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It just hit me the other day when I was feeling a rollercoaster of emotions – this quarantine life resembles the stages of grief. I kept going back and forth between true fear of losing someone I love, frustration that I wouldn’t be able to be there with them if they were dying, then the sudden depression resulting from that realization. BOOM, I hit 3 stages of grief in a matter of 1 minute and boy was that exhausting! No wonder I feel so tired. How about you?
Let me first say, I am not a licensed psychologist. I am speaking from my heart based on my personal experience with grief and research I’ve discovered that I will link to where appropriate. Please reach out to a medical professional if you are struggling with your emotions related to this pandemic.
Grief does not exclusively associate with death. It is the result of a loss and losses come in many shapes and sizes: a job loss, a divorce, a big move and retirement to name a few. These situations are big changes in someone’s life. And if it was ONLY the situation (change) we had to deal with we would all be fine but it’s the transition that will do us in. It’s the emotions that we go through to get to the other side, a “new normal”, that can take our breath away and knock us to our knees!
In our current world, “quarantine life” is the situation and the “loss of freedom” is the transition we are all FORCED to manage through. The fact that we didn’t make this choice makes it even worse. We didn’t choose to stay home this weekend and just chill, we are being forced to do so for our fellow men and women.
Quarantine Life is a Loss of Freedom
Let’s explore some of the freedoms many have lost in the blink of an eye: Freedom to choose where to go. Freedom to visit our family and friends. Freedom to get on a plane. Freedom to go to the office. Freedom to attend school. Freedom to walk on the beach. Freedom to hug our grandparents. Freedom to shake someone’s hand. Freedom to go out to eat. Freedom to keep a small business open. Freedom to visit your sick family member in the hospital. Freedom to do the job you took an oath to do and give a patient life saving measures. And so many more that would fill 1000 pages!
Losing all these freedoms to a pandemic has the entire world experiencing the most desperate times of our generations! There is not a person on this planet who isn’t affected in some way. It’s only natural to go through many, if not all, of these stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Depression, Bargaining and Acceptance. I will break them down shortly for you and how they relate to this pandemic and quarantine life.
As with grief, these emotions are ALL completely normal.
Just hearing that what I’m feeling is normal is sometimes all it takes to snap me out of this grief, if only for a moment. We are all OK and just trying to manage our emotions through these stages from minute to minute and from one stage to the other and back again. The important part is recognizing it and not beating ourselves up for it. Would you tell someone who just lost their spouse to buck up, wipe those tears and get back to work? Hell NO! You would wrap your arms around them and let them cry as long as they needed then ask, “what more can I do for you?” We all need this right now at different times. You can be that difference in someone’s life when they are feeling the weight of the world on their shoulders.
Stages of Grief
Now that we’ve given ourselves the permission to journey through these emotions, let’s go through the stages of grief one by one and compare them to our current situation. Please keep in mind that these stages can happen in any order, at any time and on multiple occasions.
Denial – avoidance, confusion, shock, fear
Denial is our attempt to pretend the loss is non-existent. It is also a time to try an absorb what is happening and understand it better.
I know you’ve had these thoughts or something similar, “This isn’t real. This can’t be happening to ME. I am not going to self-quarantine. I AM going to go to my friend’s birthday party next week. I am booking that trip because air fare is so cheap right now.” You might also say, “I feel fine, no one in my family is sick and no one I know has died so people are just getting all excited for nothing.”
This is all denial. Denying that this is really happening to us, to ME! It’s creating your own reality to help shield you from what is really happening. This stage is also a coping mechanism because it allows you to push back the true fears to not feel the depth of everything all at once. In a way, it’s a natural de-stresser.
Denial comes and goes for me. How about you? Some days I just turn off the news and try to imagine a normal life again, trying to deny this has ever happened. Trying to will it to stop!
Denial Support Looks Like This
- Make sure they have a support network around them which may include you.
- Listen to them, sometimes they just need to say it out loud to realize it’s real.
- Journaling is a great exercise to get your fears out to start to deal with them.
- Educate yourself and drive folks in denial to these facts in a non-discriminatory way.
Anger – frustration, irritation, anxiety
I see on my calendar that I’m supposed to be on vacation in Hilton Head with friends I haven’t seen since December and I immediately slam shut my lap top and say *&$#! I watch spring breakers on TV frolicking on the beach and in bars with no regard for anyone else and I feel my blood start to boil. I see heath care workers on the front lines who don’t have the appropriate protective equipment and I want to scream at the TV!
The anger stage should be thought of more as a “state” because you never know when the anger is going to rear its ugly head.
“A good comparison occurs in the meteorological field. A tornado watch, or a severe thunderstorm watch, is issued when the conditions in the atmosphere are favorable for the production of the severe weather. Grief puts us under an “anger watch;” the circumstances of life are favorable for us to become angry.” – econdolence.com
You will feel frustrated and possibly trapped. These emotions will lead you to lash out at someone or something when you least expect it. Because you were probably in some type of denial before anger, you are now experiencing the reality of what is going on and this may be causing you pain. The mechanism being used to try and deflect this pain may be anger. It’s a completely natural reaction and some feel it’s pretty cathartic when you release this anger onto something (not someone) else. Some very different examples include a punching bag or journaling.
Anger Support Looks Like This
- Instead of bottling up your anger, try to determine where the anger is coming from by exploring it.
- Have an accountability partner to call you out when these types of emotions are taking over.
- Share your feelings of anger with a trusted family member or friend.
- Discover physical and/or creative ways to release this anger such as: sports, gardening, intense exercise, painting, writing or listening to music
- If anger is causing physical injury to your or others, seek professional help immediately.
Bargaining – stuggling to find meaning, reaching out to others, grasping for hope
The bargaining stage, often referred to as negotiating, may not be as relevant in your current situation. In this stage, you are desperate to do almost anything to alleviate the pain you, or someone else, are experiencing. We don’t have control to stop quarantine life right now so the idea of bargaining gives us the perception of control. We may also experience bargaining if someone you know has become ill from the Coronavirus or your lack of social distancing affected another person in your life.
It is not uncommon for those who are religious to make promises to God or another higher being during this stage. It’s a way to postpone our sadness.
Some things you may think or hear during Bargaining are: “God, if you could please help my mother survive this virus, I promise to be more faithful. I will stop being angry all the time if I could just be with my friends again. If my family and friends remain healthy and all of us get through this, I promise to not take people for granted and stay more connected with them in the good times too! If only I had not gone on spring break when this all started, I could have stopped my family member from being sick.”
Bargaining allows us to ask these “What if …” type questions.
Bargaining Support Looks Like This
- Help them understand these types of “what ifs…” are normal and help to provide a temporary escape in an uncertain time.
- Encourage yourself and others to talk about the hopes of bargaining because they may have a new perspective to share.
Depression – overwhelmed, helplessness, hostility, flight
Depression, that overwhelming wave of sadness and helplessness, normally follows bargaining. This is because the reality finally sets in that there is nothing you can do to pause or avoid the inevitable and you are deep in it. Almost paralyzed because you have completely lost control and given up on trying to avoid what is coming because it has become exhausting.
Maybe you are alone during quarantine life and have done everything you can to try and keep yourself busy and avoid the news. It now seems as if this is going to go on for forever and there is nothing you can do about it. The sadness of not seeing family and friends is weighing heavily on you now. You decide to not shower for days. Why even bother to get out of bed or answer the phone call from your loved one. It’s not going to change anything. You are still going to be stuck here all alone.
It’s typical for people around someone who is depressed to want them to just “snap out of it”! They want to do or say something positive to bring you back to life.
Depression Support Looks Like This
- Give yourself and/or your loved one permission to feel how you need to feel. We are handling these losses in our unique way, it’s not a one size fits all.
- Find your person to share your feelings with. Acknowledging the emotions out loud is an excellent step to help you move on from them.
- Try to express your feelings in a creative way. Therapists often recommend writing a letter to a loved one after they pass to help you move through the grief. That can also be applied here. This pandemic is depressing a lot of people right now so get your feelings out in a “Dear Coronavirus” letter.
- Look for support groups that are online as a way to have your feelings validated.
- Set small goals per day. For example, get out of bed for one hour tomorrow and then add an hour each day.
- If you are unable to get through any of these support suggestions, please seek professional medical help ASAP.
Acceptance – exploring options, new plan in place, moving on
Acceptance does not mean that you forget what’s happening (or happened) and it’s impact on you. It just means that you have accepted that the reality can not be changed. You now have to face a new normal. A new normal that you must learn to live.
Acceptance is a process you will experience. Don’t think of it as an end point and then you are done. You will be constantly learning how to accept this new way of life.
In our current situation, finding acceptance may just mean that you have fewer bad days and more good. You can’t make someone accept things by telling them it’s time to move on and face the new norm. They need to get there on their own, in their own time.
Acceptance Support Looks Like This
- Helping yourself and others realize that we are all learning to create and live with a new norm. You will still long for the “good ole days” in so many ways but you aren’t fighting against the reality of our current situation anymore.
- Give yourself and others patience to get to this stage. Once again, it’s not a one size fits all scenario.
- Writing in a gratitude journal is helpful in this stage to remind ourselves that the things we are most upset about are not what really matters the most.
- This is a time to bring back “old realities” such as board games, talking on the phone, taking a walk as a family, reading a book vs reading on your phone, using cloth napkins vs paper and so many more. It will commemorate our former lives and also bring back some traditions of our parents and grandparents to create our new norm.
Lessons and Takeaways
We are all going through this together, that much is true! What is not true is that we will all EXPERIENCE it the SAME way. And what we do experience will be different for all with a range of high and low emotions. It is important that you recognize these emotions as normal and you are getting the support you need to help yourself or others through them.
This post is in no way meant to minimize the effect of grief, I’ve been there and I get how traumatic it can be. My intention was to highlight the comparisons of our current “loss of freedom” to the emotional stages you naturally go through when grieving. I also wanted to give you some tools to support you in these crazy times. I don’t know about you but it’s always helpful for me to know that what I’m feeling or going through is normal.
Please share YOUR experiences relating quarantine life to the stages of grief in the comments below. We really want to know and it may help someone else. How are you coping? What are some strategies you’ve put in place? What are some positive lessons you’ve learned while creating your new normal? Was this post helpful and if so, in what way?
I wish you and your families excellent physical and mental health during these unprecedented times.