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Death Is Part of Our Daily Lives Now—Here's How to Live with That

*Pauses for virus-induced existential crisis*

counts. News sites publishing stories of people dying alone in hospital rooms. Social posts showing refrigerated morgue trucks. And in all likelihood, you’ve suffered loss that hits much closer to home. With the virus’s mortality toll far surpassing the six-figure mark, it’s now basically impossible to distance yourself from death.

When something feels both scary and unmanageable, we tend to spiral, fixating on the issue in an attempt to find a solution, says Emily Hu, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles. “Our brains are hardwired to keep trying to problem-solve unsolvable problems,” she explains. This is why so many of us are now stuck anxiously ruminating about death and survival, consumed by the idea of possible contagion around every corner or of having to say goodbye to our parents forever via FaceTime. That cycle can lead to all-out panic, says Hu, which makes focusing or even getting out of bed very, very hard.

“Our brains are hardwired to keep trying to problem-solve unsolvable problems.”

Some people deal by going full control freak (see: towers of hoarded toilet paper). Others might turn to weed, wine, or prescription drugs to try to get a break from impending death stress, says Nzinga Harrison, MD, chief medical officer at Eleanor Health, which runs outpatient addiction treatment facilities. Just as there are a zillion kinds of people, there are a zillion ways humans now cope with facing The End.

These are experts’ best tips for pushing through—and maybe even coming out stronger on the other side.

This content is imported from {embed-name}. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site. FOCUS ON SMALL THINGS When you’re overwhelmed by the sheer volume of COVID-19 deaths or by a more personal loss, use that as motivation to do your part. Wash your hands, wear a mask, support a COVID-19-related cause. “You can’t come up with a vaccine or convince everyone to follow safety guidelines,” says Hu. “But knowing that you’re doing something to mitigate the situation, no matter how small, can help reduce your anxiety and worry.”

MAKE FRIENDS WITH YOUR FEELS When a tough emotion strikes, like loss or fear, identify where it comes from and do your best to accept it without judgment, says Dr. Harrison. Then try to match it with a comforting one, like gratitude for what you do have. “I’m feeling scared that my grandma will die because she’s old and at risk” can become “I’m thankful we get to catch up every week on the phone.” Over time, Dr. Harrison says, this exercise reduces negative thoughts and their emotional strain.

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Black Sisterhood Is Helping Me Cope With All This PRIO BASIC NEEDS Similarly, zoning in on the habits you need in order to thrive, like developing a sleep schedule, getting outside, moving your body, eating a vegetable or two, and hydrating, can give you a sense of control over life, says Paraskevi Noulas, PsyD, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at New York University’s Langone Health. Once you’ve got that down, work to include more feel-good stuff (bathtub! missed you!) in your routine.

APPROVE YOUR PHONE’S PTO The news is A LOT rn—and even messages from family and friends checking in can feel overwhelming. Every once in a while, turn off your notifications, and don’t turn them back on until you’re calmer and more grounded.

GET REAL HELP Yes, it’s one hundred percent normal to feel anxious and depressed as you grieve family, friends, and total strangers for months on end. BUT just because it’s normal doesn’t mean you won’t gain anything from an assist, says Dr. Harrison. Seek help if (a) you’re thinking, feeling, or behaving differently and (b) those changes impact your life, work, relationships, or physical health in a negative way, says Noulas.

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How to Get (Good!) Cheap Therapy If You're Broke LOOK FORWARD An actual science-backed psychological phenomenon called post-traumatic growth suggests people can end up more resilient and closer to others after experiencing trauma, says Hu. “Being confronted by death can reorient us to what’s truly important, like our relationships, careers, or our own self-worth,” she says. “Just as there are people struggling during the pandemic, there are also people feeling more free, exploring new hobbies, and connecting more deeply with others.” Not to get all Hallmark on you, but there’s truly never been a better time to appreciate all the good shit in your life.

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