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Stages of Grief Could be Stages of the Unknown


I have been reflecting on how the 5 Stages of Grief as described by Kübler-Ross (1969) which are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance are similar to the stages we experience when we are faced with any unknown situation. Take, for example, the Coronavirus outbreak which we are looking at now. I can only talk about my subjective experience but I have witnessed the following manifestations of the stages

Denial – ‘It’s ok, we’ll get through this and these things happen. It’s like a war so let’s knuckle down to it and wait for the ending’.

Anger – ‘Why are the government not doing anything or doing more? We need to shut down quicker / why are they shutting things down, this is my livelihood at stake.’

Bargaining – ‘ It’s ok if I break the rules, if I get the virus I’ll survive, so long as I don’t infect anyone else or go near my elderly relative we’ll be fine.’

Depression – ‘Oh crikey, this is going to last a while. I really won’t be able to return to the same reality as before, I really won’t be able to hug my mum or go for a drink with my friends for a long while.’

Acceptance – ‘OK, this is the reality for now so I can crack on and make the most of it, do the jobs I would have normally postponed, reach out by phone to people, enjoy my own company and that of those in my household, work out a way to make a living and pay my bills.’

So in any unfamiliar situation and in any unknown, perhaps we do adopt these stages.

I would add in an initial stage to the Kübler-Ross model – hysteria. In most of the more stressful situations that I have faced personally, I feel there has been a period of hysteria and certainly as a child I very much remember feeling this even in the face of death. It’s the reason that I got the giggles at my grandad’s funeral. The hormones which are released are pressing us into action. It’s why we panic buy and why a lot of people, and I definitely include myself in this one, get very busy and active when faced with a new challenge. Adrenalin and cortisol can cause us to have a burst of mild hysteria.

So, where are you in this process right now in any stressful situation you are facing? If you know where you are, perhaps you will know where you are going and to feed into the human desire for certainty, at least you have a model now!