Ambiguous Loss- and what to do about it

Ambiguous Loss- and what to do about it.

Rebekah Laferriere MSW, RSW

This pandemic sucks.

It’s taking a toll on all of us mentally and emotionally. I’m missing my family.  I’m missing tea with my mom.  Missing normal playdates for my kids. The hard days feel like they roll into other hard days in hopes that we will all get through the other side. We will, but that’s not the point. We are all experiencing something called ambiguous loss and it is a struggle we don’t often name but have been suffering from.

Ambiguous loss can be described as “any loss that is unclear and lacks a resolution.” (See here for more:

This article, “Your ‘Surge Capacity’ Is Depleted — It’s Why You Feel Awful” written by Tara Haelle, and featured on Brené Brown’s podcast, talks a lot about what we have been feeling. One quote that sticks with me is a very simple summary of the state of things, “these were all things we were attached to and fond of, and they’re gone right now, so the loss is ambiguous. It’s not a death, but it’s a major, major loss. What we used to have has been taken away from us.” The pressure on us grows if we don’t process this loss.

This article shares some really good ways to manage and function during a pandemic. I’ve tried to synthesize a few key points below.

  1.   Accept that life is different right now- this does not mean giving up, but applying your energy elsewhere
  2.   Expect less from yourself- what do you need right now? What feels helpful?
  3.   Recognize the different aspects of grief- stages of grief do not occur linearly. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance as all pieces of loss. (Check out this article for more on that-
  4.   Experiment with “both/and thinking” as an alternative to binary thinking.  “I am feeling frustrated with this pandemic and grateful for the extra time with my family.” Humans are complicated creatures. We are able and allowed to hold many emotions (even contradictory ones) at the same time.  It can be freeing to accept this.
  5.   Look for activities, new and old, that continue to fulfill you.
  6.   Focus on maintaining and strengthening important relationships-  One of our most important protective factors is staying connected to people and our social supports. How are you able to do this in a safe way? I know texting and screens can exhaust us. Are you able to schedule a phone call or a socially distant porch chat with a friend?
  7.   Begin slowly building your resilience bank account- taking small steps will help to add up and build momentum. Every day is a new opportunity to try again. I recommend the “3 Task” strategy. Wherever you are on the motivation spectrum, give yourself 3 tasks to complete each day. Every day will look different, and if making your bed and taking care of your hygiene are on the list, that’s great. 
  8. Make a list of activities you enjoy or consider as “play.” Reflect on how often you have engaged in these activities over the past 2 weeks and see how often you can make time for these activities in the next 2 weeks. Cross-reference this list of play with your friends and family and see how often you can engage in those activities safely together. This is what’s going to help fill your cup and replenish your energy levels.

What small step are you going to take today?






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