Making Peace With A Lost Year: How I'm Processing The Grief Of 2020
If you've come to the end of 2020 feeling sad, lost, angry, lonely, exhausted, or any combination of the above, I promise you're not alone. We're living, as we keep being reminded, through unprecedented times that have been embodied by loss.
Grief is a very natural, and important, human response to such loss. I consider the feeling of grief to be an emotional reminder that our world—on a micro or macro level—has changed. As such, I believe that it can inspire us to adapt accordingly. After all, we humans are inherently, phenomenally resilient; we bounce back from the most terrifying and devastating events imaginable. But that doesn't make it easy.
Furthermore, many of the losses that we're experiencing right now are "ambiguous" losses—they lack clarity or closure. They can leave us perpetually searching for answers, which makes it even harder to move forward into the future, let alone grieve what's passed.
As we venture into 2021, here's how I'm choosing to move through my grief. Inspired by yoga and meditation principles, they are a few time-tested strategies for bouncing back and making peace with loss:
1. I'm acknowledging my loss.
In order to adapt in a healthy way following a loss, I've found that it's essential to allow myself to feel my grief—to be honest and open about my feelings and give myself space, time, and compassion to acknowledge, digest, and absorb.
It's only by doing this that we can make peace with our losses and move forward with our lives. This doesn't mean dwelling in your grief, letting it consume you like quicksand, but it does mean venturing into emotional depths (of sadness, anger, grief, et al.) that you may otherwise be inclined to avoid.
Keep a journal, share your experience, invite people to share theirs. If excavating your feelings alone feels too daunting, enlist the help of a mental health professional.
2. I'm finding new outlets.
Many of the normal rituals and outlets for our grief have not been available this year. From traditional funerals (one of the many instances Zoom really falls short of the mark) to the simple pleasures of a night out with friends; a packed, sweaty yoga class; a big family meal; or an impromptu weekend away—it all disappeared overnight.
Many losses cannot be undone, but spaces for mourning those losses can be rebuilt. Finding outlets and rituals for mourning—virtual support groups, a daily meditation, Instagram session, or a socially distanced group exercise park class—can be helpful.
3. I'm moving my body.
The experience of grief is physical. Our bodies are hugely affected by loss, even if we're not consciously aware of it. Moving physically has helped me "move" through grief, giving me the space to release emotions.
Yoga is a great practice for doing so, of course, but so is anything that gets the heart pumping and the lungs working. (In traditional Chinese medicine, grief is actually thought to reside in the lungs.)
4. I'm not catastrophizing.
Like many difficult emotions, grief can hijack the imagination, filling it with catastrophic ideas. These "worst-case" predictions of further future losses ignite the stress response and leave us in an even greater state of fear and anxiety.
So each time I find my thoughts drifting to the worst-case scenario, I ask myself, "Is this thought helpful to me right now? Or is it just making me feel more panicked?" If the answers are no and yes respectively, I tell my brain to be quiet and quickly find something else to distract it for a moment, whether it's a podcast or a piece of favorite (upbeat) music to dance my heart out to.
5. I'm continuing to set goals.
Setting my own clear, concrete, and achievable objectives has helped me ground in the here and now, as well as stay inspired and motivated for the future.
6. I'm fostering social connections.
It's natural for friendships and relationships to change, particularly during times of upheaval or stress. However, I'm trying to hold on to my relationships and not let them wither due to lack of attention.
Keep checking in on people who may need it (read: everyone) and find workable ways to keep your meaningful connections strong and healthy. I prefer phone conversations, park walks (if possible), and writing letters over social media comments and text messages.
As things start to return to normal, for most of us life will also return to some kind of normal. However, there will be a subset of people for whom life has been monumentally disrupted. Keep checking in on your friends and family. And if you or someone you know is struggling intensely with grief and loss, please seek out professional support.
Together, we can move through this lost year and emerge stronger for it.
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