What is That Feeling You Are Feeling? Coronavirus and Processing Grief

Waking up in a panic.
Suddenly feeling confused and listless.
Wanting to be with people and all alone at the same time.

As the Coronavirus outbreak relentlessly spreads, and life as we know it is frozen in place, a wave of grief is crashing over so many of us. For some it is the mourning of a loved one or the grief that comes from being sick, isolated, and frightened.

It may also be what grief expert, David Kessler, calls Anticipatory Grief:

Anticipatory grief is that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain. Usually it centers on death. We feel it when someone gets a dire diagnosis or when we have the normal thought that we’ll lose a parent someday. Anticipatory grief is also more broadly imagined futures. There is a storm coming. There’s something bad out there. With a virus, this kind of grief is so confusing for people. Our primitive mind knows something bad is happening, but you can’t see it. This breaks our sense of safety. We’re feeling that loss of safety. I don’t think we’ve collectively lost our sense of general safety like this. Individually or as smaller groups, people have felt this. But all together, this is new. We are grieving on a micro and a macro level.

Kessler sat down for an interview with the Harvard Business Review and spoke with Senior Editor Scott Berinato about the stress many of us feel today. I learned about the article on Twitter through Jacob J. Erickson.

In addition to helping me identify the strong, complicated feelings I have right now, Kessler gives some practical steps about how to address these feelings.

Anticipatory grief is the mind going to the future and imagining the worst. To calm yourself, you want to come into the present. This will be familiar advice to anyone who has meditated or practiced mindfulness but people are always surprised at how prosaic this can be. You can name five things in the room. There’s a computer, a chair, a picture of the dog, an old rug, and a coffee mug. It’s that simple. Breathe. Realize that in the present moment, nothing you’ve anticipated has happened. In this moment, you’re okay. You have food. You are not sick. Use your senses and think about what they feel. The desk is hard. The blanket is soft. I can feel the breath coming into my nose. This really will work to dampen some of that pain.

You can also think about how to let go of what you can’t control. What your neighbor is doing is out of your control. What is in your control is staying six feet away from them and washing your hands. Focus on that.

There is a lot of helpful information in the piece. I encourage you find quiet time to sit and slowly read That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief. For me just doing that helped reduce some of the anxiety. Naming the feelings enabled me to approach them.

(Featured Photo by Kristina Tripkovic on Unsplash)


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