The discomfort you’re feeling is grief. That was the title of a recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) article. And it is a new reality because many of us are actually grieving the loss of normalcy during this pandemic. Not to mention the loss of so many others things: financial, emotional, mental and physical.
David Kessler, a leading expert on grief is interviewed in the HBR article. Kessler co-wrote with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross a legendary book on the topic: On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss. This book revolutionized the five stages of grief.
Certainly, the stages have evolved since their introduction. And they have also been misunderstood over the past four decades. They were never meant to sweep uncomfortable emotions away. They are responses to loss that many people have, but should not be considered ‘typical’. Loss and emotions are unique.
Also, we have since recognized that the grieving process can be adapted for varying situations of loss and not just in the case of a death. That loss could be the end of a relationship, job termination or the need to drastically alter how we live due to a pandemic – as is the case now.
THE FIVE STAGES OF GRIEF
The five stages of grief are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
DENIAL is the first stage when life doesn’t make sense and a sense of overwhelm takes center stage. We are in a state of shock and denial. We are grieving the loss of normalcy. Of our normal lives and routines.
Next, ANGER. We usually know more about suppressing anger than about feeling it. But it is a necessary stage of the healing process.
BARGAINING is another stage. We want life returned to what it was and to be restored. This can be a maze of “if only” or “what if” statements.
DEPRESSION is the stage when our attention moves into the present. Grief enters our lives on a deeper level but it’s important to notice that in this case, depression is not a sign of mental illness. Instead, it is an appropriate response to a loss.
Finally, ACCEPTANCE is often confused with the notion of being “all right”. This is not the case. This stage is about accepting that this new reality is the permanent reality.
So, it’s easy to see how the five stages may fit while grieving the loss of normalcy during this pandemic. In the HBR interview, Kessler confirmed that people are feeling collective grief in the loss of normalcy, the fear of economic toll and the loss of connection.
HOW GRIEF MANIFESTS ITSELF IN THIS TIME OF PANDEMIC
What’s most important is that people acknowledge the grief they may be feeling and determine how best to manage it.
Understanding the stages of grief is a good start. Above all, it’s important to keep in mind that the stages are not linear and can happen in any order. You may also move from one stage to another, only to step back into a stage again.
Specifically, here are examples of how each stage may present itself while grieving the loss of normalcy during this pandemic.
There’s denial: This can’t be happening. This virus won’t affect us. The media is blowing this out of proportion and we will get through this quickly.
There’s anger: They’re making us stay home and taking my activities away. How did this get so out of control? Our government isn’t doing enough. They aren’t telling us the truth.
There’s bargaining: Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right? Well, I can go for a walk with a friend because she is being careful too, right?
There’s depression, perhaps in the form of sadness: I feel so sad about the state of the world. When is this going to end? When can I go back to normal?
And finally there is acceptance: This is happening and I have to find a way through it. What sources can I tap into so that I know exactly what best to do and how to help.
Interestingly, acceptance is where the power lies. We find control in acceptance. I can self-isolate; wash my hands; social distance. I can learn to work online from home.
8 WAYS TO MANAGE YOUR GRIEF AND EMOTIONS
#1 – Make Positivity a Habit
It is human nature for our brains to show us images that may present worst case scenarios. Kessler acknowledges that we are experiencing different kinds of grief and that one of those is anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief is the mind going to the future and imagining the worst. In short, that is our minds being protective and if we ignored those images, it can be painful to try and force it. So, finding balance is key and nudging your brain to think of the best image offers a positive counterpoint.
For example, being worried about those close to me during this time of crisis is natural. But not everyone gets sick from this. Not everyone I love will suffer. Maybe no one does because we are doing what is necessary. Acknowledge both scenarios but don’t let either one dominate.
#2 – Bring Yourself Back to the Present
This ties into anticipatory grief as well, but bringing yourself back to the present will calm you.
Practicing mindfulness or meditating definitely helps. Similiarly, finding simple ways to bring your mind back to the present. Basic breathing techniques: follow your deep breath in and follow it on a slow exhalation. Realize – and say it to yourself – that in this very moment, you are okay.
#3 – Control What You Can Control And Let Go Of The Rest
You can self-isolate, social distance and wash your hands. You can share advice with your neighbour but ultimately can’t control what they do. You can’t control the toxic politics but you can control your reactions. You can also make conscious decisions on what news and social media you will consume to stay informed and let go of the rest so as to protect your mental well-being.
#4 – Be Gentle With Yourself And Others
Everyone has different levels of fear and grief. Above all, these will manifest in different ways. If you are surprised by someone’s reaction, be kind and realize that this may be how their anxiety is presenting itself. If you catch yourself reacting harshly, hit pause and acknowledge that this is not your typical manner of dealing with things. Apologize and ask for understanding if necessary.
#5 – How To Work From Home Without Losing Your Sanity
Those that are new to working from home might see this as a dream come true. But those who have been doing it for awhile know the other side. In my blog, 12 Best Tips for Working From Home, you will find some rock-solid advice on how to manage this experience and how best to stay safe and be productive. In short, the top tips are to keep a routine, get out of your pajamas and set up a proper workspace. And above all, stay connected with people in the outside world. The psychological impact of being alone is often underestimated.
#6 – Help Others
The antidote to fear is love. Focus on loving action. Ask yourself what you can do to help. Pick up the phone and call family and friends. In particular, think of those that are more vulnerable or those that are living (and self-isolating) alone. Get creative on how to support your local businesses. Listen with an open heart and truly hear what people are saying. Their problems are not yours to solve but compassionately listening is a gift. As author Gretchen Rubin says:
“Make people happier by acknowledging that they’re not feeling happy.”
#7 – Tears are okay
So often, we swallow our tears to make them stop. We apologize for those moments of emotion that bubble to the surface. Tara Mohr, the author of Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create, and Lead wrote in a recent blog that, “tears are our bodies’ natural system for expressing and moving through emotions – especially grief.” Crying helps us release and integrate and reset.
#8 – Have A Self-Care Plan
That’s right – have a plan for your self-care every single day. What are the top three things that you will do today to stay grounded and healthy? It might be listening to music or reading. It could be having a bedtime routine to set yourself up for peaceful sleep. Weave in a form of movement. Be active. Get fresh air, in a safe social distancing way.
WE WILL SURVIVE
One of the most troubling aspects of this pandemic are the uncertainties. Having said that, it is temporary and we will get through it. This is survivable. Kessler says it brilliantly:
“We will survive. This is a time to overprotect but not overreact.”
The precautions we are taking are necessary. The sacrifices we are making will have a massive impact on the trajectory of this virus – both locally and nationally. Continuing with pandemic mitigation through comprehensive social distancing is vital. That means keeping schools shut, working from home, not allowing kids to play together, and staying away from each other as much as possible. Staying at home and staying in YOUR community. This is the real deal. THIS IS NOT A SNOW DAY.
FINDING MEANING IN ALL THIS
So, what comes after acceptance, the final stage of grief? David Kessler answers that question in his new book, ‘Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief’. Many people look for closure after a loss. He argues that it’s finding meaning beyond the stages of grief that can transform it into a more hopeful experience.
In reference to this pandemic, that certainly seems to be the case. There are examples everywhere. People learning and embracing technology in positive ways. Picking up their phones to check in with those they care about. They are walking – alone, with just their thoughts to keep them company. Looking at our healthcare system in a deeply respectful way. Feeling gratitude for the small things in life. They are taking time to enjoy activities because their over-scheduled calendars and bursting to do lists are clear. They are purging and cleaning and caring for themselves, their families and their homes.
Others aren’t doing a lot. Perhaps mindless Netflix binging. Sleeping more. Sometimes crying (see #7 above). Reading light romance novels. Spending too much time on social media. Playing games. Doing puzzles. It all fits and it’s all okay – until it’s not.
Either way, there is something powerful about naming this as grief. It allows us to hit pause and explore what is within each of us. “When you name it, you feel it and it moves through you. Emotions need motion,” Kessler shares.
Feel sad. Or angry. Feel your fear. Acknowledge it all. Let it move through you. On the other side is empowerment. Keep going.
AND NOW IT’S YOUR TURN: How are you managing? Are you feeling grief in some way? Please share how you are coping with it all?
2 thoughts on “Grieving the Loss of Normalcy”
This is a really great article, thank you for sharing! I recently listened to David Kessler speak about adding that 6th stage of “finding in meaning” in our grief experience you mentioned above. And it reminded me of an impactful book I read pre-Covid that seems so timely now on the topic of “Post Traumatic Growth” called Bouncing Forward by Michaela Hass. I was going through a loss/grief at that time and it gave me hope, the idea that on the other side I didn’t need to just be “bounce back” to what I was before my time of grief, but could experience growth and emerge stronger than before. I think it really resonates in this odd situation we find ourselves in where collectively we have no choice but to call upon some deep resources. This gives us the time and opportunity to develop new ways/tools/insights to not just “bounce back” but hopefully, move forward! When I am feeling overwhelm or the various swirling emotions at times through the day that provides me with some grounding and inspiration. Thanks again for your insightful writing Cathy!
Dr. Heidi – thank you for your comments. And for sharing the book suggestion. I will definitely check it out. Stay safe and well during this time and of course, I appreciate all the tremendous work you do in the wellness community.