Naming it: grief is what you are feeling during coronavirus (COVID-19)

While there is a lot of talk out there about ‘coronavirus anxiety’, it is important to acknowledge that we are also experiencing grief and loss daily at present.

Loss of loved ones, loss of jobs and income, loss of events and gatherings, loss of social contact and loss of various things we can no longer get at the local shops.

Grief is not a competition

And, importantly, there is no comparison or hierarchy of pain in all of this – pain is pain. “Suffering shouldn’t be ranked, because pain is not a contest. I believe, too, that there’s no hierarchy of grief,’ says US based psychotherapist and writer Lori Gottlieb*. “When we rank our losses, when we validate some and minimise others, many people are left alone to grieve what then become their silent losses.”

Instead, the grief caused by the coronavirus isn’t just personal, it is a communal grief, a collective experience of the world not being as we know it, anymore.

Coronavirus and the stages of grief

Currently, most of us are grappling with the stages of grief**: namely denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – in no particular order:

Denial: As the schools closed and work dried up, and your dentist shut shop, we would’ve experienced denial, as in “This can’t be happening, I knew it was overseas but is it really happening here, too?” or “It’s just a flu”.

Anger might look like “I was really looking forward to that break and now I can’t go” or “I can’t get enough of what I need at the shops because panic buyers have been at it again.”

Bargaining is: “Ok, so we just need to do this social distancing thing and keep washing our hands, and we’ll be good, right?”

Sadness might be felt when we think about how long this will last, or how we will manage on so many levels and

Acceptance is when we come to terms with the new rules and the changes we need to make to our daily routines, ie. “I can move my business online.”

Strategies that can help:

According to trauma specialist Bessel van der Kolk***, the application of some aspects of trauma therapy can help us: “We need to organise our interior lives because our exterior structures have disappeared.”

Grief experts agree. The power, it seems, lies within acceptance coupled with agency. In other words, a focus on what we CAN do, ie. “I can wash my hands and I can keep a safe distance from others.” “I can make sure to move my body every day.”

Another strategy is self-compassion – “I feel a bit flat today, I shouldn’t feel that because John next door lost his job and I still have mine, so he definitely has it worse”. Instead try “I feel a bit flat today, I didn’t sleep too well last night as I’ve been feeling worried about things, so that’s ok.”

Watch yourself for any tendencies towards catastrophising/thinking the worst and bring yourself gently back to the present. Remember, thoughts come and go.

Staying connected has never been more important – and we have the technology to do it.

The sixth stage of grief – meaning

Worldwide grief expert David Kessler**** came up with a final stage to grief – meaning. I think lots of people are already experiencing this as they connect with family and friends more, and generally live at a slower pace. Suddenly there is room to reflect and take stock for the first time in a long time. For some, this could be happening at present and for others, they might be navigating other stages and it will come later.  

People typically tend to be amazingly resilient and moving in and out of these stages is to be expected, along with a good expectation of being able to bounce back. 😊

* ‘Grieving the losses of coronavirus’, Lori Gottlieb, New York Times

** The Kübler-Ross model, commonly known as the five stages of grief, was first introduced by Swiss American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying.

*** NICABM, Bessel van der Kolk

**** ‘That discomfort you’re feeling is grief’, Scott Berinato, Harvard Business Review.

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