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How to Let Go during COVID-19

by Justine Haemmerli September 21, 2020


We’re being asked to let go of so many things right now: Plans. Priorities. Support systems. Expectations. Some of us are actually grieving the passing of friends and family, often from afar. It’s hard to know how to let go under normal circumstances; but right now, it’s even harder.


We’re dealing with the shocking suddenness of COVID-19, followed by the prolonged uncertainty.

While we had to figure out how to let go of plans overnight and reconfigure the delicate ecosystems of our work/home balance in an instant, we’re now being asked to let go of more plans and expectations as the months continue and things are still in a strange and unpredictable state.


This recent piece in the New York TImes, “How to Cope When Everything Keeps Changing, gives three great suggestions for how to adjust and continue with planning and being present for your life, even when planning seems quite impossible. It’s a quick read and helpful if you’re struggling with wanting to plan, while acknowledging the ever-changing and unpredictable nature of these times we’re living in.


In this blog post, we’re going to explore another side of the coin, which is how to process the grief, frustration, anxiety, and rush of other emotions that comes when we can’t plan properly, when our plans are taken from us, or when the unplanned knocks us off our feet.


I’m going to share a bit of what I see as some of the hardest moments where you’re being asked to let go right now, and might not even notice that it’s grief you’re dealing with.


I won’t be delving deeply here into the grief we experience when someone dies, but more the subtle grief that comes from the current pandemic situation, and some concrete ways that you can process these tough shifts you’re being asked to make, and let go of things that no longer serve you, and release anything that is keeping you sad, stuck, or angry.


On this note, if you're done with reading articles and blogs today, and you'd like instead to see the video, click the video link below on "5 Ways to Deal with Covid Stress."


If you’d like to skip ahead to a particular section, here’s a table of contents for you with links to take you to the card draws:

IN THIS BLOG POST:

The Biggest Hidden Trigger: Milestones


Many of my dearest friends are struggling with letting go of their visions for what it would mean for their kids to start kindergarten this fall.


Aside from the milestone and the excitement of this big transition, they were also expecting a financial break from the costs of daycare they’d been shouldering for the last four years. Budgets had to be quickly rearranged, safe options vetted, and some kind of solution cobbled together with swiftness - even as work trudges along at a crazy pace and school takes center stage in the weeks ahead.


Other women I know are letting go of marriages or relationships.


And yet others are letting go of holiday plans for family get-togethers in the fall and winter.

Kwanzaa Holiday Celebration

Some are letting go of plans for their own careers, because they’re taking on the brunt of childcare, or because they’ve been let go from jobs that can no longer afford them.


And some of us are letting go of plans to get pregnant right now, letting go of plans to move to a new home; letting go of plans to stay where we are, instead finding it optimal to move closer to family.


My best friend was pregnant and gave birth during the spring, and had to let go of her hopes for postpartum support, a doula at her birth, and friends coming over to meet her baby and hang out with her during maternity leave. Even small things, like letting go of plans for Halloween or your favorite summer tradition can be hard.


My son turned one in April and I found his birthday really hard. We moved to Portugal when I was 7 months pregnant with him, and it took me a really long time to feel settled in a new country and culture while also adjusting to having two small children, and weathering the postpartum period.


I found myself walking in endless loops around the cobblestone square that lay at the end of our hilly street, daydreaming of a time I would feel more normal and at home.


One of the things my daydreams often fluttered towards and landed upon was a vision of his first birthday, in the popular Estrela Park, where many of my new friends had picnic birthdays for their little ones.


When that time comes, I’ll be at home here, I thought. I’ll string a pennant between the oak trees, I’ll have figured out where to buy picnic blankets, I wonder if he’ll be walking by that point!


So when his birthday finally arrived, we were on complete lock-down. I fed him a Portuguese custard tart to the applause of family and friends sprinkled across two continents, gathered in a Zoom Room, their faces blurred and strained from stress and poor connections.

Pastel de Nata - a Portugues favorite

He enjoyed the treat but it was not the celebration I imagined, to say the least.


It wasn’t just that I was sad that the party wasn’t as fun or joyful as I had hoped it would be. This milestone happening during COVID-19 was a stark reminder of how different my current reality was from what I imagined this moment in time would be. And that really stung. I had the same feeling on my own birthday in August, as I juxtaposed the day with what we did the year prior.


Even though things had opened up a great deal, just remembering the carefree lightness with which we hopped on a train and went to a nearby beach town for ice cream and a ride on the carousel was hard, as it felt so far away from the scene today of folks walking around in masks, hugs still forbidden, trains still iffy.


So, if you have a milestone coming up - whether it’s for yourself, a child, or a loved one - try your best to set realistic expectations for what you’ll be able to do. Try to find something that feels fun and pleasurable and joyful, within the parameters of current possibility.

It can also be fun to sprinkle festivities across a few days, instead of concentrating on just one day. Since options are more limited this year, instead of a big burst of celebration it can feel special to have many smaller things to look forward to - even if it’s just a cookie, special walk, or little trinket - each day of one week.


And, if sadness, anger, disappointment, or melancholy bubble up, know that it is completely normal, and not in any way a sign of failure. Disappointment during a big milestone is more of a sign that you're grieving a lost expectation, rather than your failing at creating a sweet moment, or enjoying a special time.


Alright friends - now that we've taken a bit of time to get real about the ways you might be experiencing grief right now because of the pandemic, let's move into five ways you can start to process those big feelings, and let go on your terms.



I hand-selected five cards from our Loss Deck that I thought would best support your wellness, mental health, and peace this fall. Below, I'm going to walk you through each card, as well as how you can apply its lessons to your life right now - like, today - and my own thoughts on why this is such an important question to consider at this moment.


Let's get into it!

5 Ways to Process Grief and Let Go during Covid-19

Here are 5 cards from our Loss Deck that I've chosen because I think they're perfectly poised to help you understand what's been uniquely challenging for you during the pandemic, and will help you to process and feel better.

#1: Steps

  • How are you moving yourself from morning to night each day?
  • What does this teach you about your coping mechanisms and survival instincts?
  • How can these insights help your healing?

Listen - shit’s been weird. And HARD. Even if you’re in a safe place with a relatively good situation, this has still been really, really challenging.


And guess what? You’re doing the damn thing. Every day. You’re making things work the best that you can, you’re making it through one day at a time, and I would hazard to guess that you’re creating some great things along the way.


Whether that means you are...

  • getting work done in sub-optimal conditions,
  • helping your kids to feel safe and secure and managing to curate some fun experiences for them within these limited circumstances;
  • checking in on elders and loved ones,
  • keeping yourself healthy, fed, sane; or
  • maybe you’re even finding yourself stepping up to meet new opportunities, pushing yourself through a growth moment and releasing things that no longer serve you;
  • learning how to create boundaries you were never able to make and hold in the past


Whatever it is, you are doing it, every day, even when you don’t want to, even though you didn’t choose this, and even though it’s hard.


To borrow the ubiquitous Glennon Doyle mantra, “you can do hard things.”


You can, and you are, doing them.

So, take a moment to recognize all the things you’re doing - but beyond that, HOW you are doing them. This is one of the ways that loss teaches us about ourselves - giving us invaluable information about how we step up, and who we truly are - that we can use through dark storms and brighter moments, too.


What is helping you get through each day?


Do you ...

  • Take a moment to ground yourself when you’re overwhelmed?
  • Have an intense and iron clad work ethic?
  • Practice compassion and empathy for your children?
  • Have an amazing ability to multi-task?

Beyond just recognizing your accomplishments, take time to journal and name the traits and habits in yourself that are stepping forward, and helping you to weather this storm. It will surprise you to see what you learn about who you are, and the skills and traits you’re bringing to the table.

#2: Engagement

  • What is something you love or enjoy, that you have stopped doing since this loss happened?
  • What would need to happen to get you to re-engage it?

For many of us, when the pandemic started we went into triage mode. Only the essentials remained, and everything else that we did for wellness or pleasure got thrown off the ship or stuffed in the hold.


As we understand that this is a marathon and not a sprint, and that we need to find ways to continue to live and be ourselves within this situation that isn’t going to disappear soon, we also need to start reintegrating the things that bring us peace and pleasure.

So, I invite you to think of something that you love, or enjoy, that you stopped doing since COVID struck. What is that?


For me, it’s coffee dates with my friends.


Between social distancing, people having various levels of precaution and comfort, and my own adapting to a new work/mothering schedule - oh, and coffee shops literally being shut for months - my favorite indulgence of a coffee with friends has disappeared of late.


As cafes and restaurants start to slowly open, I am finding more moments to get together with girlfriends - without our kids - to catch up and talk.


I went to dinner outside with two friends the other night and it was a balm on my heart. So, even though it’s not the same as in the Before Times, and it doesn’t happen so frequently, I am being intentional about building in little friend dates every week or two, because it truly fills my cup.

What is it for you, that you can start to slowly re-integrate, given the limitations of where you live and what you can do comfortably and safely?


For a dear friend of mine, alone time is absolutely essential.


Now that she’s on maternity leave with a newborn and her husband works from home, she is basically never ever by herself. I gently but firmly told her one day that she needed to take 45 minutes minimum by herself, outside of the house, every day.


She scheduled it with her husband, marking it down in his calendar like a work meeting.


Sometimes she drives to pick up lunch and listens to a podcast in silence. Sometimes she goes to get a coffee and takes a quick solo walk in her neighborhood.


It doesn’t have to be complicated - it just has to be you. She shared that after a week of these small moments of solitude, she feels her battery went from 0% to 50%, in just five days. That’s the power of giving yourself what you, uniquely, need.

#3: Caretaking

  • What have you been neglecting in regards to care and well-being?
  • How can you resume this care in the next week, or get someone to help you to do so?

We have been focusing so much on health essentials to keep the virus at bay, that it’s easy to become fixated on these alarming and frightening self-preservation needs, and forget that there are other aspects of your care and well being that still need attention and nurturing.


This was particularly tricky while many dentist and doctor’s offices were closed at the start of the lock-down, but now that things are opening up with safety protocols in place, it’s a great time to take care of your body while care is more easily accessed.


Here are some things you can do, big and small, to take good care of yourself right now (apart from washing your hands):

  • Be intentional about your schedule: block out time for a walk (even 10 minutes!), schedule a dentist appointment, mark out a friend date phone call each week. Your schedule - ie your time - is perhaps the most valuable self-care tool you have, and it's free!
  • Go to Sleep Earlier
  • Cut or Dye your Hair:
    • Whether you opt to do it yourself or go to a professional, it feels good when you feel that you look your best. Take a little time to get your hair to a place where it’s feeling tended to. It’s particularly hard when we are working from home and our opportunities to get dressed up are basically non-existent, but falling into a dirty-hair-endless-pajama-schlump is good for absolutely nobody’s morale!
  • Drink more Water
  • Get some new Skincare (even at the supermarket, doesn't have to be pricey!)
  • Try new Vitamins/Supplements, especially Vitamin D Supplements;
  • Play with Essential Oils
  • Read before Bedtime
  • Have a (distance) Reiki session
  • Take care of the spaces in your home - whether you make a cleaning schedule, finally put up those pictures leaning against the wall for two years, clean out a little WFH space, or get help with housekeeping, making changes to your space will make a world of different to your mental health
  • Take care of Your Relationships

#4: Rise to the Occasion

  • How have you stepped up as a result of this loss?
  • How can you recognize, love, and honor this?

Even though you came here to learn more about how to let go during Covid-19, you might be noticing that part of giving your grief and losses space to breathe is also about acknowledging all the ways you’re bearing this burden.


This situation asked all of us to take on extra responsibilities, let go of routines and support systems, be flexible, adaptable, take personal responsibility for how our actions affect others, and make really challenging decisions with little to no reliable information. That. Is. A. LOT!


So - how have you been stepping up to these challenges? What parts of you have stepped forward and taken the lead? How have you risen to the occasion, even when it was hard, and even if it’s not all the time?

Maybe...


  • You had a parent come live with you?
  • You learned how to put on a brave face for your children?
  • You figured out how to cover your expenses with reduced income?
  • You held space for your partner or friend even when you were exhausted and spent?
  • You figured out schooling and care options for a child?
  • You managed a health crisis for yourself or someone else?
  • You found ways to maintain levity, optimism, and joy despite the circumstances?


What part of you has stepped forward in your best moments during this crisis? How can you recognize, love, and honor this part of yourself?


And, how can you invite this part of you to step forward more often?

#5: Anger

  • What anger are you experiencing?
  • How does that anger need to be expressed?
  • What can you do to get it out of your body, to support your peace?

Anger can be a difficult emotion for many of us to experience and express - especially if we have been socialized as women, and taught that anger is not an “attractive” or “permitted” emotion.


Often, feelings like sadness, hopelessness, a need to control everything, disappointment in a person, can be anger wearing the cloak of another feeling.

So, just recognizing that you’re angry is a huge first step. Then...allow yourself to acknowledge what you are angry about, and what the nature of your anger is.


Sometimes, especially now during the pandemic when everyone is struggling with one thing or another, it can be easy to diminish our own problems and minimize our upset. We look at what others are dealing with and feel silly, selfish, or small minded for being upset about our own losses.


  • Perhaps you are angry that you had to cancel a baby shower or birthday party?
  • Maybe you’re angry that some of your family members aren’t taking safety precautions and are possibly putting loved ones at risk, while you’re bending over backwards to make it possible to see your grandparents safely one day soon?
  • Or, your anger might be towards a coworker who isn’t pulling their weight, or who lacks empathy for your situation?


Whatever it is you’re angry about, you are allowed to feel that anger! It is healthy and normal for you to feel angry about having to be in a situation that is uncomfortable, unfair, and out of your control.

Moving Forward...


Now that you’ve named what you’re angry about, can you sense the shape of your anger, and its nature?

  • Is it a spiky, jagged intense anger full of energy and vitriol, directed at another person you’d like to...?

  • Is it a slow simmering resentment, built over time and layered with months or years of disappointments, frustrations, and grudges?

  • Is it a sad anger, a violent anger, the anger of a child, a mature anger?


Getting clearer about the texture and type of anger you’re experiencing will help with the gist of the next questions on this card - how to get this anger out of your body.


  • How does this anger need and want to be expressed, and how can you get it out of your body to restore your peace?

  • Is this a hot jumpy anger that can be diffused by a run or kickboxing or some other intense physical activity?

  • Is this a long cooking anger with many different layers that need to be unpacked and healed in therapy?

  • Is this the anger of a child who needs physical comfort, that being hugged and crying hot tears into a loved one’s shoulder will relieve?


As you get to understand the anger you’re feeling, the answer of what this anger needs in order to be recognized, validated, and expressed will become clearer too. Remember, we want to allow anger to move out of your body not because there is anything bad about anger itself, but because holding on to it inside your body can cause illness, discomfort, and dysfunction in the long run.

BLOG POST SUMMARY:

  • We’re being asked to let go of so many things right now: Plans. Priorities. Support systems. Expectations. Some of us are actually grieving the passing of friends and family, often from afar. It’s hard to know how to let go under normal circumstances; but right now, it’s even harder.

  • Women are letting go so much in the current epidemic period: from marriages and relationships to careers, and everything in between.

  • We understand that this is a marathon and not a sprint, and that we need to find ways to continue to live and be ourselves within this situation that isn’t going to disappear soon, we also need to start reintegrating the things that bring us peace and pleasure.

  • If sadness, anger, disappointment, or melancholy bubble up, know that it is completely normal, and not in any way a sign of failure.

  • Whatever it is you’re angry about, you are allowed to feel that anger! It is healthy and normal for you to feel angry about having to be in a situation that is uncomfortable, unfair, and out of your control.

  • As you get to understand the anger you’re feeling, the answer of what this anger needs in order to be recognized, validated, and expressed will become clearer too. We want to allow anger to move out of your body not because there is anything bad about anger itself, but because holding on to it inside your body can cause illness, discomfort, and dysfunction in the long run.
Justine Haemmerli
Justine Haemmerli

Educator, Consultant, Founder of Girls Gone Happy


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