All in it together

Dr. Linda Friedland
Dr Linda Friedland Stress

As a community, as a country, globally, we are collectively feeling the same emotions of fear, anxiety and a general loss of safety. I don’t think in recent history the entire world has collectively lost our sense of general safety like this. Individually or as smaller groups, people have felt this. But all together, this is new.

Dr David Kessler calls this collective feeling – anticipatory grief. Kessler is the world’s foremost expert on grief. He co-wrote On Grief with the famed Dr Elisabeth Kübler-Ross . Kessler has also worked for a decade in the biohazards team for a three-hospital system in Los Angeles.

“We’re feeling a number of different griefs”, shares Kessler with the Harvard Business Review this week. “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.”

Anticipatory grief is that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain. There is a storm coming. There’s something bad out there. With a virus, this kind of grief is so confusing. Our primitive mind knows something bad is happening, but we can’t see it. This breaks our sense of safety. As much as we are in it together, there is a real dissonance in our interactions. We each feel different levels of fear or calm at different times. When I am feeling terrified and call a good friend, she tells me she is finding this isolation and quiet time meaningful. Or you turn off the news for a day, do some yoga only to be faced with your panic-stricken teenager’s concerns. Although collectively experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic, the rollercoaster of emotions means that we are each at a different emotional point of this revolving ride at any time.

Understanding the stages of grief  is a start. 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. The most dangerous stage of this grief however is denial. Acceptance, as you might imagine, 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 at home. I can manage my children.  It helps to understand that so long as the pandemic continues we will revolve through the different stages and emotions. As you navigate the next few months. Instead of toilet paper, it’s a good time to stock up on compassion! Truly imagine the terrifying dangers for our frontline workers and be kind and grateful to your local supermarket (and Kosher stores) staff who are working in extremely trying circumstances to truly help us. For the first time in a long time – we are all in in together.