Covid-19 has shocked the world. Within a short period life has changed with an intensity unmatched. Many countries in the world have had to make adjustments and some have taken more drastic measures than others depending on their respective situations. Regardless of how bad a country has been hit, all of us across the world have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic one way or the other.
There are a lot of clear effects of the pandemic on the global stage; there are also the invisible effects of the pandemic to people that are not immediately seen and consequently not addressed. I read an article by Scott Berinato, a Senior Editor at Harvard Business Review (HBR), that covered the side that is mostly invisible in most situations; the mental and emotional health side.
It was a long article, here are some relevant excerpts:
That discomfort you’re feeling is grief
Some of the HBR edit staff met virtually the other. We talked about the content we’re commissioning in this harrowing time of a pandemic and how we can help people. But we also talked about how we were feeling. One colleague mentioned that what she felt was grief. Heads nodded in all the panes.
If we can name it, perhaps we can manage it. We turned to David Kessler for ideas on how to do that. Kessler is the world’s foremost expert on grief. Kessler shared his thoughts on why it’s important to acknowledge the grief you may be feeling, how to manage it, and how he believes we will find meaning in it. The conversation is lightly edited for clarity.
HBR: People are feeling any number of things right now. Is it right to call some of what they’re feeling grief?
Kessler: Yes, and we’re feeling a number of different griefs. We feel the world has changed and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way and we realise things will be different. Just as going to the airport is forever different from how it was before 9/11, things will change. The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.
You said we’re feeling more than one kind of grief?
Yes, we’re also feeling anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief is that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain. Usually it centres on death. We feel it when someone gets a dire diagnosis or when we have the normal thought that we’ll lose a parent someday. Anticipatory grief is also more broadly imagined futures. There is a storm coming. There’s something bad out there. With a virus, this kind of grief is so confusing for people. Our primitive mind knows something bad is happening, but you can’t see it. This breaks our sense of safety. I don’t think we’ve collectively lost our sense of general safety like this. We are grieving on a micro and a macro level.
What can individuals do to manage all this grief?
Understanding the stages of grief is a start. I have to remind people that the stages aren’t linear and may not happen in this order. It’s not a map but it provides some scaffolding for this unknown world. There’s denial: This virus won’t affect us. There’s anger: You’re making me stay home and taking away my activities. There’s bargaining: Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right? There’s sadness: I don’t know when this will end. And finally there’s Acceptance. This is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed.
Acceptance is where the power lies. We find control in acceptance. I can wash my hands. I can keep a safe distance. I can learn how to work virtually.
When we’re feeling grief there’s that physical pain. And the racing mind. Are there techniques to deal with that to make it less intense?
Let’s go back to anticipatory grief. Unhealthy anticipatory grief is really anxiety, and that’s the feeling you’re talking about. The goal is to find balance in the things you’re thinking.
Anticipatory grief is the mind going to the future and imagining the worst. To calm yourself, you want to come into the present. You can also think about how to let go of what you can’t control. What your neighbour is doing is out of your control. What is in your control is staying six feet away from them and washing your hands.
Finally, it’s a good time to stock up on compassion. Everyone will have different levels of fear and grief and it manifests in different ways. A co-worker got very snippy with me the other day and I thought, that’s not like this person; that’s how they’re dealing with this. I’m seeing their fear and anxiety. So be patient. Think about who someone usually is and not who they seem to be in this moment.
One particularly troubling aspect of this pandemic is the open-endedness of it.
This is a temporary state. It helps to say it. I worked for 10 years in the hospital system. I’ve been trained for situations like this. I’ve also studied the Spanish Flu. The precautions we’re taking are the right ones. History tells us that. This is survivable. We will survive. This is a time to overprotect but not overreact.
I rest my case