During the coronavirus lockdown period and probably for the next couple of months, all of us will be starting our days feeling uncertain about the future.
Some of us are still optimistic, maybe even excited about new opportunities, while others are struggling to adapt to the restrictions.
Although we might react differently to the crisis, we all have one thing in common: we are grieving losses. Weddings and special gatherings have been postponed, trips are being canceled, income will be affected and unfortunately, lives will be lost. All of us are also feeling a loss of safety and a loss of our old sense of normalcy.
The Five Stages of Grieving
To be able to deal with our grief it helps to understand the different stages we go through. There is:
Denial – This virus won’t affect us.
Anger – You’re making me stay home.
Bargaining – Okay, if I stay home everything will be better, right?
Sadness – I don’t know when this will get better.
Acceptance – This is happening and I have to figure out how to proceed.
David Kessler states in this interview with Harvard Business Review how important it is to remember that the stages are not linear and do not always happen in that order. If you immediately start bargaining, it’s okay, or if you initially feel sad, that’s also normal.
Own Your Experience and Have Compassion
We all experience change, and the grief that accompanies it, in our own unique way. It is personal. Be careful to not make assumptions about what someone else is experiencing during this time of uncertainty. This is going to be an emotional rollercoaster ride for all of us.
Sometimes we will feel like we have momentum and are going strong, sometimes we will be happy with a small win and other times we might really be struggling. We are all fearfully and wonderfully made by our Creator. Now is a time to have compassion with each other. Everyone will have different levels of fear and grief and it manifests in different ways.
Six Tips to Help You Manage Grief:
1. Manage your expectations
James Clear says “anticipate, but don’t expect”. Anticipation means you are excited about what the future holds, but you don’t try to control it. Expectation means you try to predict the future and restrict your happiness to one outcome.
Much of our suffering comes as a result of unmet expectations. We suffer because we cannot predict the future, yet we have all sorts of expectations of ourselves and others. Be kind to yourself and hold your expectations lightly.
2. Accept things you cannot control
During times of uncertainty, we want agency and we want to control. But now is a time to think about how you can let go of what you can’t control. What your neighbor is doing is out of your control. Only focus on what is within your own control.
3. Feel all your emotions
Fighting your feelings doesn’t help. Allow yourself to feel your sadness and fear and anger, whether or not someone else is feeling something or not.
If we allow the feelings to happen, we are not victims of it. Give yourself permission to experience the emotion without judgment. Let yourself feel the grief and keep going.
4. Live in the present
Take a few deep restorative breaths. Name five things in the room. Breathe. At this moment, you’re okay.
Use your senses and think about what they feel. The desk is hard. The blanket is soft. I can feel the breath coming into my nose. Be conscious of your surroundings and be present.
5. Think about what you think
When we feel anxious our minds become future-oriented. We typically see the worst-case scenarios play out and if we are not careful, our anxious thoughts can snowball, making us feel even worse.
The goal is not to ignore the images and thoughts or to try to make them go away. Rather, be aware of the thoughts and acknowledge them.
We want to find balance in the things that we are thinking about. When we find ourselves dwelling on the negative, balance it with a happy memory, or something pleasant we can do in the present.
We can also look for new opportunities in times of crisis like Mariëtte Jacobs pointed out so beautifully in her article Seeing Opportunity During Challenging Times.
6. Be curious about those around you
Remember that your family, colleagues, friends and neighbours’ personalities and temperaments are all different.
Extroverts would probably like to talk about what they are experiencing right now and do something, while introverts might prefer to have time to process what they are going through. Some personalities want to know the details and see all the data, while others are more interested in how it all fits into the bigger picture.
Stephen Covey said: First try to understand, then to be understood. Again, now is a time to build that compassion muscle. We are going to need it in the months to come.
In my work as a therapist, I have been astonished time and time again by the human spirit’s ability to find meaning in times of adversity. I believe we will continue to find meaning now and when this is over.
This article was written by Carien de Klerk, Registered Psychologist and Director of Good Hope Psychological Service (GHPS).
During the lockdown period, GHPS is sharing a new tip every day to help you manage your mental health. Please follow them on Facebook here.