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How understanding the 5 stages of grief can help you through the coronavirus outbreak

by Erin Lindsay
08th Jun 2020

If you’re struggling to come to terms with your emotions during this strange time, thinking of the process as a type of grief can be helpful

Whether you’ve been directly affected or not by the coronavirus outbreak, there’s no denying that a time like this can take a massive toll on your mental health.

We’ve never experienced anything like this in living memory — so with nothing to compare it to, it’s hard to know where to begin when sifting through and sorting out all of your feelings about what’s going on.

But from what we’ve noticed here at IMAGE, a lot of the feelings floating around right now are similar to those that we feel during the grieving process. It sounds a little extreme, but it makes sense — we are all experiencing forms of loss during this time, whether that’s the tangible loss of a job or security, the loss of the feeling of personal freedoms, the loss of friends or loved ones when we can’t see them regularly, or the loss of our health if we get sick.

When you lose anything, there is a process that one goes through to get through to the other side. The most famous way of describing it is that of the Five Stages; coined by famed psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in 1969, the five stages of grief breaks down the way in which we deal with a feeling of loss, from the initial loss itself all the way through to acceptance.

Breaking down each of the stages and how it may relate to how you’re feeling during this period, can be really helpful in finding the light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel.

Stage One: Denial

Chances are we’ve all been through this initial stage already with Covid-19, and remember our former ignorance about the virus with a little embarrassment. Many people were in total denial about the potential crisis that we were facing just a few weeks ago, and didn’t want to accept the enormity of what was happening — this still may be true for many, like those who don’t take social distancing seriously.

It’s natural, when we’ve never faced a time like this before, to dismiss the idea — but it’s safe to say that, at this stage, most of us have moved past the Denial phase.

Stage Two: Anger

When you feel like all control has been taken away, and life has drastically changed in a very short space of time, it’s completely natural to feel angry. This is probably the stage that a lot of us are facing right now — we’re frustrated, we feel anxious, and we’re just simply pissed off that this is happening.

It’s important to try and remember that although not everything is clear right now, it won’t stay that way forever — this situation will eventually come to an end and we will come out the other side.

Stage Three: Bargaining

This outbreak, in the scheme of things, has taken over our lives very quickly, and it’s hard to believe that just a few weeks ago, we were all heading out to the pub, cuddling our parents and shopping away as normal. In the Bargaining stage of grief, you begin to think about the ‘what ifs’ and make promises to yourself about what you would do if life was different or returned to normal — I’m sure we’re all thinking about how much we would savour a night out or a dinner with our family right now if we could.

It’s great to plan for when the outbreak dies down and we can all interact again, and it’s great to be excited, but it doesn’t change the situation that we’re in now. Don’t convince yourself that you can swap certain factors of this outbreak for others — stick to the advice of health professionals and try to be patient.

Stage Four: Depression

If you aren’t so much feeling angry as feeling down and sad, you may have moved into the Depression stage. The coronavirus is completely overwhelming — and the fact that most of us are staying at home for extended periods of time means it can be tempting to shut yourself off and lie in bed. When you feel helpless, your negative energy may start to turn inwards.

Try to resist giving up your routine and giving in to feelings of sadness as much as possible. Keep getting outside and exercising, and make regular contact with the people you love and that make you happy.

Stage Five: Acceptance

The last stage of grieving is acceptance, but this doesn’t mean being totally okay or happy with the situation. We’re never going to be happy about a virus changing all of our lives — but we can get to the point where we understand what’s going on and we’re willing to work with what we have. This is the new normal, for now, and as long as we’re helping each other out as much as we can, we’ll get through it.

Read more: Coronavirus volunteering: Practical advice and guidance on how you can help

Read more: Sleep, uncertainty and social media: Dr Doireann O’Leary explains how to reduce Coronavirus anxiety

Read more: A list of (mostly free) Irish resources to keep the kids entertained during social distancing

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