Coronavirus: Stages of Grief

I intended to write about something other than coronavirus this week, but as the severity of the situation drastically increased, I feel compelled to write about the reality of most people in the world.

I find it interesting how the world’s reaction to coronavirus parallels Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief. I’ve learned that the process of grief doesn’t necessarily follow this neat step-by-step progression. Everyone responds differently: People will spend different amounts of time in each stage, skips stages entirely, take one step forward, two back, three forward, two forward, one back and so on—no real rhyme or reason. The stages are listed as follows: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. Not everyone reaches Acceptance, but it is better for one’s mental health if they do.

As it relates to coronavirus, the world collectively responded in denial. No one wanted to admit how far-reaching this virus would be, how indiscriminate. There are still some in that denial stage refusing to isolate while finding statistics to show that this isn’t so bad compared to other viruses.

The next stage is anger. I have seen customers get ugly in stores over the last roll of toilet paper, hand sanitizer and eggs. I have read reports of discrimination and violence toward Chinese Americans in the United States. With so many people experiencing feelings of anger while isolating, there is concern this anger may translate to domestic violence or child abuse with so much forced togetherness.

Bargaining comes next. I’ve heard this with sentiments like, “Please stay home. The sooner you do, the quicker this will be over.” That’s bargaining. Some are bargaining with God, saying things like, “I promise to reduce my carbon footprint if you will just end this virus and save my family.”

Depression could be next with people realizing this is not something they can control. This virus will come and go when it’s ready. There may be things we can do to slow its progression, but no one knows when its destruction will cease and what things will look like when the dust settles.

Knowing you are dealing with the grief of losing normalcy in your life, there is an old Indian quote that I’ve found helpful: “If you can do something about it, why worry? If you can’t do something about, why worry?” Worry has never stopped anything from happening; it doesn’t help any situation one bit. In the case of coronavirus, it could actually compromise your immune system, once of the last things you want to do!

Instead of telling you to stop worrying, I want to give you something else to focus on instead:

  1. Focus on what you are in control of, not the things you aren’t.

This is what it sounds like in my head: I can’t control the virus, but I can control my response to it. I can take recommended precautions to protect myself and others. I don’t have to be panicked by what I can’t control, as long as I’m taking care of what is important in my life.

  1. Focus attention on what you have now, not what you’ve lost.

I may not have speaking engagements right now, but I do have tons of downtime to redo my Academy of Choice material, complete my coaching book and to deepen my connections with people I have synergy with. I can also use my newfound time to spend quality time with my mother and Facetime with my grandchildren.

  1. Direct your focus to what you can still do, not what you are unable to.

I may not be able to go to my favorite restaurant, but I can order takeout or delivery. I can’t go out on a Friday night, but I can have a Zoom meeting with friends. I may not be able to hop on a plane to go from point A to point B, but I am not spending much money either.

Acceptance is the final stage and is characterized by no longer fighting what is happening. For better mental health, you want to stop fighting reality. Accepting means you let go of all anger, frustration and resentment and accept what is happening with a peaceful mind.

If you want to move beyond acceptance, there is a final step I use when working with clients. I like to challenge people who have found acceptance to move even further to appreciation. The way to get there, when you are ready, and only when you’re ready, is to go on a quest to find the positive things that will come out of this pandemic. The idea is all things are equally balanced, just like the periodic table of elements. When something with so much negativity occurs, there is equal positivity involved, but if you don’t know that, you won’t be able to see it. Now that you know, when you are ready, you can look for the benefits in what’s occurring. For me, I’m thinking how our environment is being repaired, the quality time I get to spend with my mother and the amount of time I have for self-care. What will your benefits be?

Need more help? Check out Coronavirus-Avoiding Despair.

2 Responses

  1. Thank you for the reminder of how to choose my responses to this pandemic in ways that will move me closer to acceptance and then appreciation. I find myself cycling between denial and depression as I work towards acceptance.

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