Amidst all the Zoom happy hours, the Live sessions on Facebook and the Instagram hashtag challenges, there’s a feeling that’s hard to pin down in this pandemic. Yes, we’re all anxious, worried, frustrated, and annoyed. Occasionally, we might find gratitude in this opportunity for a social reset. But hidden in the quiet hours, there’s a grief in this moment that can’t be avoided. We’re all grieving, alone and together.
Whether we’re grieving a loss of freedom, lost income, a lost celebration or a lost connection, identifying and reassuring each other through this grief is important to our collective mental health. While it may be true that “everything WILL be okay,” these words, and other similar platitudes can be cold comfort to a heart that’s in mourning.
So, as a helpful reminder, these are the Five Stages of Grief. Each of us will find ourselves in these stages at some point, on some topic, over the coming weeks and months. Knowing where we are is the first step towards finding the way out.
This stage is easily seen in Spring Breakers, science deniers and anyone blind to the truth right now. Imagining that this pandemic will be behind us in a few days’ time is a fantasy that indulges our discomfort and fear. While envisioning the end of this chaos can be uplifting, take care to balance those dreams with realistic expectations about what may be waiting for us on the other side, and the work that will be necessary to rebuild our communities and careers.
Anyone with children in the house has already seen this stage in action. We’re angry that we can’t have what we want, regardless of what that want is – going outside, seeing friends, making plans or buying literally anything other than food. This anger is the most constructive stage of the process. Anger can be easily channeled into action, whether that’s cleaning out closets, helping those in need, exercising, or taking steps to protect our health and safety. Anger has energy, and figuring out how to direct that feeling while staying indoors will be a powerful tool as the weeks drag on.
Much like denial, this stage imagines how things would be totally fine if only for one small change. If they would just reopen the gym, if they would just let healthy people go outside, if we could just [fill in the blank], all of this would be manageable and fine. This stage presents a great opportunity to find small rewards in our own ways. The gym may not be an option, but how about a new pair of shoes? Without encouraging reckless or irresponsible indulgence, this is also the stage that says “we deserve it,” and that feeling is perfectly valid during an international, global crisis.
This stage is the natural exhaustion that follows our angry rage explosions. It’s also the most treacherous and stickiest of them all. Whereas anger can motivate us to move forward, depression convinces us to stay put. Depression sends signals of defeat, makes us feel insignificant or small, and encourages feelings of helplessness. This may be the most important stage for actually acknowledging our grief. Articulating this feeling of loss, describing it, what the loss means in our lives specifically and broadly, will help release it.
When we find ourselves in this stage, reaching out to a friend, journaling and/or remembering self-care is crucial. A quiet bath, a good book, a sad song, a long chat with an old friend can all provide more comfort than a quick pep talk ever would. As we cycle through these stages again and again, identifying this one quickly will help show the best ways out of it, and establish healthful rhythms.
This stage feels like peace and calm. It’s an ideal moment for gratitude and ambition. When we can accept these things as they are, we can more easily identify those things that can still change. Acceptance is quiet confidence that this moment is temporary, that this too shall pass, and that our lives will continue in whatever way we choose.
Bear in mind, these stages of grief can cycle weekly, daily or even hourly. Patience with ourselves and our loved ones will be critical, particularly as the cycle refreshes and becomes exhausting. Personal creativity can grow through anger, bargaining or acceptance; rarely through denial or depression. Moving ourselves through these stages will keep us mentally healthy, and help sustain emotional stability. Recognizing a friend in these stages could also help them process their feelings and progress to health.
Our grief demands to be felt, regardless of whether we’re grieving something intangible like an exciting trip that’s been cancelled, something purposeful like going to work every day, or for some in the inevitable extreme, death. These things matter. They give our lives structure, ambition and satisfaction. Being seen in our grief is validating and important.
There’s a lot we’re collectively sacrificing for the greater good, and wanting acknowledgment of that sacrifice isn’t selfish. Validation will help each of us on the road to acceptance. Regardless of when that road finally leads outdoors, hopefully with the love and support of our friends and family, we’ll be ready to meet new challenges and greet a new day.