How to Cope with Missing People

missing peopleOne of the hardest things about living through a pandemic is being separated from people we love and the activities we used to share. Between social distancing, travel restrictions, and in some cases the need to quarantine, we are all grappling with new levels of isolation. I’ve written a lot about coping with loneliness during a pandemic, but here I want to address something more specific: the feeling of missing. Missing people or parts of your life on a lasting level can cause you to feel stress, grief, and depression. Here, I share four practices to help you cope with your missing feelings.

1. Reach out 

The first suggestion I have is also the most obvious, and that is to keep keeping in touch with anyone and everyone you miss. The extra step of scheduling a FaceTime or Zoom session should not be a barrier to making contact. Seeing a loved one’s face and hearing their voice holds a unique power to uplift us. If you’re feeling burnt out about virtual communication, try to change things up. Get creative about the activity you will share or the time you will connect: have lunch together, keep the camera rolling while you cook dinner, play a game, or plan to watch the same movie at the same time. 

One valuable way to keep feeling connected and to fully experience the depth and rewards of a given relationship is to ask real questions about how the person is feeling and how aspects of their lives are going. The more personal and open the exchange is, the closer you will feel to the person, even from a distance. It’s easy to let time pass and lose touch, but giving priority to these conversations can keep your relationships alive and well, while igniting all the parts of yourself that are enhanced by your friendships.

2. Honor the Feeling

At this moment, there is an understandable drive to “keep calm and carry on.” However, when it comes to your emotions, ignoring and repressing isn’t always the best policy. When you fail to acknowledge or fully feel a feeling, it can become stuck, causing you to be more anxious or depressed. These untended feelings can come spilling out into your life through petty arguments or overwhelmed reactions. 

Instead, you should give yourself time to feel the sadness of missing. You can honor the feeling by allowing yourself to feel it fully. When you let yourself experience a primary emotion like sadness, it tends to move through you, passing like a wave. In its wake, you can actually feel more enlivened and connected to yourself. When you open yourself up to feeling sadness, you actually open yourself up to all of your emotions, including joy. Even anger can be adaptive when you allow yourself to feel it directly. Why wouldn’t you be furious at a painful circumstance that’s limiting or hurting you? 

Finding healthy adaptive ways to connect to and feel these feelings, can make you feel more vital and enhance your appreciation for the joys and pleasures you’re still able to experience in your life. Talking to a therapist, speaking openly to a partner or close friend, journaling, or just giving yourself the time and space to cry (or yell) in a safe environment can help you feel relief, and you’ll actually be far better able to keep calm and carry on.

3. Don’t listen to your critical inner voice

When challenges arise that are outside your control, it’s tempting to get dejected and feel demoralized, cynical, or hopeless. In these moments, you may not be aware of a “critical inner voice” at work that capitalizes on your misfortunes. This “voice” may encourage you to be isolated by feeding you thoughts like, “Don’t bother calling your friend today. You’re too tired anyway.” It may put you down with thoughts like, “No one misses you. It doesn’t make a difference to them that they can’t see you.” It may fill your head with warnings like, “You’ll never feel okay again. You’re on your own.”

The thing to remember is we are all dealing with wild circumstances and isolation, but that voice is not your friend. It is a carefully crafted internal enemy born out of negative attitudes to which you’ve been exposed throughout your development.Your critical inner voice is like a cruel coach, judging and berating you, offering bad advice, and telling you things won’t get better. Its very purpose is to tear you down and limit you. Getting to know this critic during this time is crucial, because you must not allow it to fill the silence or take over your point of view.

When you experience a vulnerability such as missing someone, that voice can be cruel. It may push you to avoid connecting. It may tell you others don’t care. It may even criticize you to a point where you feel like a burden. Recognizing and actively ignoring your inner voice can free you to experience your life as your real self no matter what the circumstances. That is why I tell all of the people I work with to use this time to familiarize yourself with your inner critic, get to know how it operates and when it gets louder. Remind yourself you have no use for it and challenge it on every level. You can do this by responding to yourself with compassion, treating yourself the way you would a good friend, answering back to the voice with a more realistic statement, and, most importantly, by not acting on its directives.

4. Practice mindfulness

A mindfulness practice has been shown to help people healing from loss and dealing with grief. So many of us are grieving the loss of time with loved ones. By embracing mindfulness, you acknowledge your thoughts and feelings without judgment, and you let them pass like clouds over a mountaintop. Most of us have minds racing in this uncertain time. Taking time to sit and focus on your breath or to take a mindful walk can help center and reconnect you to yourself. You’ll then be far better able to connect to others and to honor your feelings of missing them.

Each of us can be more accepting of the present moment rather than obsessing over the past or catastrophizing over the future. Mindfulness helps you to not get too caught up in a moment that is not actually happening. In other words, you can stay connected to the moment you’re experiencing, be that a sense of peace within yourself, a pleasure you take from something sensory, the warm laugh of a friend, a kind interaction with your partner, or a precious look from your child. 

By living fully in the moment, you won’t always experience joy. You may also feel the sadness of missing. Yet, giving yourself the space and permission to feel whatever comes up, to allow it to move through you, and to continually check in with yourself, you actually nurture the most important connection you have, the connection to yourself. By staying in touch with who you are and what gives your life meaning, you can make choices that help you not just reach out to those you miss but to share meaningful interactions that add to your life and help heal your sense of missing. 

About the Author

Lisa Firestone, Ph.D. Dr. Lisa Firestone is the Director of Research and Education at The Glendon Association. An accomplished and much requested lecturer, Dr. Firestone speaks at national and international conferences in the areas of couple relations, parenting, and suicide and violence prevention. Dr. Firestone has published numerous professional articles, and most recently was the co-author of Sex and Love in Intimate Relationships (APA Books, 2006), Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice (New Harbinger, 2002), Creating a Life of Meaning and Compassion: The Wisdom of Psychotherapy (APA Books, 2003) and The Self Under Siege (Routledge, 2012). Follow Dr. Firestone on Twitter or Google.

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