The one-year anniversary of the pandemic

And why it's good for your mental health to observe it

Written by Abby Lee Hood

For many in the U.S. and in other countries, March marks the one-year anniversary of when the COVID-19 lockdown got real. While the first coronavirus cases were reported in the United States in January of 2020, most states and cities introduced lockdowns in March as the US became the world leader in confirmed cases that month.

Since then, many of us have spent nearly all our time inside, social distancing from friends and family and reducing social interaction. Pandemic depression has been singularly stressful, lonely, and difficult. You’ve probably also heard people talk about hitting a “pandemic wall.”

That’s why we need to take this anniversary seriously and allow ourselves the space to grieve or remember the one-year mark however we best see fit. Acknowledging mental health struggles and vulnerability is the best way to cope with everything we’re feeling, so we interviewed Michelle Ruth, a Humanistic Integrative counsellor (MBACP) based in London, about how to take a beat, pause, and reflect in order to move forward.

As of now, we'll have spent a year inside more or less. Is that anniversary significant to people? Do you think we're thinking about it?

For a few weeks now people have been talking about the fact that it’s almost been a year since the start of the pandemic. So whilst I don’t think this milestone will come as a big surprise for people, I think there is a general feeling out there of reflecting on the year and thinking about starting to process what it has meant to us individually and collectively. 

How can we process feeling like we've "lost" a year of our lives? 

The most significant life milestones haven’t been marked in the usual way this year: births, weddings, birthdays, new jobs, deaths, annual holidays, religious festivals etc. so time has started to take on a new meaning. 

With each milestone we have lost to the pandemic, we have all had to grieve and celebrate very differently. Whether we processed it at the time or not, we will all feel something about how that milestone was experienced in the past year, and that warrants its own space to be processed. 

There is no right way to grieve, but setting aside some time to reflect on what these ‘lost moments’ of the past year has taken or even given you, is probably a good place to start. 

What if we're processing grief for a loved one? Is that a special kind of grieving process because of COVID?

Processing grief during the pandemic is a lot harder. We are no longer allowed to gather and grieve collectively, and rituals have had to be modified e.g. funerals and religious ceremonies, wakes, gathering at the home of the mourners etc. 

We often rely on the collective strength of gatherings to help us in the period immediately after someone has died, and when that is taken away it may feel even more isolating. There are of course many ways we have learnt to adapt e.g. Zoom funerals, but those experiencing the loss may be also experiencing the additional loss of the absence of these rituals, which would ordinarily support them through the grieving process. 

What are some healthy ways we can take a beat to acknowledge how hard the last year has been?

It’s a very individual thing and you have to find what works for you, but talking about it with those close to you can be the first step in acknowledging how hard it has been. 

Having an honest conversation about the ups and downs of the last year can be a really cathartic way to begin to process your year, and can help bring you closer by having this shared experience. 

You could consider finding a safe and comfortable way to celebrate that you’ve gotten this far despite the challenges. How can you really congratulate yourself and those close to you for making it this far? Finding a way to do this may bring some welcome joy and remind you how well you’ve done this year.

How can we continue to handle the ambiguity and uncertainty moving forward?

This past year has taught us how resilient and capable we are. Even when we’ve had to dig really deep, we have handled the unimaginable. We need to keep reminding ourselves that we’ve done it before, so we can do it again. 

We need to find ways to celebrate the good things when they come into our lives, however small. For some people that may be managing to get dressed, for some, getting outside to catch a glimpse of daylight will make the world of difference. These small wins may be all we have at the moment so we should remember to pat ourselves on the back and say “well done” for doing them, as opposed to being down on ourselves for the things we haven’t. 

Finally, it’s important to share how you’re feeling. Talking honestly and openly with people you trust and feel safe with can really help ground you if you’re feeling wobbly. Living in a pandemic is far from easy, so don’t feel pressure to put on a brave face. 

Some people prefer journaling, or finding creative ways to express themselves. Whatever works for you, it’s important to find a way to release and process your feelings and ask for help if you’re really struggling. 

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