5 Stages of COVID-19 Grief
A very wise lady pointed out to me that we are all going through a grieving process at the losses caused by COVID-19. Sadly for some this is a physical loss of a loved one. But even for the rest of us luckier ones, we still have a sense of loss for the outside world, our freedom, our physical social interactions. We are all grieving for those missed birthdays, postponed weddings, and cancelled family occasions.
Swiss-American psychiatrist, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross was a pioneer in near-death studies, and as a result invented a theory of the five stages of grief. Have a look at these five in relation to your own emotions at this time. Can you relate? Which of the five stages resonates with how you are today?
This initial stage is accompanied by a sense of shock. The body’s natural mechanism kicks in offering emotional protection from being overwhelmed. People in this stage might try and carry on their life as normal: “The media are exaggerating and scaremongering!” “Surely, I can’t catch it, I’m young and healthy.” “It’s just bad flu..” What comes across as selfish behaviour could just be that individual’s lack of ability to process the magnitude of this situation.
Once the seriousness hits home we can be filled with rage. However it’s really difficult to be angry at an invisible virus, so we lash out at the MPs and the government; those we perceive to be the self-centred public not abiding by the rules; or our own families when tensions are already frayed. This won’t be rational behaviour, but it’s important to feel it and acknowledge it. However it is important to control it – permanent damage can be done to relationships when tempers flare. If that red mist is settling, try Box Breathing, get out for some fresh air to clear your head, or listen to one of the NHS’s Mental Wellbeing Audio Guide, Clare at Refreshing Minds also has wonderful advice on flipping from this angry Primitive Emotional Mind back to our more rational Positive Intelligent Mind, and is well worth a follow on social media, or look at Mike Fisher’s British Association of Anger Management.
This stage comes from a place of feeling helpless and guilty. We are beginning to come to terms with the full severity of the situation but are struggling to gain some sense of control. The stage is characterised by attempting to negotiate with a higher power, or someone or something you feel (realistically or not) has some control over the situation. Thoughts may run along the lines of “I’ll be a better son if you keep my mum safe”, “Why can’t I have caught it instead of my grandfather?” “If only I could go out and work as a keyworker instead of my wife.”
Finally reality starts to set in. We’re adjusting to the ‘new norm’, are building a WFH or furlough routine, and our online social diary is filling up. This period of loneliness and reflection causes us to recognise what we’ve lost, and the true magnitude of this. We may well feel some sadness and sorrow for the first time, and this could cause us to isolate emotionally as well as physically. Again, it’s important we acknowledge these feelings and work through this stage, but be aware help is out there if we need it (Samaritans, NHS, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline)
The last stage sees a changed outlook. We can start to look forward and make plans for the future. It doesn’t mean we achieve instant happiness or are fully healed, but we can start to see the silver linings and things to be grateful in the world around us: Joe Wicks is making the nation fitter; we have seen a reduction in impact on the climate; and our sense of community has been reinvigorated.
As with any complex emotional process, this isn’t necessarily a linear journey. You may feel you fall back a stage, or skip one, and just because you have arrived at acceptance doesn’t mean you are ‘fixed’. Life has changed and we have a right to grieve over it, but we can emerge stronger.