Coronavirus, Anxiety & Grief

Coronavirus, Anxiety & Grief

I recently read a spectacular article in the Harvard Business Review in which the author interviewed David Kessler, the world’s foremost expert on grief. I was a little surprised that the author brought in a grief expert and not an anxiety expert – what does one thing have to do with another?

What I understood, both from the article and from Rabbi Yisroel Roll’s “Believe in Yourself” podcasts is that anxiety and grief are linked very strongly during these uncertain times. David Kessler calls what we are all feeling “anticipatory grief.” Kessler explains that “anticipatory grief is that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain.”  We feel that there’s a storm coming – that there’s something bad out there.

We are all feeling this, there’s a collective fear of the loss of normalcy, the economic toll, and the loss of connection. Both David Kessler and Rabbi Roll reference Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief in order to manage the anticipatory grief or anxiety many of us are feeling during this crisis. Below, I have described the five stages:

  • Denial. We say things like “this can’t be happening,” “this is crazy!” or “can you believe that there’s a pandemic in 2020?
  • Anger. We may feel angry at others who are not listening to the social distancing rules or we may feel angry at G-d who has allowed something like this to happen.
  • Bargaining. In order to gain some control, we say things like, “If I wash my hands every two hours, then I won’t get the virus” or “If I give a lot of tzedakah, then my father will stay healthy.”
  • Depression. We feel sad. We might look back at our lives and try to find some meaning that may feel missing.
  • Acceptance. We recognize that this is happening and we have to figure out how to proceed.

It’s also important to understand that the five stages of grief do not go in order! You can feel angry, then be in denial, then feel depressed, then begin to bargain, and then be in denial again. You can also feel acceptance and then return to denial or anger.

Stay tuned for my next email in which I discuss how to understanding the five stages of grief can help us get through this crisis.

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