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We are at a critical point in the fight against the spread of COVID-19 outbreaks. Our collective efforts in social distancing, adhering to stay-at-home orders and wearing masks have helped to flatten the curve. The interventions have worked. Projections that six weeks ago foretold the worst are now showing a positive outlook in areas where proactive measures were taken. So, let’s get back to normal and reopen the economy, right? Not quite so fast.

We reached a positive point but it’s one many of us feared would come. The time when we begin to see our efforts worked, but because they have worked the future projections don’t look so bad. So, now people are eager to get out of their homes and get back to daily life pre-Coronavirus. Leaping right back to normal is a recipe for making those flat curves immediately spike. We must maintain these interventions and remain vigilant in our social distancing measures. But these efforts can feel draining and take a toll on us emotionally. So, how do we keep our spirits up and stay vigilant fighting an invisible enemy while not falling into doubt and despair or devolving into conspiratorial levels of reasoning?

“People are eager to get out of their homes and get back to daily life pre-Coronavirus. Leaping right back to normal is a recipe for making those flat curves immediately spike.”

The current situation with COVID-19 is a loss of our normal life. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross wrote the book On Death and Dying primarily focused on the emotions felt when a loss occurs in one’s life. Most people go through these stages when they suffer a loss. And the feeling is no different in the response to COVID-19. People are handling the situation in different ways and usually find themselves at one point in the five stages of this process. It’s normal for people to move through these steps at different rates and for some to skip or even return to prior stages.

This discussion intends to help people figure out their emotional state. When one understands where they are in the process, they can move forward with productive steps in their response.

The Five Stages

Denial – Avoidance, Confusion, Elation, Shock, Fear
Much of the middle states of the U.S. continue to dismiss and ignore the reality we’re facing in the Coronavirus pandemic. Here are examples of events we’ve seen during this time:

  • Some states and cities with no social distancing.
  • Reports from Florida about keeping beaches open.
  • Stories of Coronavirus block parties.
  • Delayed responses by organizations and churches to stop gatherings.

Anger – Frustration, Irritation, Anxiety
Many times, we have no control over the waves of anger, anxiety or frustration that sweep over us during this unprecedented time. Some of the emotional responses we’ve seen during the pandemic are:

  • People arguing and fighting over limited resources.
  • Anger at the federal government over response to the pandemic.
  • Small business owners resisting closure by public health officials.
  • Public moving from acceptance back to anger over closure of the economy.

Bargaining – Struggling to find meaning, Reaching out to others
We begin negotiations in hopes of avoiding acceptance of the loss and the reality we are facing. These behaviors include:

  • Bargaining with God. Pleading that if you do this, he will do that.
  • Grieving spouses begging to trade their life for the other’s life.
  • Some governors playing politics to curry favor with the president to get PPE supplies instead of taking proactive measures.

Depression – Overwhelmed, Helplessness, Hostility, Flight
The helpless feeling of fighting an invisible enemy can foster despair. This has affected people during the pandemic in some different ways:

  • Depression and sadness in healthcare providers.
  • Coronavirus positive people isolated from their families in their own homes.
  • Patients and frontline workers with increased addictions and anxiety.
  • Contemplating suicide in this time of social isolation.

Acceptance – Exploring options, New plan in place, Moving on
During the pandemic, some have embraced the inevitable and are dealing with reality. Here’s what this looks like:

Defining Your Response

Most important is to recognize what stage you and others are in. Be active and control what you can.  Do something productive for others. Here are a few ideas to aid in the process:

  • Avoid sensational media and limit time online.
  • Recharge spiritually by connecting with your church or congregation for fellowship and worship.
  • Share and follow information from the Public Health Department regarding social distancing.
  • Safely serve others – connect with family, reach out to those who you can help.
  • Reach out to the world and spread encouragement through virtual tools online – Zoom, Teams, Google chat, and other social media.
  • Pray for and support frontline healthcare and essential workers.
  • Stay vigilant in your efforts to wash hands, wear masks in public and maintain social distancing.
  • Recognize in others where they are in the stages and offer grace.

In Closing

It’s understandable to be anxious to get back to normal. But we must remain vigilant and take care of ourselves emotionally as well. Use the stages of grief we discussed above as a guide for self-inventory and to see where taking action is needed to help one’s emotional well-being. We’re all in this fight together and collectively our efforts are making a positive impact on the healthcare system’s ability to weather the COVID-19 storm.

About the Author

Lonnie CampbellDirector of Communication
Lonnie Campbell is Director of Communication for Axene Health Partners, LLC.

About the Author

Richard Liliedahl, MD, is the Chief Medical Officer of Axene Health Partners, LLC and is based in AHP’s Temecula, CA office.