The Loss of Normalcy is Grief

“Everything was good a month ago.” In the past week, I have heard this phrase countless of times. On a large-scale level, we have all recently lost something: our normal everyday routines. What exactly is it that we are feeling and how do we sort out these feeling of uncertainty? Harvard Business Review (HBR) recently published an article entitled, “That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief”. Using the Kubler-Ross Grief Cycle, author Scott Berinato and grief expert David Kessler, layout feelings that undoubtably we have all recently felt:

1. Denial: “This virus won’t affect us”

2. Anger: “You’re making me stay home and taking away my activities”

3. Bargaining: “Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right?”

4. Sadness: “I don’t know when this will end”

5. Acceptance: “This is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed”

Each one of us at some point have probably thought or said the above phrases. It is normal to feel sadness one day and anger the next. These stages of grief do not necessarily happen in order. What we are now facing is anticipatory grief. Kessler describes anticipatory grief as “the mind going to the future and imagining the worst”. Anticipatory grief is that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain. These feelings come after the break of safety and normalcy in our everyday lives. It is important to remember that others are also feeling this way and you are not alone.

Once these feeling have been identified, the next step is recognizing ways to protect yourself and your emotional health. Here are some ideas given by the HBR article:

To calm yourself, you want to come into the present. Kessler suggests that, when our minds start to wander down the path of “worse-case scenarios”, we need to ground ourselves in the present. To do this during the workday, find and name 5 familiar objects (i.e., laptop, chair,) to bring you back to present time.

Let go of what you can’t control. With acceptance comes power and control. Do not expend your energy worrying about situations or the actions of others that you cannot control. Focus on what you can do (i.e., practice good hand hygiene and social distancing even if someone around you is not).

Limit social media and news intake. Be cautious not to let the constant news cycle take over your life. Know your sources and where to get reliable information! Social media is a blessing and a curse. We have access to an abundance of information, yet we need to constantly evaluate sources and proceed carefully. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are examples of reliable sources. The meme that you saw on Facebook, is probably not.

Make time for self-care. I know, most of you probably rolled your eyes at this last one. Between work, school, family and friends, who has time for this? The reality is we need this! Maybe, meditation for an hour in the morning is not realistic, but listening to calming music on the way to work might be! Find what works for you and set aside time each day just for you.

As health care workers, we have actively chosen a profession that is centered around the duty to care for others. We must remember that in order to effectively care for others, we must begin by caring for ourselves.

I encourage everyone to take the time and read Scott Berinato’s full article which can be found on hbr.org.