Facing into the Coronavirus pandemic with very little clarity on the future, it is certainly feeling very unsettling. But as each of us focuses on the immediate daily practicalities of our own unique set of circumstances, it’s worth also acknowledging that the emotions we are experiencing are much the same as those we associate with different types of grief and traumatic change.
Many of us are familiar with the Kubler-Ross change curve. While it is NOT a linear process (we will yo-yo randomly between some or all of these emotions at some point), it is a useful way to consider the variety of emotions we might be experiencing…
Typically an early response is one of denial that the change event is happening or has happened. People revert to ignoring all references to the event, including the clear instructions being given by the government. We can be quick to berate these people, and in some cases rightly so, but when someone ignores or refuses to adhere to the government instructions such as social distancing, it could also be a sign that they are in denial.I say this not to excuse the action, but simply to improve our understanding of it.
Proactive, helpful response: When we or others are in this frame of mind, we need repeated, clear and firm instruction to comply, clear and repeated reminders of the reality and importance of the situation, and consistent reference to facts and expert advice.
Another typical grief response is anger. Lashing out at the world, or individuals, in relation to the actions they are taking or the circumstances they are in. As the pandemic has evolved we have seen news reports of aggressive behaviour towards the police for restricting their freedom, the government for not doing enough, and fellow human beings for stripping the shelves of food to feed and protect their families.
I say this not to excuse the anti-social or panic-buying behaviour, but simply to improve our understanding of it. The panic buying is/was an instinctive survival response. Selfish perhaps, but instinctive nonetheless. The anti-social behaviour is (in most cases) a symptom of the anger response to the situation.
Proactive, helpful response: When we or others are in this frame of mind, we need a patient yet clear response that this anger is unhelpful and misdirected, and that the selfish or anti-social behaviours are not helpful and completely unnecessary.
Some people may experience a form of bargaining – making a pact with the universe along the lines of “If I do X, it will be OK”
In some ways this is where the individual is taking a slightly more rational, considered approach (denial and anger are more emotional and less rational). Trying to regain a sense of control and order, and come to some form of agreement with the universe on how this might all play out. Of course, not a wholly rational approach, but it’s a start.
Proactive, helpful response: When we or others are in this frame of mind, we need reminding that the entire situation is not within our control, but there are elements of it that we can control. We can manage our exposure to social media, we choose the steps we need to take to protect our family and our own mental health and wellbeing, and stop to consider how rational or realistic our bargaining pact towards the universe truly is, without judgment, ridicule or criticism.
Like any traumatic change or loss, this situation may evoke feelings of intense sadness. Feeling hopeless and pessimistic about the future is another consequence of feeling out of control.
“When will this ever end?” and “Life will never be the same again” can become overwhelming for some people. A cruel complication of the Covid-19 situation is the lack of human contact – traditional ways in which we support ourselves and others through physical connection with others is not available, and isolation can intensify the emotions of sadness and depression.
Proactive, helpful response: Give yourself and others permission to experience sadness from time to time, and be aware of your own and others’ vulnerabilities where this reaches a point of overwhelm, and the need for medical intervention (particularly if you have experienced depression in the past). Take proactive steps to introduce a greater sense of control into your life, as mentioned, in terms of limiting exposure to social media, taking steps to protect mental health and wellbeing, and working out what helps and hinders your own sense of wellbeing. If you are worried for someone else, do what you can to keep in touch and offer support, to minimise the isolation for them.
The point at which we accept and come to terms with the reality of the situation is where we can rationally take the steps needed to recover and rebuild. We may not like or agree with the situation, but we accept that it is happening to us and we need to respond productively to it.
Unsurprisingly, this is the first sign of recovery in grief. It marks the point in time where we can take constructive steps forward to adjust to the new normal.
Proactive, helpful response: Seize these moments and make use of them – they enable us to make positive choices toward our future within the new normal. Don’t be disheartened if you yo-yo to other emotions over time – this is not a linear process. Just know that when you are in this frame of mind you can do great things to improve your perspective, response and adjustment.
Coaching Questions for refection:
To support your personal resilience, take a moment to consider how you are emotionally responding to the current situation?
How can you reach the point of acceptance in order to make the necessary adjustments in your world?