- Nicole Ekiss, LCSW
Stress, Loss, and the Grief Response During Covid-19
We are living in the midst of a global pandemic and our lives have changed in so many ways. The lengths we have had to go to in an effort to contain the spread of the virus known as Covid-19 may feel frustrating, isolating, stressful, or even frightening. We have had to adjust to a lot of changes over the last several weeks and along with that comes a sense of grief. Grief over the loss of our normal activities, our normal interactions, and the roles we normally play. People are being asked to do jobs in entirely different ways or not at all right now. A sense of grief over all of this is only natural.
I recently saw a quote on facebook that really resonated with me. It said, "We are all in the same boat, but we are not all in the same storm." It is important for us to acknowledge that our responses to this are as individual as we are and that is okay. Some have experienced a greater amount of loss than others. Some have lost jobs and some haven't. Some are working from home and some are continuing to work in their typical capacity and experiencing high levels of stress as protocols continuously change. Some are balancing the normal aspects of parenting, remote education, and working from home. We are not all experiencing this in the same way, so it is important to support each other and to remember that our friends, neighbors, and colleagues may be experiencing this very differently than we are. Remember to give others and yourself a little grace in all this.
Understanding the stages of grief can be helpful in situations like this. The stages of grief were originally outlined in the book, On Death and Dying, written by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross and have become a well known framework for approaching grief. Her work includes 5 stages: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. I'll go through each stage individually and identify how it can be relevant during the current Covid-19 pandemic.
Denial is typically the first stage of grief and helps us to pace our feelings of grief. We may feel numb or be in a state of disbelief. We may be resistant to acknowledge what is going on around us or the seriousness of our situation.
Once we feel safe enough to acknowledge our feelings, anger typically surfaces. In our current situation, this could be anger toward the situation, anger over the things we have lost (i.e. cancelled plans and events, lost income, connections with others), anger toward government response, or anger with friends and family who may be responding differently than we are. The important thing with anger is to acknowledge the feeling, allow yourself to feel it, and allow others to feel it as well.
During the bargaining stage of grief, we become caught up in the "what ifs" of the situation. In our current situation, bargaining is about trying to regain a sense of control. We may think things like, "I don't need to worry about this, I am young and healthy", or "I'll be fine if I just wash my hands." We may think things like, "I wish I could go back to before all this started" or "If I could just get a haircut I would feel better." Bargaining gives us a temporary reprieve from painful realities. The important part of bargaining is understanding that it is normal to feel a little out of control and to allow ourselves some grace during this time. Acknowledging our feelings and finding healthy ways to cope are vital for our mental well being.
In this stage we feel a sense of sadness for our loss. We may feel sadness over things we are missing out on. Thoughts like "I'll never get to see my friends again" or "I am financially ruined" start to creep in. During this stage, we acknowledge the depth of our loss and feel it fully. It is important to understand that this is a normal stage of grief and not a sign of mental illness. Feeling sad or depressed given our current circumstances is to be expected. During this stage it is important to use healthy coping skills and connect with others in whatever way you can.
This stage is about accepting our reality. It's not about being okay with it, but understanding that it is our reality and finding ways to find a sense of control. We acknowledge that we can't control the pandemic, but find comfort in setting a schedule or finding ways to do our part to prevent the spread of the disease.
It is important to note that these stages are not necessarily linear. You may go through all the stages in the order prescribed, or you may go through them in a different order. You may experience some stages longer than others, or you may not experience some of the stages at all. Grief responses vary and there is not a "right" way to grieve. However you grieve, remember to allow yourself to feel those tough emotions and find ways to support yourself and others as we all work through this together.