With the uncertainty of this time, we are all experiencing difficult emotions. One of these emotions is anxiety. This makes sense. Of course we are feeling panicked and anxious about all of the ambiguity. Are we safe? How do I earn a living? Will someone I love not make it through the Covid-19? The questions go on and anxiety pursues.
Another, more hidden emotion is grief. The world as we have known it has changed. Social interactions are different. There is a loss of connection that can’t be replicated virtually, and for many, what school and work looks like has drastically changed. We are fearful because we believe we have lost our safety to an invisible enemy. Collectively, we are feeling grief, both on a personal level as well as on a global level. With all of the unknowns, there is a sense of anticipatory grief, which is closely related to anxiety.
So, what do we do with all of these feelings? Scott Berinato highlighted some great points in his article, That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief. As he notes, if we recognize and label our emotions, we can begin to understand and move through them. He said that applying the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, and a sixth stage, meaning, can help us process our grief. Distinguishing what is and is not in our control, and letting go of things we have no power over, finding balance within our anxiety, being mindful and connected, and being compassionate towards one another can help us navigate these challenging times. This way of being is more accessible to us when we process our feelings.
And it is important to recognize that life always changes and this too will change. Change is a constant. What is different during this time is that the whole world recognizes that everything has changed, and we are all in it together- from Wuhan to Montana. This is not an isolated incident. If we acknowledge our grief, for ourselves and for others, we can experience the movement that happens when we process our feelings of loss. With this expression can come acceptance, and as Bertinato pointed out, acceptance is where our power and control lies. He adds that there is another gift in this process- finding meaning in our lives- meaning in the middle of this crisis and in the middle of life when this crisis abates. It is possible that through the experience of processing our loss and grief, we will find what meaning life truly has to offer us- the gift in the suffering.
Jan Matney, LCPC and Christalie Kuglin