Global Grief: Moving Through Shock + Overwhelm in a Time of Crisis

In the news and media, you will see updates on COVID-19; positive tests, numbers, graphs, deaths, and hear language new to many of us; social distancing, flattening the curve, herd immunity.

There is so much information to take in, so much data to process, so much change happening across our communities, countries, and across the globe.

And as vast and different as the world is, COVID-19 has changed the world for all of us as we once knew it and expected it to be, uniting us all in our vulnerability and humanness.

We can’t go back to life as it once was.

We’ve lost our sense of normalcy.

Our sense of being able to plan the future is gone.

We’re physically disconnected from one another indefinitely, with our routines and schedules on pause.

We’ve lost the personal freedom to move as we wish.

There is so much fear, for our elders and the immunosuppressed, and those on the front lines fighting this pandemic; our first responders and healthcare workers.

And there is so much worry, for our economic stability, our healthcare system, our jobs, our homes, our schools and colleges, and for the small businesses.

We worry about the future for ourselves and our children and the larger world.

During this time in history, there is incredible uncertainty and there is no way to know what this all means. All we can do right now is put a pause on life and grieve.

Grieve for what once was and for what is now, much like after losing a loved one.

What we are collectively experiencing from a psychological and mental health perspective in our homes, communities, countries, and nations is grief.

Across the globe, we are collectively grieving the loss of what we once knew or expected in our world.

I sit with grief often; grief is a mixture of emotions – shock, overwhelm, sadness, anger, disbelief, hopelessness, and numbness, to name a few. And while there are countless reasons for grief, all share a common theme: an experience of loss.

Heading into my third decade of creating space for those who experience grief, I can share with you this:

  • grief is a process
  • grief can look different for each person
  • grief encompasses many mixed emotions, phases, and stages, filled with uncertainty, fear, sadness and overwhelm

And right now, we are experiencing global grief.

Amid this pandemic of global grief, we continue to care for our families, perhaps work if we are in an industry supporting working from home, or in an industry that continues to need our skills, and attempt to digest all that is happening and changing in our lives and the world.

Here is what I want you to know:

  • You are allowed to grieve.
  • It is ok to feel a range of emotions right now.
  • Grief is a process; it is not a linear event and can be complicated and convoluted.

Grief encompasses the following:

  1. Shock/disbelief: which can show up in your life as wanting to avoid situations or information, feeling confused, having fears, emotionally isolating, or shutting down.
  2. Anger: This can show up as irritability, frustration, and anxiety and having a short fuse for activities you once were able to handle with ease. Anger serves the purpose of pushing down other feelings, such as sadness, anxiety, or hopelessness, perhaps too overwhelming to deal with at the moment.
  3. Bargaining: This shows up in the form of wanting and needing to gain some mechanism of control over what you are experiencing. Thoughts and feelings in the bargaining stage may show up in the form of ‘what if I had done this…’ or, ‘if only I had said…’ And can come in the form of wishing or wanting a part of the past to be different or altered with thoughts of different actions/behaviors.
  4. Depression: This is the stage in grief-filled with a sense of hopelessness, overwhelm and helplessness, believing actions and behaviors may not have an impact or don’t matter
  5. Acceptance: This is the stage of embracing the change and loss, even with uncertainty. This can take the form of making a plan to cope with loss, exploring options on how to heal after loss, and taking the steps to actively manage and move through the loss.

Not everyone will go through all of these stages of grief, and you can experience these stages in order, out of order, and in waves throughout a day, week, or month.

What I am asking you to do right now is to allow yourself to grieve.

  • Allow yourself to feel
  • Do not put pressure on yourself to be overly productive
  • Do not get into the mind trap of thinking you ‘should’ be doing something
  • Do not compare yourself to others
  • Know yourself and what you need to be comforted and take care of yourself

Frame this time as grief, just as you would if a loved one passed away.

Chances are that in the first weeks, you’d take time off from work and most responsibilities. You’d be gentle and kind to yourself and comfort yourself and those around you. You’d suspend life as you knew it for some time.

This time is truly no different, it is grief-work; letting go of life as we knew it, as it has changed in a matter of days, weeks and months.

You can and will get through this.
You have been courageous in the past and moved through grief and managed stress.
You don’t have to know all the answers and you don’t have to know what the future holds.

Now is the time to take all of the lessons and skills you learned from other losses in your life, smaller and larger ones, apply those skills and bits of wisdom to how you cope with right now.
Share your wisdom on how to get through tough times with your children, family and friends, and allow the feelings to be.

Cry if you need to, breathe into the worry, and remind yourself you are strong and courageous. Hold your loved ones and comfort those you’re physically separated from with a phone call. Stay connected and allow yourself to grieve, treating this time as you would any other death or loss.

Chose coping skills that are healthy and reduce your stress. Read, dance, listen to music, cook a comforting meal, play a game, watch a comedy, go outside and take a walk, stretch or do yoga. Limit the amount of time you watch the news or go on social media, give yourself a limit and allow yourself to grieve.

When you create space for your emotions, you move through grief.

And that is what we are all emotionally doing — grieving, for a life we knew, a society and mobility around the globe we relied on, and all of that is on pause right now. What is asked of us is to stay home, to be mindful, to take care of one another, to grieve and find comfort in ways that heal and connect us to one another.

For now, that is ok because on the other side of grief… is hope. And we can’t walk the bridge of hope to a new normal until we allow ourselves to feel, and settle and take in all that we are experiencing.

© Dr. Claire Nicogossian 2020

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