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Thursday, April 16, 2020

The 5 Stages of Grief During the COVID-19 Crisis

Most of us have been feeling many different emotions, including varying degrees of grief for our losses during this COVID-19 pandemic.  I've been writing articles about psychological reactions and coping strategies to get through this stressful time, including the concept of the 5 Stages of Grief (see my articles: Grieving Losses During the Crisis and Healing and Coping and Staying Calm During the COVID-19 Crisis).

The 5 Stages of Grief During the COVID-19 Crisis

I began discussing the 5 Stages of Grief as it relates to the COVID-19 pandemic in an earlier article, and I would like to expand on that discussion here.

The 5 Stages of Grief:
  • Denial
  • Anger 
  • Bargaining
  • Despair or Depression
  • Acceptance
The 5 Stages of Grief: It's Not a Linear Process
As I've mentioned before, although these stages might appear to be a linear process, they're not.  These stages are fluid.  Most of the time, people move back and forth between stages at various times and people might experience a combination of feelings on any given day.

The 5 Stages of Grief: The Grief Process and COVID-19
Let's take a look at each stage and how it might relate to the grief process that many people are going through now (see my article: Common Defense Mechanisms).
  • Denial
    • Denial is a defense mechanism.  
    • It can be a useful temporary strategy when people feel overwhelmed.  But in the long run, it can keep people stuck and prevent them from successfully moving through the grief process.
    • Common reactions during the denial stage:
      • "People are overreacting to this problem."
      • "It's not any different from the regular flu."
      • "I'm a healthy person, so I can't get it."
  • Anger
    • Anger is often a secondary emotion when people feel too vulnerable to allow themselves to feel emotions like sadness or fear (see my article: Anger as a Secondary Emotion).
    • People in this stage often blame others for the problem rather than focusing on their own needs and reactions.
    • People can become defiant in terms of following the health experts' advice.
    • Common reactions during the anger stage:
      • "I don't care what the experts are saying. I'm bored and I'm going to hang out with my friends."
      • "No one is going to control me or tell me to do social distancing. I'm my own person."
      • "It's __________'s (fill in the blank) fault. If they had been more careful, we wouldn't be in this predicament."
      • "Someone's making a buck, and it's not me. I'm not going to quarantine."
  • Bargaining
    • The bargaining stage often begins when people can no longer be in denial because there's evidence that the pandemic is actually happening and not overblown.
    • During this stage, people are starting to come to terms with the reality of the situation, but they're not fully ready to accept it yet.
    • Common reactions during the bargaining stage:
      • "Okay, the pandemic is real, but I can socialize with others and I don't need to keep distant or wear a mask as long as I wash my hands."
      • "The crisis is real, but it'll be over soon. We'll all be back to work in a few weeks."
      • "Sure there are people who are sick, but as long as I only hang out with people who are healthy, I'll be okay. I won't get the virus."
  • Despair or Depression
    • When reality sets because people realize that their other defensive strategies aren't working, despair and depression can set in.  
    • People begin to feel hopeless and helpless about the pandemic. They lose a sense of agency and feel powerless.  
    • They often feel that they and the situation are beyond help.
    • Common reactions during the despair or depression stage:
      • "There's nothing that I or anyone else can do. This situation will never improve, so why should I even try to make things better for myself or anyone else?"
      • "I'm going to lose everything, and I'll die alone and penniless."
      • "If I get sick, no one will be able to help me."
  • Acceptance
    • If and when people get to the acceptance stage, they're ready to surrender to the current situation and cope with it as best as they can (see my articles: Empowering Yourself During the Pandemic).
    • Common reactions during the acceptance stage:
      • "Everything is changing, but maybe some things will change for the better."
      • "Things are bad, but I can also look for the silver lining."
      • "I can't control the pandemic, but I can take care of myself and control my own reactions to it."
      • "I can try to find ways that I can help others in a safe and responsible way."
Getting Help in Therapy
If you're having problems coping during this crisis, no matter what you're feeling, you could benefit from working with a licensed psychotherapist who can help you to get through the grieving process.

Many therapists, including me, are providing online therapy, which is also known as teletherapy and telehealth, while they're out of their offices during the pandemic (see my article: The Advantages of Online Therapy When You Can't Meet With Your Therapist in Person).

Rather than feeling stuck and overwhelmed, take action to get help so that you can strengthen your coping skills and feel more empowered.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

I am currently providing therapy online.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.