Coping with feelings of loss

Changes in our lives can create feelings of grief and loss

We spoke to Tegwen King, a psychologist with Scope’s Positive Behaviour Support Service team, to find out healthy ways we can respond to emotions of loss and grief.

Grief and COVID-19

We often think of loss as something we feel when someone we love passes away, but there are many other things can be losses too?

  • Changes to our jobs, relationships and what we do every day
  • Not being allowed to make our own choices, to go where we want and see who we want
  • Feeling worried about who we are and our place in the world.

Sound familiar? For many of us, this is grief. We are grieving the loss of our normal lives, and we don’t know when, and if, things will go back to normal.

For people with a disability, this can be more difficult. You might have trouble understanding, communicating, or expressing your grief.

If this is you, there are things you can do to get through this time and understand your feelings. And, if you are supporting someone with a disability, you can take steps to recognise and respond to how they are feeling.

Signs someone is experiencing grief and loss

So, how do you know if what you or someone else is going through is grief?

Responses to grief might include:

  • Feeling distracted or having trouble concentrating, struggling to remember things
  • Feelings like anger, guilt, hopelessness, and sadness
  • Changes in sleeping habits and appetite.

We all cope with loss in different ways. Some things you might find yourself saying or hearing could be:

  • Trying to reassure yourself – “It’s the same as the flu and hardly anyone dies from that”
  • Expressing anger or frustration – “I hate being around you all the time”
  • Expressing fear, sadness, or hopelessness – “I’m at high risk of getting sick, I’m going to die alone”.

What can you do?

If you think you are feeling grief, the first thing to know is that these are all normal ways to react to loss. Sometimes just understanding why you feel the way you do can make a big difference and help you to accept it.

Talk to someone

Is there someone you can talk to about how you are feeling? Telling someone else what you are going through can help, and they might have some good advice.

There are also helplines you can call for support:

Keep living your life

What do you normally do that you are really missing? Maybe there’s a different way you can do things, like an online gym workout or having a coffee catch up over a video call.

Can you think of a new skill you would like to learn? This can help you feel more like your old self and give you something new to do.

Supporting others

It’s important to give the person you support space to both think about their loss and create meaning in their life again. As people grieve, they can go back-and-forth between these two reactions. These are known as ‘loss-orientated’ and ‘restoration-orientated’ responses.

Loss-orientated responses

Loss-orientated responses could be crying, sadness, hopelessness, reflecting on the loss, and behavioural expressions related to the loss.

If someone expresses loss-orientated responses, things you can say might include:

  • “I can understand why you’re feeling [sad/angry/distracted], this is really normal at the moment. You’ve lost something that matters to you.”
  • “It’s normal to feel big emotions right now, lots of people are feeling them, everyone is feeling uncertain.”

Using their preferred communication method, try to give them realistic and helpful messages about what is happening. For example:

  • “We can’t control the pandemic, but we can help by staying home as much as we can and having good hygiene.”
  • “The fact that you can’t leave your house doesn’t mean life has stopped, you can work from home/connect with family and friends using a phone or internet/enjoy extra time to do things you haven’t had the chance to do.”
Download communication resources about the coronavirus here.

Restoration-orientated responses

Restoration-orientated responses could be learning new skills, trying new activities, forming new relationships, seeing new opportunities, and taking on new responsibilities.

If someone expresses restoration-orientated responses, things you could do might include:

  • What does the person like? Guided by this, sit down and brainstorm fun activities to do together.
  • Can they take on more responsibility? Think about their abilities and the tasks that need to be done. Could they do more with your support to guide them?
  • What have they always wanted to do? Talk about dreams and aspirations. Brainstorm how you can support them to achieve these now they have more time.