It’s safe to say that President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 experience has played out differently compared to many other people who’ve either contracted the virus themselves or lost a loved one to the disease.
Far too many people have been unable to be with or say goodbye to their loved ones during their final moments. Mandatory quarantines and lengthy recoveries have kept people sick with COVID-19 socially isolated for days, sometimes weeks on end. Many are struggling with crippling health-care costs from their treatments for the virus. Some didn’t get treatment at all.
Trump, on the other hand, has displayed an often incautious, seemingly cavalier approach toward contracting the potentially life-threatening disease. Over the weekend, he was able to scoot out of the hospital ― which he isn’t paying for ― to greet supporters, putting members of the Secret Service at risk. He was given experimental treatments that are not yet available for others.
He was also granted an early release from the hospital and has since downplayed the severity of the infection. Upon returning to the White House, he told the public not to let COVID-19 “dominate you” and “don’t be afraid of it.”
For those who’ve struggled with or lost someone to COVID-19, watching this unfold can be incredibly triggering and bring on intense feelings of anger, frustration and pain. Here are a few ways to cope if the news cycle is reigniting your grief:
1. Know what you’re feeling is natural
The first thing to do is accept that what you’re feeling is completely normal, said Natalia Skritskaya, a clinical psychologist and researcher with the Center for Complicated Grief at New York’s Columbia University.
Fighting an infectious disease or losing a loved one to it is very painful and tragic events at any point. But the emotional impact can be magnified during the pandemic due to the restrictions and quarantine guidelines keeping people apart. Throw Trump’s recent conduct into the mix and things can feel downright unfair and frustrating.
Recognize that whatever you’re feeling — be it anger, a sense of injustice, or confusion — is a natural human reaction to a tough situation.
2. Be kind to yourself
Self-compassion is a must right now, according to Skritskaya. Be gentle and understanding with yourself as you work through and heal from any tragedies the pandemic has brought your way.
“Try to treat yourself as you would treat a good friend,” Skritskaya said. Observe your feelings with mindfulness and patience. Engage in activities that bring you joy.
If you get caught up in certain thoughts or with news stories that are agitating you, ask yourself: Is focusing on this helping me heal or is it only causing more pain and misery? Allow and acknowledge these feelings, then question how helpful they are.
“If those thoughts are not helping you, then you can learn to turn your attention away from them,” said Mary-Frances O’Connor, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Arizona who specializes in grief.
3. Cut back on your media consumption
Brittany LeMonda, a senior neuropsychologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, suggested cutting back on media and social media.
Much of what’s being covered, whether it be Trump’s Secret Service joyride or cable news talking heads minimizing the virus, can reignite some of the pain people have dealt with during their own COVID-19 experiences and leave them feeling angry and isolated.
Research has found that media consumption during the pandemic has directly affected people’s stress and anxiety levels. Too much of it can be overwhelming and trigger more negative emotions than positive ones.
“Try to take some breaks from inundating with the media. We just have it at our fingertips and it can really be dangerous to have so much access 24/7, so really take some time to unplug,” LeMonda said.
If it’s too difficult to look away, try deleting the apps from your phone or turning off the notifications.
4. Open up to your friends and family
People don’t grieve well when they’re on their own, Skritskaya said. Coping with the loss of a loved one and the grief that follows is an extremely isolating and lonely experience ― even more so during a pandemic in which so many are physically distancing and unable to see family and friends due to their health risks.
Grief is best managed when we can share our stories and struggles with others. Skritskaya recommended finding a supportive person, perhaps a friend or family member, to open up to about how you feel. Talking about what’s bothering you with a confidant can make sadness, anger, and pain feel a little less intense, research shows.
5. Take action
Seeing Trump, who remains highly contagious, go out in public when millions of people have made sacrifices for their communities by not being with loved ones battling COVID-19 can be infuriating and spark an overwhelming amount of grief. O’Connor said channeling that energy into meaningful action can help you cope.
“This can mean helping others who are also hurting, or it can mean standing up and using our voice where we see injustice,” O’Connor said..
Engage with civic organizations and in collective action, volunteer, contribute to political campaigns or issues, and make a plan to vote.
6. Focus on what you can control, not on what you can’t
So much of the pandemic has been completely out of our control, whether it be Trump’s attitude about his own infection or watching a loved one suffer with the disease.
“The best advice I have is to really focus on what is in our control. We can control our behavior, our actions, our reactions,” LeMonda said.
Instead of focusing on what you could have done differently, think about all the things you’ve been able to do for yourself or your loved ones. If it helps, write down a list of the items you have a say in right now. And remember: The precautions you may have had to take for your safety were for good reason.
“With grief, we try to help people think about what they can change and what they cannot change and not spend a lot of energy or misdirect their energy into something that they cannot change and instead focus on things that they could,” Skritskaya said.
7. Know you’re not alone
Recognize that while you may feel completely isolated in your experience, you’re not. Other people may not fully understand what you’re going through, but they do care. And everyone is struggling with the pandemic in one way or another.
Data suggests that for every person who dies of COVID-19, they leave behind nine family members. That means nearly 2 million people theoretically have experienced a death of a close relative due to the disease, O’Connor said. If it helps, look for virtual support groups with people going through the same thing or reach out to a mental health professional.
There is no ignoring the widespread devastation and pain this virus has inflicted on so many. “People across the globe are affected, everybody knows what this is and their lives are limited or upended by this event,” Skritskaya said. “The whole of humankind is trying to grapple with this virus.”
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