Since January, news of the COVID-19 outbreak has not only been flooding our TV screens, social media, and newspapers but also in the way we live our lives. With over 200,000 deaths in the U.S. mainland and over a million worldwide, this pandemic has been huge test for everyone in terms of managing emotions. The feeling of uncertainty, anxiety and panic during this time can still be managed, though.
Saipan-born Asia Hilario, who is a crisis counselor for CrisisTextLine in San Francisco, California, said that emotional instability comes from the emotional pain of grief. Citing a Harvard study she recently read, Hilario said it spoke about grief and the five stages relating to the pandemic, that grief doesn’t just come in the form of losing someone. It also comes in the form of losing normalcy—losing our routines, losing our freedom to go outside and to go certain places to travel, etc., and even losing a sense of safety.
“I talked about this in a recent podcast interview that not a lot of people would have considered ‘grief’ as the emotion they were feeling, especially ones that were fortunate enough not to lose anyone to COVID,” she said.
The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. And most people’s reaction to the pandemic mirrors those five stages. “Of course it is advised that we should take our time in every stage of grief, but acceptance is where more inner peace will be found—accepting that this is the norm now and creating new routines to fit this norm,” she added.
According to Hilario, there are ways to battle grief and the feeling of uncertainty and these help deal with these emotions. “Find balance in the things you’re thinking. If you feel the worst image taking shape, make yourself think of the best image. Make yourself come into the present as much as you can. Since we cannot predict the future and we stress focusing on the past and what could have been, we must make it a habit to actively live in the present and we can do this by meditating and practicing mindfulness.”
“We should let go of what we can’t control. What your neighbor is doing is out of your control. What is in your control is staying six feet away from them and washing your hands. Focus on what we can control. Lastly, stock up on compassion—be kind, help one another out and spread encouragement and positivity at any opportunity because there’s a high probability it will be multiplied,” she said.
Hilario also said that there is power in naming your emotions. “When you name an emotion, it helps you feel what’s inside of you. When you name your emotions, you acknowledge them and they can move through you. Trying to fight our feelings often leads to more suffering, so we have to acknowledge them, then feel them, then gently let them go. There’s no way around pain but through it,” she said.
Hilario cited Jennifer Rollin in her article “3 Reasons to Let Yourself Feel Your Emotions,” which states that hurt, frustration, pain, sadness, and anger are all natural and healthy parts of the human experience “so when we try to suppress these emotions, we are unable to thrive and feel other emotions like joy, happiness, etc. Part of having a full life is feeling all of your emotions, both pleasant and unpleasant,” she added.
To keep and maintain a strong heart and mind, Hilario urged people to practice gratitude every single day. “I write down three things I’m grateful for in a journal every single day and there are many benefits of writing in a gratitude journal—it lower stress levels, you feel calm at night and you gain a new perspective of what is important to you and what you truly appreciate in your life,” she said. “By noting what you are grateful for, you will gain clarity of what you want to have more of in your life, and what you can cut from your life and helps you focus on what really matters.”
Hilario advocates for women empowerment, mental health, and wellness and was named “Woman of the Year” in 2019 by an organization called “Women on the Rise.”