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5 Survivor Strategies to Navigate Pandemic Grief

By Jodi Cohen

Giant red star-shaped balloons with the word 'believe' float against a backdrop of autumn trees and an overcast sky, spreading a message of hope and magic.

I was scrolling through photos of Thanksgiving past, mourning the life that I no longer get to live.

For the past 20 years, I have spent the week of Thanksgiving in New York City, wandering through stores and museums, catching up with family and friends, revisiting favorite restaurants and enjoying the latest Broadway shows.

This year, my Thanksgiving tradition has been cancelled.  My sister-in-law who in the past has graciously hosted over 40 members of our extended in family into her beautiful home has opted to take this year off.  Broadway has shut down and many restaurants and stores are operating at limited capacity.  My life has changed for reasons outside of my control.  I am trying to adjust to this “new normal” while also mourning the life I no longer get to live.

It reminds me of how I dealt with my grief over Max.

Mourning the life I no longer get to live.

And at the same time, trying to adjust to and make the best of my new life.

It is hard to let go of things that you love and create a new path for yourself.

It occurred to me that my 2 years of learning to navigate this paradox – mourning what was lost while trying to make the best of what remains – might be helpful to others.

In my early days of grief, I was desperately seeking a positive role model – someone else who navigated a devastating blow and somehow made it out the other side I needed to know that it was possible to survive something like the loss of a child.  If I could find at least one person who suffered as I was suffering and went on to live a life that included happiness and joy, then I could know that was possible for me as well. 

I was searching for hope.

And I found it.

Not easily.

But through two years of trial and error.

I choose to openly embrace any strategy or modality that might help me feel less anxious, overwhelmed or sad.

Some were an epic fail and made me feel worse.

Others were a net neutral and really didn’t same to make a difference one way or another.

And a select, but powerful, few felt like a win.

Whenever I tried these strategies, I always felt better.

My daughter and I always share our “Rose (highlight of the day), Bud (what we are looking forward to the next day), Thorn (low point of the day)” before bed.  I started to notice the days when I didn’t have an obvious thorn and attempt to reverse engineer what I had done right on those days so I could do it more often.

A clear pattern started to develop.  I started to lean in to the things that brought me joy and avoid the things that made me feel worse.  Every day, I would very intentionally schedule time for joy, which for me included everything from simple indulgences like my morning coffee and daily yoga practice to scheduled phone calls with friends who always made me laugh or let me cry.

Today, I want to share my favorite strategies for navigating grief in the hope that it might help you navigate your own feelings of uncertainty, helplessness and exhaustion during this “new normal” holiday season.


1. Shift into Parasympathetic

Through the intensity of this journey, I clearly discovered what helps and what seems to make transitions and challenges more challenging.  In a nutshell, the ability to TURN ON your parasympathetic nervous system and access your higher cognitive function ALWAYS HELPS!

Your survival “fight or flight” response limits rational thought.  In order to survive, you need to act fast and make very quick decisions.  The ability to pause, ponder and look at a problem from a variety of different perspectives is therefore not accessible to you when you are stuck in the sympathetic “fight or flight” state.  You therefore need to switch gears into the parasympathetic state in order to unlock your ability to access your ability to think rationally and calm your system. No matter how low or overwhelmed I am feeling, dabbing a drop of Parasympathetic® blend behind my earlobe ALWAYS lifts me up.  I think of it as my personal reset button.

When you are able to calm down and drop into the parasympathetic state, you can access better problem solving skills and think more clearly. Apply the Parasympathetic® blend behind your earlobe on your mastoid bone to help calm your nervous system.

2. Set Clear Boundaries

As we seek to connect with loved ones this holiday season, we might have to navigate potentially conflicting perspectives on how we choose to manage our own personal health.  One of my friends likes to note that “my rights end where hers begin”.  That very much feels like the theme of this holiday season and I strongly encourage you to tap into your own boundaries and intuition on what compromises you are comfortable making to meet the demands of others and what boundaries you need to keep in place.

Setting clear boundaries not only with what behavioral modifications you are willing to embrace, but also in terms of information that you are willing to allow into your space, either through the media or even conflicting views in your own family.  I have found that the more I am able to establish clear information boundaries and drown out the background noise, the better able I am to access my own intuition.

Strong boundaries can also help prevent any altercations over differences in opinions and avoid any interactions that involve blame, shame, guilt or other forms of manipulation.  You do not need to be anyone else’s punching bag or set yourself on fire to keep others warm. You have to prioritize your own time and emotional energy and allow yourself to take a break.

Small Intestine Support™ is a powerful blend for supporting healthy boundaries.  On the physical level, your small intestine plays a critical role in your digestion process, absorbing and assimilating key nutrients while preventing harmful pathogens and toxins from entering the body. On an emotional level, the small intestine plays a similarly discerning role with emotions, helping to understand experiences and determine healthy and appropriate relationships and boundaries. It is also an area where we can hold deep childhood scars of rejection, abandonment or abuse; negative thoughts fueled by feelings of lack of self-worth, low self‐esteem, loneliness, neglect and anxieties about survival and success.

Small Intestine Support™ blend supports the healthy functioning of the small intestine as it sorts and transforms food, feelings and ideas into useful ingredients for the body/mind. It also helps correct imbalances where you are overly in tune with other’s criticism, feelings or opinions at the expense of your own.


3. Assume Personal Responsibility

The flip side of boundaries is choosing to take responsibility for your actions and choices. The word “Responsibility” breaks down to “response” and “ability” or “the ability to choose your response” to external circumstances. When you are able to accept responsibility for your circumstances, you are better able to change your circumstances. I believe this is because when you are able to release thought patterns that make you feel disempowered like the victim mentality, blame, judgment or virtue signaling, you allow yourself the mental and emotional space to change your circumstances.

Personal responsibility gives you clarity over what part of a situation is your responsibility that you need to carry and what responsibility falls to others. Both blaming others and staying stuck in the role of victim or taking responsibility for other people’s actions can negatively impact your health.   They are both are forms of avoidance, keeping us stuck in the role of victim, surrounded by negative emotions including anger, fear, resentment, shame, guilt which can contribute to physical and mental health issues, including anxiety and depression.

Some oils to help you release grief, anger and fear so you can step into personal responsibility include Lung Support™ to release grief, Liver Support™ to release anger and Kidney Support™ to release fear.

Lung Support™ – According to Chinese medicine, feelings of grief and loss are stored in your lungs where they can obstruct ability of your lungs to accept and relinquish, impeding their function of “taking in” and “letting go” of oxygen and feelings. Grief that remains unresolved can become chronic and create disharmony in the lungs, weakening the lung’s function of circulating oxygen around the body. Lung Support™ can help us release these feelings of loss and support our ability to transport oxygen from the atmosphere into the capillaries so they can oxygenate blood – and eliminate carbon dioxide from the bloodstream into the atmosphere. Apply 2- 3 drops over the lungs, allowing yourself to deeply exhale any grief as you apply the blend. Read More about Essential Oils for Grief HERE.

Liver Support™ – Anger that we don’t process and release can get stored in your liver, according to Chinese medicine.  I believe anger can be the most intense and the most damaging of all the repressed emotions, because of its intensity.  The more we try to suppress it, the more it rears its ugly head in ways that can undermine our health, our growth and our personal relationships. Liver Support™ helps support the release of anger, including frequent irritation, impatience, resentment or frustration, being critical of yourself or others, control issues, an inability to express your feelings, feelings of not feeling heard, not feeling loved, not being recognized or appreciated. Just place the bottle under your nose and breathe deeply, fully inhaling the oil for 3 – 7 breaths. It helps you breathe into and work through the emotion. You can also apply it over the liver or around the ankles as this is often an area where we hold resistance to moving forward in life. Start at the back of the ankle and apply under the ankle bone around to the front and back under the other ankle bone, all while allowing yourself to release challenging emotions.

4. Practice Gratitude

Thanksgiving is a holiday dedicated to gratitude and nothing shifts your energy as quickly as gratitude.  When you are focused on gratitude, appreciating all the positive things your life, you shift your focus away from whatever is upsetting you.  It is the best mental pivot I have found. And the practice of starting you day with gratitude practice and ending your day by sharing what you are grateful for helps you maintain a positive mental, physical and emotional state.

It’s not surprising that research finds that people who practice gratitude on a regular basis experience more positive emotions, feel more alive, and express more compassion and kindness to others. An NIH study correlated a focus on gratitude with increased blood flow to the hypothalamus and a reduction in the stress hormone cortisol.

Gratitude, or thankful appreciation, helps us pivot out of pandemic grief and free up our energy to focus on positive things in our life.

Heart™ helps amplify feelings of love and gratitude, helping to increase the amount of love in your life. Every moment of our life we have the opportunity to see the glass as half empty or half full. How we envision each moment helps paint a picture of our actual experience, so why not choose to be happy, to think of and move toward things that bring us joy.   Essential oils are a wonderful tool for cementing in that positive frequency.  Apply 2-3 drops of Heart™ directly over the heart (left side of chest). During times of intense stress and fatigue, use as often as is needed (every 20 -30 minutes).  During times of normal stress, use 2-3 times daily to calm and uplift the heart and the body.

Rose™  – Applying Rose™ over my heart was the fastest way to calm an grief tidal wave.  It immediately helped me feel better and more calm. Research by Noble prize-winning noble laureate Linda Buck shows that rose essential oil can counteract your brain’s response to fear. Her research found that smelling rose essential oil in the presence of predator odors (or other fear stimulus) can suppress your brain’s stress responses and hormonal signals.


5. Embrace Forgiveness

A critical step in processing grief is the practice of forgiveness, both of yourself and others. Forgiveness begins with self compassion and essential oils are amazing tools for self nurture and care.

Essential oils, with their ability to travel directly to the amygdala, the emotional control center of the brain, can help to release any anger and foster feelings of forgiveness in and even more powerful way.

For example, essential oils can help amplify a forgiveness practice as you can breathe in the oils and release all past hurts and disappointment as you exhale.  I have read that inhaling an oil through the nose, then forcefully exhaling through the mouth allows the body to best release emotions that no longer serve.

I share more about forgiveness strategies here.

I hope these oils help you navigate through your own pandemic grief so you might enjoy your holiday season!


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About The Author

Jodi Cohen

Jodi Sternoff Cohen is the founder of Vibrant Blue Oils. An author, speaker, nutritional therapist, and a leading international authority on essential oils, Jodi has helped over 50,000 individuals support their health with essential oils.