Stages of Grief in the Pandemic – Understanding Your Emotions

Updated: Jun 18, 2020

The Coronavirus embodies the once-fashionable jargon VUCA- volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous. With its unpredictable and unsparing nature, it has disturbed and worsened the psychological health of individuals around the world. Along with the many layers of emotions and feelings that have become part of our lockdown-ed life, what most of us seem to be experiencing is a sense of grief.

Psychologists understand grief as the natural reaction to a loss of any kind. At present, each one of us is experiencing one or more kinds: loss of a predictable future, loss of a job, loss of freedom to roam the streets, loss of a loved one, loss of face-to-face interactions, loss of a graduation ceremony, and loss of time (to name a few). Some of us might even be having anticipatory grief- questions about what will happen, when will it happen, and how will it happen.

How do we then make sense of this grief that has enveloped our sense of being and is a here-to-stay by-product of the Corona crisis? Let’s look towards psychology for answers.

In 1969, psychiatrist Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross outlined the five stages of grief in her book On Death and Dying. Commonly acronymized as ‘DABDA’, these five stages are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. The Kübler-Ross Model, while commonly applied to understand grief in the contexts of illness or death, can also lend its principles to a pandemic like COVID-19, because as she also wrote, grieving applies to any situation that causes an individual intense emotions.

Via – psycom,net

It is important to note that these five stages are non-linear, that is, they do not necessarily follow this order in each grieving individual, and that a person may or may not experience all five of them. Dr. Wachholtz from the University of Colorado Denver states, “They are more like domains in a Venn diagram. People may jump back and forth among them.”

DENIAL Denial is the intellectual and emotional rejection of something clear and obvious. This stage involves avoiding or overlooking the negative situation and choosing ‘preferable’ reality over ‘actual’ one. As a way of safeguarding ourselves from its impact, we deny the presence of the fearful/anxiety-provoking stimulus and may even become completely numb to it. This stage might manifest when we express disbelief or challenge all incoming facts.

An example of denial is the downplayed gravity of COVID-19 and the belief it would never impact one’s life. When people refused to adhere to the social distancing norms and partied or congregated in crowds, or voiced their ‘immunity’ to the virus by comparing it with the common flu, or accused the media of inflating information and statistics- they engaged in a classic display of denial.

ANGER By definition, anger is a normal response to a threatening stimulus and may show up as one or more of the following- antagonism, irritation, rage, defiance, hostility, and power struggles. While expressing anger, people often vent their negative emotions on something or someone, which could be a presumed causal factor or even a scapegoat. It is also commonly mixed with self-pity or a cry of “Why me?”

In the case of the pandemic, a lot of anger was directed towards a particular country and its mishandling of the outbreak. Alternatively, people expressed anger by being defiant of the lockdown provisions, or by blaming their local or national leaders for the deteriorating health situation. However, if utilised properly, the same anger can serve as the motivating agent to take social action that will protect and promote the best interests of oneself and the community.

BARGAIN The bargaining stage often marks a turning point; individuals start to acknowledge the grim reality but are not yet ready to relinquish all personal control over it. It is an act of compromise towards finding the most convenient and least painful escape out of the crisis. This process often occurs in a form such as, “If only I _____, then _____ would occur.” Sometimes, indulging in bargaining may create a sense of false optimism and other times, it may lead to constructive action.

The Coronavirus has led a lot of us to negotiate with ourselves or others. The ‘If-Then’ and ‘What if?’ statements are characteristic of the trade-offs we are trying to make. Bargaining in this pandemic-affected world sounds like: “I will be safe as long as I keep washing my hands”, “Let me not announce a shutdown for my office, we will manage somehow”, “Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right?

DEPRESSION This is the stage of immense despair that occurs when we can no longer evade reality. The suffering and tragedy may leave one feeling helpless, hopeless, anxious, fearful, sad, or even numb. Personal hygiene and safety might be neglected, work and relationships might suffer, and a feeling of disempowerment might take over.

Covid-19 has led people to feel a sense of gloom and futility and affected their everyday functioning. Individuals are expressing sadness about losing their job; some have concerns about not being able to afford rent or even meals. Many are distressed over having their plans cancelled, dreams shattered, and future ruined. Still, others are fearing for their own or a loved one’s health, and there is an impending dread of nearing death.

ACCEPTANCE Acceptance sets in when we are finally able to recognize the actual reality instead of fighting or denying it, and acknowledge that the situation is not under our control. At the same time, it means knowing that we can choose how we respond to it and hence, can still take hold of our life. Moreover, acceptance involves allowing oneself to experience all emotions- the good and the bad- and then taking a conscious effort to attain the positive feeling states. It is when acceptance sets in that constructive action starts.

Accepting the reality of this virus-hit world involves adopting the right attitudes and beliefs that would manifest behaviourally in forms like observing social distancing, maintaining proper hygiene, etc. Alongside, acceptance requires staying at home and making most of your time, instead of stressing over not being able to venture outside. Believing that it may take time, but that we will come out of this pandemic stronger and kinder is also an act of acceptance.

David Kessler, who co-authored the book with Kübler-Ross, later added a sixth stage to the grief cycle- FINDING MEANING. He believes that it’s finding meaning beyond the five stages of grief that can transform grief into a more peaceful and hopeful experience.

So then what should you do when you encounter grief?

While a listicle cannot capture the process of coping with grief, here are a few measures you can take to make it easier for yourself:

FEEL YOUR FEELINGS: It has been said that the only cure for grief is to grieve. Thus, the most crucial step is to allow yourself to feel all emotions- good or bad. Evading or suppressing the disturbing feelings only provides temporary calm. It is also important to realise that there are no right or wrong ways to feel during this time and that everything you are feeling is valid. Once you have this understanding, it becomes easier to move forward from there.

TALK AND LISTEN: Even as we are physically distant from each other, we can seek and extend social support and solidarity. It is important to find people you can talk to about your feelings, and you can even become that person for someone. Such an exchange of emotions can help us realise how we are not alone in these difficult times, and allow us to forge stronger and more meaningful connections with our family, friends, and colleagues.

PRACTICE SELF-CARE: As we navigate the overwhelming maze of emotional states, it is important to remember to look out for oneself. Self-care doesn’t have to be anything fancy; rather it involves simple things like eating healthy and on time, staying hydrated, getting some physical activity every day, engaging in a hobby, sleeping properly, connecting with loved ones etc.

SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP: Sometimes, the best way to make sense of stressful times is to have a professional guide us through the process. Psychologists and counsellors can help us understand what we are feeling and the appropriate coping strategies to deal with the same. While seeking in-person therapy may be tough right now, one can always look for the many teletherapy services that are operating nowadays.

The pandemic might have disrupted our past and present, but our ability to respond positively can alter our future. As we slowly move towards healing and balance, it is important to foster a collective sense of compassion and to remember that things will get better!

By – Pratika Artwork by -Sana

References/ Read More At –

How to identify the stages of grief in COVID-19 messages

#quarantine #mentalhealth

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