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How Feelings of Loss During a Crisis Can Shape Growth for the Future

August 19, 2020

Here we are, almost through 2020 and well into this new way of working. Regardless of where you live, you have likely experienced some sort of loss during the pandemic, and you may be grieving. My purpose here is not to write about the loss of a family member or a friend, but the loss of how you expected your life to be this year.

 

iStock-1165941646This loss could be felt in being laid off or furloughed. You may be experiencing feelings of loss by not being able to visit family or friends like you could before. You may have lost a well-deserved vacation, graduation ceremony, or other rites of passage. While our losses can be different, what is not different is that we have all lost something, and we all feel the grief associated with it. 

 

There are five stages of grief, which were first introduced to us by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her book, On Death and Dying. These stages are as follows: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Despair, and Acceptance. We will explore these in further detail and apply them to what we are currently experiencing in the world today. 

 

  1. Denial – In this stage, we refuse to accept the truth. Perhaps when you first heard about COVID-19 and a “pandemic,” you probably assumed it wouldn’t be as bad as it seemed. Maybe you thought it would blow over quickly or, like me, that they wouldn’t close school for the rest of the academic year, but then it happened. Now what? 

  2. Anger – We feel it emotionally. We are frustrated and upset. You probably asked yourself, "How will I work from home effectively? How will I work and make sure my kids are completing school online? Why are the stores out of paper products?" Experiencing this is absolutely normal. If you continue to feel these feelings, make sure to identify someone with whom you feel comfortable to share these feeling and do the same for them.  

  3. Bargaining – At this point, we were probably attempting to negotiate (with ourselves) in hopes that what we feared the most would not come true. For example: "I’ve always been a good employee, I wouldn’t lose my job," "I practice good hygiene, I won’t get sick," or "My kids will be so disappointed, they can’t cancel graduation." Here, we are trying our best to remain in control of a situation that was always out of our control; we just are not ready to let it go. 

  4. Despair – This stage is also known as depression. This is when our loss is finally realized and the grief sets in. We might find it hard to get out of bed in the morning. We might find ourselves losing patience with our family members that we have been around, in quarantine, for weeks. We might engage in negative self-talk, allowing it to impact our self-esteem. How long we spend in this stage can vary greatly and depend on what we are willing to do about it. Here are some things you can do immediately if you find yourself stuck in this stage:

    • Take a break – Remove yourself from the situation and your thoughts. If you need to stay inside, move to a different part of your dwelling and/or engage in a different activity. If you are working (virtually or onsite)try to give yourself a quick time out, even if it is just to take a short walk.

    • Journal – Write down how you are feeling. Although you may not have the option to do it the moment you recognize you are experiencing despair, make it a habit first thing in the morning or before bed. By capturing your thoughts, you will be able to engage in a release as well as have an opportunity to do some self-reflection later on.

    • Ask yourself different questions – Often, when we are engaging in negative self-talk, we are asking ourselves limiting questions, even if we don’t realize it. These questions can be along the lines of “Why is this happening to me?” or “What happens if we never get out of this situation? If you can catch yourself engaging in these types of questions, you have the choice to make a change. Try different questions, such as “What’s a new activity I can try?” or “How can I make the most of this time with my family?

  5. Acceptance  We get to this stage when we are able to recognize that losing our job or having to postpone a celebration, etc. is terrible, and it is now our current reality. We may find ourselves having a good day and then a bad day, followed by another good day. The grieving process is not linear, and we shouldn’t create arbitrary time frames for getting through it.  

It is important that we do not deny ourselves the ability to grieve. However, we also need to make sure we have the correct support around us to get through it. While we may be forever changed by this pandemic, we can use this as an opportunity to grow. 

 

It’s cliché, but we have all heard the phrase, “Growth never happens inside your comfort zone.” It’s true. It's very easy to fall into the status quo when things are going well. But when people, organizations, teams, and employees are challenged – as difficult as that challenge may be – they are likely to come out on the other side with lessons learned and ways to tackle difficult situations better, faster, and with a level head.  

 

Although working in today’s world is so much more challenging than it was before – for both employees and leaders – there are growth opportunities here. Below are some questions to reflect on as you navigate through these challenges: 

 

  • How can I better support my team during this time? In what ways can I better connect with my manager? 

  • (If you’re in a situation where you’ve been furloughed or let go): How can I best network and leverage my LinkedIn contacts during this time? What skills have I honed that might be valuable to companies that are hiring? 

  • How can I better myself – and keep my family connected (and as sane as possible) - during this difficult time? 

  • How can I simplify my routine and/or my daily life to better manage this situation? 

  • What good things have come from this challenge so far? How have I evolved for the better? 

When you ask yourself these questions and make note of your answers, you’ll likely see the growth happening in real time. Recognizing where we are in the grief process and becoming more self-aware will allow for greater growth. It’s important to consistently remind ourselves that we are not alone and that we have support systems all around us to help facilitate our growth as we emerge from this crisis.  

 

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Melinda Kennedy Melinda Kennedy is a Senior Organizational Development Consultant with Caliper/PSI. Her areas of focus include executive coaching, leadership development, and team effectiveness. Melinda holds two Master of Arts degrees in Psychology, the most recent focusing on Industry and Organization.