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Growing through grief and loss to greater wellbeing and resilience

Robin Wilson | Workplace Wellness and Jo Willis | MINDfuel Coach

Girl on a couch

As we move through the uncharted times of ‘staying at home’ and ‘social distancing’, growing our resilience is enhanced by knowing or remembering the cycle of grief and loss.  A natural response to an event like COVID-19 is to experience a multitude of feelings as we experience the stages of loss and grief.  A range of symptoms from not sleeping and increased anxiety to a lack of motivation or more may be showing up.

The fallout from COVID-19 is causing multiple losses in all parts of our lives. From loss of control, our ability to move freely away from our homes being limited, financial losses which are huge and unknown for some, not being with loved ones at critical times or many of the other normal things we do in our daily lives.

Everyone is endeavouring to do the best they can however we might not be recognising within ourselves, our loved ones or our teams the impact of this on our wellbeing. 

Amidst the uncertainty it is crucial we recognise the grief we are all experiencing.

A well-known model of grief and loss is the original from Dr Elizabeth Kubler Ross.

These 5 stages describe the range of emotions we experience when facing loss.

Stage 1 – Denial/shock We resist the facts of the situation, this isn’t happening, it’ll go away. We carry on as usual trying to pretend it isn’t real. We may have experienced this on hearing the initial news or during week 1 – 2 ‘at home’.

Stage 2  – Anger begins as we start to thaw out from the shock. We start to experience anger and agitation and tend to take it out on those nearest and dearest to us. This isn’t right! We look for blame.

Stage 3 – Bargaining we ask for something in return. If we follow the rules, stay at home then the situation will go away and we’ll be back to normal. In this stage we’re driven by the hope of gaining some semblance of control and return to ‘our old normal’.

Stage 4 – Depression or grief begins as reality sinks in. Common aspects are withdrawal, sadness and crying, a feeling of wanting to hide away from the world.

Stage 5 – Acceptance is when you get to the point of ‘OK – it is what it is, I’m ready to accept this, learn and move on, choosing how I react to this’.

Stage 6 – Finding meaning was added later by David Kessler, an expert on grief with the permission of Kubler Ross’s family.  Here we find meaning and gifts in the adversity –  growth. Also a sense of beginning to move forward and out of the cycle.

During the first three stages of denial, anger and bargaining, our reptilian brain kicks in and we are reactive, more in fight, flight or freeze. This keeps us focused on the problem, often experiencing anxiety and only able to see the adversity in the situation. The way to move towards stages five and sixes not around them or denying them, it’s through them.

How do we do this?

A Simple 3 step tool  – 3 A’s

  1. Acknowledge how are we feeling – express, cry, rant
  2. Ask what do we need to do for ourselves – talk to others, journal, go within 
  3. Action move –  just do it, ask others for what we need for example some space, a hug, communicate well

Here are the gifts – once we acknowledge, allow and work gently through the feelings of each stage we reach acceptance. It is then we will be freed from a problem focussed mindset to experience a whole new range of positive experiences and feelings, like joy and gratitude even amidst so much loss and chaos. We also get to choose our response to the current reality. From this mindset, we begin to focus on how we want to be during this unprecedented time.

Remember going through the stages of grief is normal and not a linear experience. We can feel all these emotions at once or dart around, in an out and around and back. Or perhaps overwhelmed and stuck in one place, especially if we are feeling denial, anger and deep grief at the same time.

Imagine being caught in a rip at the beach, where you get sucked into the turbulence of the waves. A natural tendency for survival is to fight for your life and struggle against the tide. We fear and panic at the thought of drowning. We try to think of every way not to go through this, and to keep our head above water. However, what we do know about how to survive when caught in a rip, is to go with it, to stop fighting and to conserve your energy by floating on your back. By trusting the process of nature, the waves will bring you closer to the shore.

Riding the waves of grief and loss will bring you closer to acceptance and finding meaning.

Please – do not stay stuck in the rip, raise your hand and reach out for support.

This is a marathon, not a sprint, and many are tired. Small consistent steps wins out. Keep on the journey. 

We also came across this great article from Harvard Business Review, ‘That discomfort you are feeling is Grief‘.

Robin Wilson, Director - Workplace Wellness

Robin has a strong drive and passion to help people to live well, work well and stay well, assisting others on their wellness journey.

Jo is passionate about inspiring people to see beyond perceived barriers, then access and co-operate with their inherent capability for positive development.

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