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Processing Grief in a Pandemic – 5 Stages

The current global situation amidst the coronavirus pandemic has left us all feeling a little unsettled. Despite the uneasy feelings, what we are going through emotionally and psychologically is not at all unusual. It is a grieving process and it is natural. Many world leaders and industry experts have described the global pandemic as unprecedented and it is exactly that. It is extraordinary.

None of us have experienced anything like this has happened before. This also means that we have nothing to compare it to. It is affecting those who lead our industries and those who pack our groceries. We all share the same fear and uncertainty of what the future holds and how our world will change.

The inability to place emotions, the feeling of being unsettled, and fear of the unknown are all similar to the process we go through when grieving the loss of a loved one. At this time, we are all grieving. We are grieving the loss of our once ample freedom, our loss of social connection and many are grieving more tangible losses such as jobs, people close to us and we have lost our ability to predict the future.

There is a subconscious process we go through when we experience any sort of loss. Well-known psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, described this process as dealing with the five stages of grief. Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Despair, and Acceptance are how we cope with any loss, and breaking these down will help us better understand what we’re all experiencing right now.

Denial

Denial can take place both emotionally and physically and happens when we reject that which is obvious. It’s a human survival instinct and helps us better cope with something that is too painful to accept from the onset. In the normal grieving process this could be “he/she can’t be gone” or “It was over quickly and they didn’t suffer”.

We experienced the denial phase of coronavirus in the early stages of the pandemic. Many people thought the situation was blown out of proportion or that it was an overreaction to a seasonal flu virus. The denial would then have shifted to thinking only the sick, elderly, and frail would be affected. “I’m healthy, I’ll be fine”.

Anger

The next stage of grieving is anger. This is our subconscious response to taking control of our thoughts and emotions. It is a coping mechanism for fighting off fear. Anger is our empowerment tool when we feel as though we have lost control and we are scared. In a normal grieving situation this would manifest in ‘why’ terms. “Why did he/she get into the car?” or “why did I not stop him/her?”

Anger during the pandemic will be the same urge to take control of emotions again. We feel this because the control we once had over our lives has been taken away. And, it was done in a very short time. “Why should I stay home?” or “Why didn’t China quarantine sooner?” Our urge for control in this phase also means we’ll be tempted to break the rules. Flouting the rules to visiting family or walking around when orders are to stay at home. Globally this is the phase where people take to the streets in protest against what’s going on.

Bargaining

The bargaining of grief is, understanding what has happened and how it happened but not wanting to let go of control. Simply put, we acknowledge the situation but we are not willing to let go of the idea that we still have control over what is happening around us. This is the stage in grieving where we become more aware of what life used to be. “We used to visit a special place together” or “today would have been our anniversary”.

The bargaining process of grieving in the Covid-19 era will be realising that restrictions have been put in place but we are still wanting to live like the way that we’ve become accustomed to. We realise there are restrictions but we want to control them. We feel the impact of how life used to be; remembering visits with family, celebrating a birthday together, or going for drinks after work. In this phase, we start to plan what we will do “once this is over”. “It will all be over in a month or so, and then we’ll be back to normal”.

Despair

During this stage of processing grief, the full reality of the situation has set in. We can no longer deny it. We’ll begin to feel hopeless as we lose our sense of empowerment and instead turn to feelings of helplessness. Subconsciously we realise denial, bargaining, and anger didn’t work. “They’re really gone” or “We won’t experience this together again”.

During this phase of grieving in the pandemic, we’ll start going over the worst-case scenarios. We’ll realise that for the foreseeable future this could be our new normal. We’ve completely lost control of our situation and we might not see hope for the future. “I can’t work” or “If I don’t earn money I’ll be homeless in a month”. Depression is a common emotion in this phase as the emotional energy expressed in the anger phase is turned inward.

Acceptance

In this phase, we completely accept the facts. This stage is reached when we stop fighting the reality of our situation. In a typical grieving situation we accept that a loved one is gone, that we have lost a job, or that a relationship has ended. We start planning for the future and we begin setting new goals. Acceptance of the situation means we are more at ease with our loss and we are ready to pick up from where we left off.

In the acceptance phase of grieving during a pandemic, we will have come to terms with what’s going on around us. Our thinking has changed; while we can’t change the virus we can practice good hygiene, we can stay at home to protect ourselves and others and we can be positive. We realise that working from home is possible, you start new projects and we reconnect with others. We find innovative ways to get things done. We start to enjoy the time we have with those around us, our spouse, partner, or children. We realise we are willing and able to work with what we have to and we start to make the best of our new normal.

While the five stages of grief are easily adaptable to situations we would ordinarily face, the global coronavirus pandemic has widened the emotional arena. Many of us will have to grief the loss of certain previous identities. We may need to mourn the loss of the role we play within our work team, our social circle, or our family dynamic. Aside from our role in society we will also miss the role we have in our routine and engaging with those who form part of our routines.

As we all do our best to navigate this global uncertainty it helps to be aware of these five stages of grief. Being aware of what stage we’re in helps us better understand the emotions related to each stage. This awareness also helps us better understand the emotions being experienced by those around us as they do their best to navigate this with their own stories and identity deaths.

Much love from the Live More Perfect Days Team!

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Thanks for taking the time to consume our Lifestyle Designer's Digest
​Till next time, here’s to living more perfect days!

​Much love,
Matt & Gareth

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