From an early age we have learned to deal with sad, negative emotions incorrectly, and we end up storing this energy inside. An example of this would be a child coming home from school feeling sad about an argument with a friend and they’re given a biscuit by their mother ‘to feel better.’ In that moment, they’ve been given a message that feelings can be fixed with food. The feelings are now buried under the biscuit and the distraction. In times of crisis, we turn to our old and learned ideas to deal with them. 
Eating too much during lockdown

Our coping mechanisms help us feel safe 

Many of us were stuck in our homes for the better part of last year and now we're back again. We’re all grieving the loss of our normal lives, our safety, our health, and our families. So guess what? Many of us are turning to our old and learned ideas with how to deal with our feelings! 
Have you been hiding or burying your feelings under food or alcohol? Other common short-term energy relievers are exercise, fantasy (films, books), isolation, online shopping, throwing yourself into work, cleaning, gaming… While these actions aren’t harmful in themselves, they can become harmful if you ‘keep busy’ with them for the long term, as they’re distracting you from dealing with how you’re really feeling. 
 
According to this article by the Institute of Alcohol Studies, alcohol consumption in 2020 changed in the UK due in part to the fact that pubs were closed and people began drinking more at home. The statistics don't do us any favours. Perhaps it's time we try something else instead. 
Drinking too much during lockdown

Become aware of your coping mechanisms 

We’re all human, so we deal with discomfort any way we know how. We’re not telling you to feel bad about your behaviour – it’s important right now that we be patient and compassionate with ourselves. But it is helpful to become aware of what you are doing. Write down or share with us any behaviours that you’ve been using to ‘keep busy’. Now that you’ve recognised them, you may catch yourself next time (“hmm…am I really hungry for chocolate or am I actually just bored or feeling bad about something?”). You may still reach for the chocolate, but maybe you’ll think about telling someone you trust how you’re really feeling instead. The goal, of course, is to feel better – and chances are a chat with a friend will be more comforting than that chocolate (or gin). 

Keeping busy is a coping mechanism, too... 

We live in a society that praises hard work and looks down upon rest and relaxation. We've been told to keep ourselves busy when anything goes wrong. After a loss, you may consciously or unconsciously keep busy. You may throw yourself wholeheartedly into work or clean your house relentlessly, or spend every waking hour gardening, to distract yourself from your grief; anything to avoid thinking about that pain. You might become so busy that you collapse into bed at night relieved that you’ve survived another day and relieved that you’re so tired you sleep. 
 
As we go on experiencing other losses, we carry on being strong and busy, thinking that it’s the right thing to do. What you’re doing is ignoring and burying the pain, disrespecting your emotional needs, building grief upon grief, and storing up problems for later in life. In fact, what you are really doing is surviving on the surface of life instead of experiencing it to the full – good, bad, happy, or sad. 

Eating, drinking or keeping busy - time to pull up the weeds 

Think about grief as a garden full of weeds. You can keep cutting down the weeds, which will create short-term relief. Short term because the weeds will grow back. Or you can pull the weeds out of the ground and eliminate the problem altogether. We want you to have a predisposition to pulling up the weeds. That way, you won’t have lifelong battles with emotional substitutes, such as keeping busy. 

How we can help 

Grief UK is an education and training organisation that teaches The Grief Recovery Method, the only evidence-based grief programme globally that gives people the tools and skills to learn how to move beyond death, divorce, and other losses. 
 
Our eight-part programme is now available for hour-long, one-to-one sessions via Zoom with our Advanced Certified Grief Recovery Specialists, who can be found here
 
Once restrictions are lifted, we have specialists around the country who can offer face-to-face support for one-to-one and group sessions. 
 
We also have a book, The Grief Recovery Handbook, which can be purchased here. 
About the Author 
Maria Bailey
Maria Bailey is an Advanced Grief Recovery Specialist and looks after media relations for Grief Recovery UK. She has spent her career working in public relations. Maria now lives by the seaside in Devon with her family and dog, and is a school governor and preschool chairman. 

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