Candice Voynick

Everyone deals with grief differently. Whether it stems from stress, sadness, loneliness, loss or disappointment, anyone can struggle with how to cope with their emotions. Even with strong support systems and healthy coping mechanisms, many people may feel they don’t have anyone to help them through hard times. The first step is to acknowledge how you’re feeling.

Raise your hand if you’ve been through a lot since March of 2020.

It can be difficult to measure the impact of 18 months of uncertainty and upheaval on a person’s mental health. Yet no matter where you are as we head into the second winter of the global COVID-19 pandemic, it’s a good opportunity to take stock of your own mental health and the health of those around you.

Many people aren’t comfortable experiencing grief and prefer to avoid or ignore emotions that are difficult to process. Without a proper outlet for these emotions, however, they can become susceptible to depression and other long-lasting issues.

It’s natural to feel sad, and vitally important that we allow ourselves the proper time and space to grieve what we’ve lost. For some, the loss has been apparent – the death of a loved one, whether to COVID-19 or otherwise.

But that doesn’t minimize the other losses that have piled up. Many young people have missed out on milestones like prom and graduation, and every student has had to miss many of the usual social activities. Couples have delayed or downsized weddings, families have cancelled holiday visits, and we’ve all adjusted to the new normal of smaller gatherings and social distancing.

That’s a lot to deal with, and the cumulative effect can be hard to see. But by naming and acknowledging that loss and allowing yourself to feel the sadness it brings, you can manage it. Experiencing the “roller coaster of emotions” ultimately brings emotional balance to your life.

As much as we may want to avoid our own feelings of sadness, it can be even more difficult to help others process their grief and loss.

When you know somebody is sad or struggling with a loss, it can be easy to make the well-intentioned offer “if you need anything, let me know.” However, by making specific time to spend with that person, acknowledging and talking about the loss, means so much more. You may find that sharing the burden helps you to better understand it.

It’s also important not to confuse sadness with depression. In popular culture, the word ‘depression’ is too often used to describe a natural sadness, and while they may have some of the same characteristics, it is important to distinguish that depression is a mental health issue that can manifest in many ways. There may be a slow onset of symptoms of depression: sleeping too much or not at all, lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities, significant weight gain or loss, feelings of hopelessness and guilt. Spotting these indicators in yourself or those around you is the first step to seeking help.

If you or someone you know are experiencing symptoms of depression or would just like to learn new coping skills on how to deal with your emotions, you may want to seek professional help. Just as you’d visit a doctor to deal with a physical health concern, the best treatment for a mental or emotional health concern is given by a mental health provider.

In the meantime, remember to give yourself time to grieve and experience your emotions. And as for the health of your loved ones, show up to let them know they’re cared for.

Candice Voynick is a licensed clinical social worker at Umpqua Health-Newton Creek.

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