Finding meaning in life after several losses experienced as a result of Covid-19

Belinda Bantham -- Wed, 05/20/2020 - 15:11

Finding meaning in life after several losses experienced as a result of Covid-19

All over the world the coronavirus pandemic has created a new, unknown and challenging reality that is accompanied by various significant losses. Such losses are far more than just the financial impact on individuals – they also include other losses that have an impact on our mental health.

Weddings are cancelled or postponed, we are unable to attend a loved one’s funeral, there are no Sunday lunches with family and friends or birthday celebrations with loved ones, no coffee at a local mall, and the list continues.

Sumari Nel, an intern counselling psychologist at the North-West University’s Centre for Health and Human Performance (CHHP), shares some valuable advice on coping with change.

“As everyone is hoping and trying to get through this time safely, one may start to experience an existential void. Viktor Frankl, well-known psychiatrist, neurologist and author of Man’s Search for Meaning, proposed that we are driven to seek meaning in life. Research indicates an association between having meaning in life and aspects of good mental health. Our meaning in life is often connected to our work, our relationships or our religion. However, as result of the current coronavirus pandemic and the various losses we experience, we will have to endure and adapt to the changes and therefore be driven to find new meaning in life as a method of coping,” Nel says.

Viktor Frankl also wrote that “when we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves”. Thus, as we encounter new and uncharted territory, it is important to find constructive alternative ways to effectively cope with our changing reality.

“Striving towards finding meaning in life is influenced by your perception of circumstances or events. This implies that it is not necessarily the specific situation or event that best describes the consequences felt. The manner in which we construe or perceive events or situations is more likely to have consequences that influence how we feel and behave, and we may experience physiological consequences. Emotions felt and behaviour exhibited are related to our interpretation of what is currently happening.

“This means that if we attached meaning to certain things and, as a result of the coronavirus, experienced loss or various losses, our thoughts are focused on specific information that we are trying to understand and make sense of. However, as a result of trying to cope with circumstances, we may not be aware of the impact of our thoughts, as some thoughts may occur automatically and lead to negative emotions or a change in behaviour. It is important that, while grieving for our losses, we make a conscious effort to be vigilant about our thoughts and evaluate the rationality of our thinking. Paying attention to the modification of incorrect interpretations throughout the process of having to find new meaning in your life under the current circumstances will lead to a greater probability of an increase in positive moods, behaving in a more functional way, and a decrease in uncomfortable physiological effects,” she says.

Although everyone is eager to go back to their normal lives as they know it, people need to consider that the current pandemic will most probably require us to endure and live with a “new normal”, different from the one we were used to. This will, according to Nel, depend largely on your awareness of your thoughts and how you choose to react to these losses, but also on how you attempt to find meaning through the present and also the life after this current situation.

“Embarking on this journey of finding new meaning is possible by first asking yourself what you can do with the time you have been given, and what is important and worthwhile. Although so many of what is currently happening is out of our control, we should make an effort to try and focus on what control we still have.”

Some practical ideas to implement can include:

  • Evaluate what is important to you and the reasons why it is so important to you.
  • Use a gratitude journal to write down daily blessings, no matter how small, as this may assist you in adding new meaning to things or people in your life.
  • Explore what gives you hope. Although you may grieve for your losses and experience a sense of hopelessness, it is important to make an effort to try and find at least one thing that can bring hope and motivate you to take a step forward.
  • Set daily goals, because it will help you focus on what you need and still can do, and will also reduce anxiety. Having a sense of what needs to be done for the day and being able to comply will provide a feeling of accomplishment.
  • Engage in meaningful and positive conversations. Social distancing does not imply social withdrawal. This implies that we can still make an effort to try and stay in contact with significant others.
  • Practice mindfulness in daily activities. We are so used to the rush of having to meet all our deadlines and to get everything done, that mindfulness almost “forces” us to take a deep breath, to focus our attention and all our senses on one thing at a time to fully enjoy it in the present moment. This enables you to ground yourself in an attempt to adapt to challenges.

Despite the uncertainty of our current circumstances, it is important that we take care of our mental health as well. “We have to ensure that we attempt to find some meaning despite all the loss, and that we try to adapt in the best possible way to what we are facing.”

Sumari Nel