Grieving 2020. What did you lose this year?

2020 has been a stressful year for most of us. Since March, the pandemic has changed all our lives in one way or another. Not surprisingly, there has been a big toll on our collective mental health. The Census Bureau reported that this year more than a third of Americans are reporting symptoms of clinical depression or anxiety (35%). Mental Health America of Dallas reported a 71% increase in anxiety screenings. Distress calls to the federal hotline for the Mental Health Services Administration were up 1000% compared to last year. One big contributing factor to all of this anxiety, depression, and general malaise is grief.

Those Feelings Could Be Grief

Any time we experience a big change, we experience grief for the loss of the way things were. Grief is the mix of feelings that happens whenever we lose something important to us. Grief may include shock, sadness, fear, guilt, anger, panic, relief, feeling disconnected, “stuck,” or having difficulty focusing. We most often associate grief with losing a loved one, but the same feelings can happen if you lose anything important to you, for example a friend, a partner, a pregnancy, a job, a home, or plans you had for the future. Even if a change is a “good change” such as moving, starting a new job, or having a baby, it’s normal to experience grief for the things you have to leave behind and the life you had before.

Grief and 2020

The pandemic has unfortunately brought with it a lot of loss. Some people have been through the worst loss that there is, losing a loved one. Not being able to be physically close to those who are ill or those who might comfort us has made it all the more difficult. Others lost their jobs, livelihoods, or sense of financial security. Losing a job can affect your sense of safety if you’re concerned about how to survive, as well as your sense of identity, self-worth, and feeling of belonging in society.

Ambiguous Loss

“Ambiguous loss” is the term used to describe the losses that feel harder to define. Most everyone at some point this year lost their daily routines, structure, and basic predictability of their lives. Many may have lost a sense of safety and stability. We’ve lost connection in many cases, family and social events, seeing friends and co-workers, celebrations like parades and festivals, milestones like graduations, weddings, and birthday parties, and hobbies like traveling, dancing, sports and live music. There may also be a sense of isolation brought on by increased difficulty of gathering with family and friends.

In talking to people about what they’ve lost this year, here’s some of the things I’ve heard:

I’ve lost…

  • Sitting and working in my favorite coffee shop

  • Chatting with my co-workers in person

  • My husband being able to go to my medical appointments with me