadness, perhaps the experience feels a bit like walking through molasses. One’s limbs might start feeling heavier, the brain might feel foggier, and maybe you might find yourself snapping at the people you love without knowing why. These experiences could be related to the grief of it all, and certainly there is much to be grieving in our world at this time.

So, what can one do in response? Grief, like our many other internal emotional reactions, are NOT controllable. What IS in your control, is how you respond. But, how do you know how to respond to an emotion if you don’t know or understand what is happening inside?

The first step then, is to determine what emotion or emotions you are experiencing at a given moment. Those of us who study the world of emotions like to label this act as “holding space.”

Holding space for oneself is an act of self-care and mindfulness, where an individual can reflect on what feeling or feelings may be running through them. In order to process and move through the emotional experience, it’s helpful to connect with and allow oneself to feel the feelings. If the emotion are easy, such as happiness or joy, we often very quickly move through them. However, if the feelings are more painful, such as grief or sadness, oftentimes we are pulled to avoid or numb the pain, which can complicate the process. While it is normal to want to avoid pain, with emotions and grief specifically, unresolved grief can often turn into an experience that is more difficult than the initial grief.

Allow yourself space to cry, to feel angry, to feel upset, to feel disappointed. If this is difficult to do on your own, process with he loved ones you trust. Find that friend or family member or mentor to hold space with you, and go get that hug or embrace. If you are in a situation where you cannot access social support physically or virtually, you can process in non-verbal ways – through exercise, art, dance, writing, etc. If that feels difficult, look for support from the trained professionals. Both the counseling center and Hall Health Mental Health offer telemental health services for all of our UW students.

All of the aforementioned activities will create a space for connecting and processing your emotions in a healthy way, and in time the emotions will start to dissipate or decrease in intensity. It will create space for new feelings, and what if the new feelings to come along were those such as understanding or compassion? I wonder what our Covid-19 world would look like if the majority of us could get to a place of understanding and compassion.