COVID-19 has impacted everyone’s lives, leaving us with a deep sense of grief as we grapple with the loss of loved ones, jobs, freedom, and many other sources of stability and joy. The Jewish Family & Children’s Services of Southern Arizona (JFCS) domestic violence prevention program, LEAH (Let’s End Abusive Households), hosted Dr. Marcela Kepic for a workshop called “Healthy Relationships inside the Household: Surviving to Thriving.” During the workshop, she shared research and perspectives on grief, loss, relationships, and coping with COVID-19. Dr. Marcela Kepic is an Associate Professor of Practice at the University of Arizona and some of her research areas include post-traumatic growth, life satisfaction, and wellness of those who experience loss and grief. Dr. Kepic notes that for each of us, COVID-19 has ruptured our support systems, and this has left many of us in a heightened mental state that makes it impossible to lead a happy, fulfilling life.
In order to move forward, we need to address our grief. Dr. Kepic showed that processing grief is non-linear, with good days and bad, that moves us towards healing. The grief we have all felt as we deal with the myriad losses caused by the pandemic results in not only changes in how we feel, but also in how we relate to other people. For some, the stress and sadness has led to difficulties in relationships.
“We are social creatures and we learn and thrive through relationships. Since there is already identified COVID-19 impacts on mental health, obviously relationships are impacted as well,” said Dr. Kepic. “When under a great amount of stress, or anxiety, and depression we relate to others differently, especially when cooped up in one household for an extended period with minimal or no access to support or outlets we had before. Thus, understanding that stress is impacting our well being and therefore how we relate to others in time of stress is a crucial conversation we need to have so that we can take steps to deal effectively with stress and hopefully our relationship won’t suffer but rather we will find support in our relationships.”
By recognizing how the grief and isolation of COVID-19 affects our wellbeing and relationships, we can begin to process and cope with these feelings and use our relationships as a source of support rather than conflict.
Dr. Kepic noted that there are techniques we can use to communicate effectively with our partners, children, and other household members. One major factor in this is moving our state of mind from survival mode into a calm space. During the pandemic, our usual coping mechanisms, such as going to the gym or spending time with loved ones, became impossible. For many in the Jewish community, when COVID-19 disrupted access to in-person services it led to feelings of isolation. Dr. Kepic suggested practicing relaxation techniques to help improve your state of mind and ability to communicate effectively. Some of these techniques include breathing and scanning the body for tension, as well as calming activities such as reading or prayer.
The negative impacts of COVID-19 on mental health were felt quickly and are likely going to continue to affect us long-term. The LEAH workshop with Dr. Kepic was optimistic on the possibilities for improving our own wellbeing and the wellbeing of our households. With open discussions and the proper tools, we can begin to move beyond COVID-19.