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How my own experience with grief has informed how I’m approaching the pandemic

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How my own experience with grief has informed how I'm approaching the pandemic

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If the weight of all these things affects you more lately, you are not alone.

You may experience what psychologists call the “birthday effect”. As therapist and counselor Susan Harrington explains, our bodies and brains store painful memories that can be triggered by certain dates or seasons, such as the date of death of a loved one, the annual reminder of a serious diagnosis, or, perhaps, the one year anniversary of a pandemic.

I know the birthday effect. I live it every February, roughly on the date my husband died. I feel it every September as my happy wedding anniversary is full of grief. I face it again in November, the day my father died.

My response to these anniversaries changes over time. Sometimes I have trouble sleeping at night or concentrating during the day. I become more irritable, easier to frustrate, more anxious. I could cry over seemingly random things. Other times, I will feel inexplicably exhausted. Almost always, I wonder what happens to me. That is, until you remember the date.

Harrington reassures me that these reactions are normal and that recognizing mourning anniversaries is healthy. “We tell ourselves that if‘ I don’t think about it, I won’t feel it, ’but that’s not true,” he said. “Because we’re living it, we’re living it.”

Harrington, who is the founder and owner of Maison Vie New Orleans, said he witnessed the challenge that the August 29th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 can pose to his clients. the emotions that generate difficult birthdays is right, Harrington explained. “Grief is normal, it’s natural, it’s expected, it’s important.”

Maybe like you, I’m currently feeling the fear of the Covid-19th anniversary. While many birthdays of mourning are something we suffer alone, the pandemic is an event we are experiencing simultaneously. You may be in a very bad mood lately; your co-workers, neighbors, and friends are likely to be too.

Even if you haven’t lost someone due to the pandemic, there’s still a lot to do sorry. We missed important events and had to postpone significant celebrations. Our routines, social lives and sense of security have changed dramatically. And witnessing the massive death toll, some 530,000 Americans killed and the count: it affects us all, whether we consciously realize it or not.

Harrington urges his clients to practice kindness, consideration, and compassion, with themselves and others. “Because we are so scared now, we limit ourselves to our beliefs,” he said. “Change is scary; it causes anxiety. But we must remember that other people are also afraid.”

Unfortunately, being with these feelings can be difficult. The death toll continues to rise. The mandates of the mask continue to change. We have very little chance, if any, of catching our breath and taking a break from work or parenting or having the same tired dinners every week. It seems almost impossible to find the time and space to process all the sadness we feel.

To make matters worse, Harrington said many Americans face long waiting lists for therapists.

Still, there are small things you can do to get through this period. “The biggest piece is the routine and the structure,” Harrington said. She recommends sleeping at least eight hours and structuring the day so that it offers some comfort and predictability. Harrington also encourages being creative with human contact and physical touch, whether it’s to expand the quarantine bubble to include a close trusted friend or to give a “hug” to a loved one, pressing them against each other.

“These two things, routine and touch, are extremely important to our well-being,” he said.

With an accelerated deployment of vaccines and herd immunity possibly on the horizon, it looks like there is a light at the end of the Covid tunnel, but we are not there yet. We will experience many emotional ups and downs as we approach a sense of normalcy, whatever that means these days. We will have weeks when we feel like giving up and times when we have the feeling of sailing all right.

I know, because I’ve been there.

The key to getting through everything is to be kind to ourselves and others, especially now, on this not-so-happy birthday.

Katie Hawkins-Gaar is a writer based in St. Petersburg, Florida. She sends out a weekly newsletter called “My brain sweet and dumb. “

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