The likelihood of both a high school graduation and a college graduation canceled. A family-owned business closed indefinitely and the stressful loss of that income. A momentous birthday celebration and trip called off. Four sports seasons cut short. Grandparents who can’t be visited in person, one recovering from chemotherapy and two others far away in Germany. These — along with a few other common challenges, such as closed schools and social isolation — are my family of five’s current COVID-19 pandemic-related disappointments. And we are the lucky ones.
So lucky that we feel uncomfortable even mentioning these disappointments because none of us are sick, we have a home to live in and have access to computers for our children to continue their education. I have a job I love and can do from home, and the excellent benefits, such as paid sick leave and health insurance, that come along with it. We have food in our refrigerator and cabinets that will provide full nutrition for a while and water, electricity, Wi-Fi and cellphone service.
However, we all deeply feel these disappointments and aren’t quite sure how to process them. Can we discuss them with friends who might have even greater challenges? Can we share our concerns on social media without fear of being shamed for not considering those in worse situations? Do we have a right to think of ourselves when so many others need our attention?
Maricar Jenkins, LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital, recently answered some of these questions I, along with many others, have about coping with the disappointments we feel related to the changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and the steps we’re taking as a society to slow its spread. Whether they feel slight or substantial, recognizing every disappointment is important.
How can we cope with our disappointment over COVID-19-related cancellations of events, such as graduations, trips and weddings?
Recognize and begin to identify these cancellations as a loss — they are events for which you have prepared and about which you have dreamed. These events are rites of passage. We have admired photos of family members’ and friends’ birthday celebrations, trips and weddings. Knowing that we won't be able to share our own memories is devastating. Not being able to share experiences, such as proms and graduations, with friends we have spent our high school lives with is heartbreaking.
Acknowledge the feelings of hurt, disappointment, sadness, worry and anger. The more we try to minimize or push away emotions that, quite frankly, do not feel good, the more they weigh us down. Over time, unresolved feelings will impact how we cope with other stressors, how we feel about ourselves and how we interact in our relationships.These disappointments are minor compared to others, such as concerns about illness, homelessness and food insecurity. How can we cope with the guilt we have over feeling disappointed about things like canceled parties and events?
Comparison can be a useful coping tool, as long as we are not minimizing and invalidating our own feelings. Imagine the language you would use with a friend if they told you, “I am so sad that I can't go to that big family reunion overseas that we have been planning for three years.” Your response most likely would not be, “That is nothing compared to what my dad is going through — his work hours have been cut!” Give yourself the same compassion you would give to others.
What can we do to cope with our feelings of disappointment?
- Notice negative self-talk. Replace “I shouldn't be this upset over something like this” with “I have the right to feel what I feel.”
- Journal. Write down your thoughts and feelings and then engage in a distracting activity that you enjoy. Remember to take no more than 10 to 15 minutes for your journaling and don’t do it right before you go to bed.
- Seek support. Connect with loved ones with a phone call, video call, text or email. Let people close to you know that you are struggling due to a disappointment.
- Maintain a daily routine. It is important that you get enough sleep and engage in activities that you enjoy each day.
- Practice radical acceptance. This is the concept of accepting that our reality is our reality and our reality cannot be changed. We might not like it, embrace it or want it and we can't change it. When you find your mind ruminating over thoughts, such as “Why is this happening? This isn't fair. I can't believe this is happening to me,” use a coping statement that feels right for you. For example, “I will get through this, even if I don't like what's happening.”
What can we do to get out of our present disappointed mindset and look forward to what’s to come?
Here are a few ways my loved ones and I are coping:
- Write a gratitude list, making note of all the good that is in your life, even the small things.
- Create a list of activities and events that can be rescheduled.
- Consider ways you can “celebrate” using technology. For example, can you start a group video chat with classmates on the day and time you were supposed to be at prom or create and share silly selfie photoshoots in the dresses and tuxedos you might have worn to prom?
How can we help our loved ones who are dealing with the disappointments brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and related precautions?
- Validate their experience. For example, you can say, “I can imagine how sad you are about this.” As my wise 14-year-old daughter said, “It might be the worst thing that has happened to them, but not to you.” So it is important not to ignore, belittle or make them think their problems are meaningless.
- Offer ways to distract them. For example, invite them to play a virtual game, such as Words With Friends, or ask them to listen to your favorite song and let you know what they think about certain lyrics or to share a playlist of their favorite tunes with you.
- Pay attention. If you notice a loved one’s mood gradually declines, such that they are unable to care for themselves or perform regular daily activities — get out of bed, shower, eat, take prescribed medications, pay bills — encourage them to seek professional help. Many providers are offering online virtual therapy sessions.
Talk to your doctor if you or a loved one are experiencing excessive sadness, anxiety or worry for an extended period. Call 911 if anyone, including yourself, may be at risk for self-harm or suicide. Learn more about mental health services at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital and read important COVID-19 information from Sharp.