It’s hard to believe we are a year and a half into this pandemic. There seems to be few signs of it letting up and our souls are growing weary. Our healthcare system is taxed. Our world seems to be falling apart. Younger people are becoming infected, ill, and some unfortunately may die. There is grief, loss, and trauma every which way we turn. It poses a significant barrier to being resilient and adapting to whatever life throws our way.
So what exactly is grief? Grief is a physical and emotional reaction to a loss. It might be the death of a person close to you. This person could be a spouse, partner, family member, long-time friend, or even an acquaintance. This person might be a patient — someone that you treated. You can also experience grief in relation to a lost experience or phase of life.
The way you grieve is unique to you. When you grieve, you may have many different emotions. If this is the first time you’ve experienced loss/death, you may be surprised by the way you feel. Many people feel more than one emotion at a time and some of these emotions can include:
- Sense of Unreality
- Feeling Your Loved One's Presence
Some people never have any of these feelings, while others may find their feelings change moment to moment — for example, worry followed by anger or numbness, followed by long periods of deep sadness. Regarding loss of life, often birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays are particularly difficult, as are some daily routines, like setting the table for one instead of two or sleeping alone after a partner dies.
The grieving process can be physically exhausting for some individuals. It can negatively affect your health, making it even harder for you to work or be a student as you navigate through your grief. Usually the first year after suffering a loss is the most difficult, and many physical reactions may occur during that time. Eating properly, getting enough sleep, and exercising will also help during this difficult time. Some common physical reactions to loss can include:
- Shortness of Breath
- Over or Under Sleeping
- Worsening of Illnesses/Prior Conditions
- Development of New Conditions
- Over or Under Eating
- Dreaming of the Deceased
- Intestinal Upset/Nausea
- Loss of Energy
- Racing Thoughts
- Distorted Perceptions/Illusions
Lastly, grief also can become complicated, especially when we experience "bereavement overload." Bereavement overload is when we’ve experienced so much loss in a period of time. For those in healthcare professions or majors, this might be you. Bereavement overload can, at times, lead to burnout. Burnout is when we are numb, cynical, and emotionally and physically exhausted from the work we do. The pandemic has seen a surge in burnout amongst healthcare professionals.
If you are experiencing burnout, grieving, or struggling with your mental health, please reach out to a mental health professional.
For WVU students: Carruth Center at West Virginia University (wvu.edu)
For HSC students: Home | BeWell (wvu.edu)
For WVU faculty and staff: Faculty and Staff Assistance Program (wvu.edu)
Additionally, here are resources and articles that are specific to healthcare professionals, along with the larger WVU student and community population:
- PeerRxMed™ | No One Cares Alone
- Understanding Grief in the Age of the COVID-19 Pandemic (verywellmind.com)
- COVID-19: Stress and Coping Resources | AHA
- Grief and Loss Among Healthcare Workers: Finding Support | VITAS Healthcare
- Recovering emotionally from disaster (apa.org)
- West Virginia Family Grief Center – Helping You Cope With the Death of a Loved One (wvfgc.com)