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Grief during times of COVID-19

The pandemic continues to persist around the globe and we witness its repercussions ripple through society. Unsurprisingly, Covid-19 is currently a leading cause of death worldwide: as of 12th September 2020, the death toll has surpassed 900,000. Our blog today explores the ubiquitous theme of ‘Grief and Death’ during Covid-19 and how existing psychological research may help us better cope with the days to come. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but we would also like to take this opportunity to direct our readers to additional resources that may support you during these times, including ways to cope and support those who have lost loved one(s).

Understanding grief

Grief is painful, both physically and psychologically. Research has shown that this pain predominantly emerges from two realisations: that one cannot control fate and that contact with a loved one has been permanently severed. These realisations highlight two fundamental human yearnings: the wish to be close to loved ones and the wish to influence one’s surroundings. 

Each person will cope with grief in their own way. It is important to note that there is no ‘correct’ way to grieve. One of the most widely held psychological myths in society is that grief proceeds in stages. The ‘5 stages of grief’ theory, created by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, postulates that grieving persons experience stages of denial, anger, bargaining and acceptance. Interestingly, there is currently no empirical evidence that people undergo most of or any of the 5 stages. The grieving trajectory does not comprise a discernible sequence of stages but instead, consists of the ebb-and-flow of an array of emotion.

Bereavement and the pandemic

In today’s world, broadly speaking, there are two types of bereaved people affected by the pandemic: previously bereaved and newly bereaved

Previously bereaved individuals:

  • May find the experience bewildering and frustrating (“no one seemed to care about grief before the pandemic”)
  • May find that lockdown is somewhat reminiscent of the early days of grief (“I feel trapped in a strange world again and am surrounded by memories and triggers at home”)

Newly bereaved individuals:

  • May not have been able to properly say goodbye to loved ones or been able to give them a proper funeral
  • May not be able to distract themselves by engaging with activities
  • May feel that the shock and numbness they are experiencing is constantly triggered by our current global climate

Can anything be done to make things easier?

I recently conducted a year-long BSc dissertation at UCL on sibling bereavement which may lend some insight into our understanding of coping with grief during the pandemic. Sadly, there is no therapy that can cure grief since most of the emotions bereaved people experience are rational: if someone you truly love dies, it would be abnormal to not be heartbroken.


Nevertheless, the bereavement literature has generated some intriguing findings: research has shown that the majority of bereaved persons, approximately 55-85%, are known as ​resilient grievers. A ​resilient griever​ is defined as a bereaved person who experiences short-lived and distressing episodes of grief throughout an otherwise stable trajectory of healthy functioning. My research addresses influencing factors for resilient grief, which may help individuals return to ordinary pre-loss routine functioning. Below are some factors:

  1. Social Support, identified by nearly 60% of the participants, includes emotional and tangible support such as love and financial assistance. Connect with people as much as you can; even during a pandemic you can speak to people through WhatsApp, Zoom and other social media platforms. In addition, make sure you tell people that you’d like them to reach out to you.

One participant said: “It was the way my friends rallied around me that helped most.”

2. An empathetic support, identified by 86% of participants, is a person with first-hand experience of loss. Talking about grief with someone who understands it will likely make you feel less alone. This is especially important in today’s world since isolation has dramatically increased rates of loneliness. If you don’t know anyone personally, there are many online communities of bereaved people you can join.

One participant said: “Joining the online support groups were a massive help…it was great to meet other who felt exactly how I felt.”

3. Exercise, identified by 86% of participants, was reported as playing a valuable role in adapting to loss. Exercise can help trigger feelings of control, clarity and focus. It also helps with sleep which grief can disrupt heavily. Most countries allow their citizens to exercise once a day, even during the peak of lockdown.

​Another participant said: “I’d go running all the time​ and be committed to watching my running time improve. It actually changed my mood for the rest of the day…​I was happier and felt more alive.”

While I prepare my findings for publication, I hope this blog has been helpful if you are bereaved or know someone who is experiencing a bereavement. Should you need additional help, we would like to suggest the following resources for extra support:

Compassionate Friends

A charitable organisation of bereaved parents, siblings and grandparents dedicated to the support and care of other bereaved persons.
Helpline: 0345 123 2304 
Northern Ireland helpline: 0288 77 88 016
tcf.org.uk

Cruse Bereavement Care

Provides bereavement support, both face-to-face and over the phone, from trained volunteers across the UK.
0808 808 1677 (Calls to this helpline are free)
cruse.org.uk

This post was written by Ms Ketki “Keya” Prabhu (@kkprabhu), a UCL alumna, with minor comments from Dr Keri Wong (@DrKeriWong).

How do you view grief amidst the pandemic? Please share your thoughts with us at contact@globalcovidstudy.com or tag us on @GlobalC19Study (Twitter) and GlobalC19Study (Instagram). We’d love to hear from you!

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‘What gives?’ Conflict in the time of Corona

Lockdown life has its ups-and-downs. Our daily routines have endured big changes and we feel the strain of spending unnatural amounts of time with our isolation partners. While some of us may appreciate spending more time with those who are close to us, others may not share this sentiment. More contact time may result in more conflict. Understanding why this happens and what we can do about it is important, lockdown or not.

In our previous post, we reported the top stressors that participants from the Global Covid Study found were most concerning during lockdown. In our recent Instagram poll, we found that over 70% of voters experienced household conflict during lockdown. So this a genuine concern.

So what causes conflict in the first place? 

While there may be many reasons, research has identified the following roots of cause that may be particularly salient during these challenging times:

  1. Misperception: believing something to be true without definitive proof. For example, believing your sister is lazy for leaving dirty dishes in the sink when in reality, she received an important phone call just as she was getting started.
  • Difference in opinion: you are annoyed at your sister for leaving dirty dishes in the sink while she thinks it’s not a big deal.
What can be done?

It’s easier said than done, but here are some good reminders:

REMAIN CALM 

The best way to address a problem without turning it into a personal attack or argument is to stay calm. When you feel yourself getting angry, deep breathing is an effective technique that eases stress. You can also try counting to 10 before responding to a loaded comment or even leaving the room and returning once you feel more relaxed. Another effective tip is to ask yourself the following question: ‘What will this achieve?’ More often than not, the answer is greater conflict.  

LET THINGS GO

If you do lose your cool, don’t fret. This happens to the best of us. However, what is more important is that you move on from it and let things go. Research has shown that allowing conflict to cause a rift between you and another person while isolating together won’t be conducive to either of your mental health. Further research has identified cognitive reasoning as an effective technique to keep arguments at bay. This is when you assess a situation from a third-person’s perspective to re-evaluate personal opinion. By reasoning cognitively, you may realise that you are in an ‘emotional’ state and that your behaviours and words are driven by emotion over reason and rationality. Research has also shown that this will in turn help you avoid saying something horrible you don’t mean.

With regard to family life, letting things go is of particular importance. Research has shown that household conflict can have adverse effects on children including sleep disturbance, anxiety, conduct problems and academic problems. It is important to recognise that although it is perfectly normal for parents and guardians to argue, engaging in frequent and unresolved conflict is what the literature identifies as negatively affecting children the most. Moreover, if the conflict is explicitely about children, research has shown children tend to blame themselves leading to feelings of guilt and sadness. So resolving conflict is an all round win-win solution!

FOCUS ON THE NEW OPPORTUNITIES 

The suggestion of a silver lining in a time of crisis can sometimes feel condescending. An inherently unpleasant situation doesn’t always warrant a ‘something good always comes from something bad’ approach. However, after accepting that lockdown gives rise to conflict, we can also accept that it has provided some of us with unique opportunities. Young adults who have moved back into their family homes, for example, are able to reconnect with family. It can feel quite nice to go for walks together, watch movies and simply hang out as a family more than you usually would. Therefore, don’t let conflict stop you from exploring the unique opportunities lockdown presents. You may surprise yourself and feel rather comforted. 

Remember, the glass is always half full and it is your perception that can keep things in perspective. A small dose of household conflict is normal, but the key lies in knowing how to come to a resolution quickly.


This post was written by Ms Ketki “Keya” Prabhu (@kkprabhu), a third year student on the BSc in Psychology with Education degree at UCL with minor comments from Dr Keri Wong (@DrKeriWong).

How have you resolved conflict in your household? Please share your tips/tricks with us at contact@globalcovidstudy.com or tag us on @GlobalC19Study (Twitter) and GlobalC19Study (Instagram). We’d love to hear from you!