As with most situations, we can approach crises’ from two different perspectives. Our daily lives, work schedules and social relationships are currently turned upside down. We slowly begin to realise that, all the boxes of pasta we bought in bulk do not matter much. While just a few weeks ago, we were complaining about the dryness of our hands from constantly washing and sterilising them, we are discovering a new normal now. A normal where everything is much more calm, where we do not have to rush anywhere, a normal where our daily lives became more creative by baking, cooking or playing games with our family. As the first shock and the fear slowly diminish we are entering a new found daily pattern.
A month ago it felt like a punishment to even visit the supermarket. Before leaving the house, I equipped myself with face masks, gloves, cologne and put on my imaginary war paint in front of the mirror. However, the real struggle started afterwards, as soon as I got back home, I had headaches from all the stress, anxiety and from cleaning the groceries I bought. Meanwhile, even that is beginning to feel normal; I take off my shoes outside, wash everything from the supermarket with soap and water, let it sit outside and always have steriliser and soap ready next to the door as it was something I always did. After all we are creatures of habit. Doing all these things is definitely still exhausting but at least because I know and can predict what comes next, it became much more acceptable.
According to the Kübler-Ross model (Kübler-Ross, 2005), there are five stages of grief:
Considering that, something familiar and normal to us was taken away and we are in the midst of an unpredictable event that threatens our safety. It is an absolutely normal experience that, we are going through the stages of grief and loss right now. Some of us lost their jobs, some are unable to see their family and loved ones since weeks, and again some of us lost other other things important to them.
We all went to the denial stage with the first shock of the pandemic. We thought to ourselves that this was a simple flu, exaggerated by the media. Simultaneously, we also felt anger due to all the precautions that made no-sense to us: Why was our freedom taken away all of a sudden? Why were we not able to go outside to get fresh air? And why on earth was it necessary to be put on unpaid leave when we still had all these bills to pay?
Fairly soon my bargaining process started; I debated to myself whether it would not count to take to the dog out. Maybe going out for a walk by myself just three times a week wouldn't be that disastrous since I wasn't seeing anyone and considered myself quite hygienic due to all the hand washing and sanitising, so who would I even harm?
The depressive mood that we might experience from time to time is also a part of this process. Sitting at home, not being able to socialise and only going as far as the balcony can make us feel moody. We can even take all that frustration out from our loved ones that are stuck with us at home. However, simultaneously we are also entering a stage where we begin to accept these big changes in our lives. As our behaviours adapt to the situations, we also realise that life can go on like this.
With changing norms, our behaviours alter as well. Situations accepted by the majority turn into normal experiences. According to the report published by the Leopoldina Academy (2020) in Germany; even if everything turns back into normal; we would still be wearing masks and gloves for months and would still have to mind social distancing at schools or work. Humans are programmed to adapt to change and new situations, accordingly we are able to change our behaviours and habits. For instance, face masks are beginning to become a fashion item, people are wearing designer masks in different colours. Concerts and exercise classes are now streamed live on social media, and the afternoon tea time is now done on platforms such as Skype or zoom. As social beings we still manage to find ways to stay close to our friends despite the physical distance. We perhaps feel more closer to the people that we spend years with, we help each other out more, we make more time for each other on the phone and have a stronger sense of togetherness.
The key of adaptation is to accept the things you cannot change and only focus on the things you can change. As mentioned in my previous article about resilience, we need to accept our feelings and act proactively. Accordingly, focusing on negative feelings or situations will not get us very far but only foster feelings of anger, sadness and anxiety. Mindfulness meditations, yoga, taking care of plants, playing with pets, writing, playing an instrument or other activities that will make us feel good and in the present can help us to focus on the things we are able to change. It is important to redirect our energy to the right objectives in order to feel more content.
Below are three stages to implement, recommended by David Kessler, during the stages of grief:
Name your Feelings: It is important to know yourself, and know what you are feeling. Focus on the emotion that makes you feel bad, realise what your are feeling and give that emotion a name such as anger, sadness, anxiety or fear.
Acceptance: You can try to stay in the moment by doing the activities mentioned above. While being present at that particular moment try asking yourself what you are feeling, where that feeling comes from, when it started and if these emotions bring any benefit to you. Knowing that adversity will pass and that, not constantly feeling positive is normal, tends to make it easier.
Realise Your Strength: As much as denial and anger might be normal feelings during grief, these might also be our defence mechanisms on the surface protecting us from our vulnerability hiding inside. Because anger is such a strong emotion it can easily cover up and suppress feelings of helplessness. We need to know that, what we are going through is real, that the effects are real and that we are not alone during these circumstances. Denial and anger will just cause us to bottle up our emotions, which may result in binge eating attacks, anger tantrums and aggression towards the people we love.
While experiencing such turbulent and unpredictable times, it is important to stay proactive and always consider the other side of the medallion. In order for to live more consciously, instead of letting external factors influence us, we need to focus on the things we can change.