America Is Going Through the Five Stages of Grief - Remember Compassion

Shari B. Rosenbaum, MD
By Shari B. Rosenbaum, MD
March 28, 2020
Stages of grief

The new coronavirus is taking its toll on our collective mental health. Worn out, angry, worried, confused: These are just some of the emotions my patients feel. I’m sure these apply to many of you and your loved ones, too.

What I tell my patients, and what I hope to impart to a broader audience here, is that however you feel about the current pandemic is totally normal. You may not realize it, but what you’re experiencing is grief. And the grieving process is different for everyone at different times.

You may be familiar with the late psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Her iconic book, On Death and Dying, first introduced the now well-known concept of the five stages of grief. These are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

The five stages of grief apply in a pandemic just as much as they apply to a death or to the end of a relationship. They’re certainly applicable to the current outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Right now, we’re experiencing a national grief. As a country, we are grieving the loss of life as we know it.

Consider some of your friends and loved ones’ perspectives in the context of these five stages:

Stage 1: Denial. “This virus is being overblown. I won’t stop going about my life because of what some TV reporter tells me.”

Stage 2: Anger. “I’m furious I can’t go on my cruise. I know how to wash my hands.”

Stage 3: Bargaining. “Fine, you can get me to stay home most of the time. But I’m still going to run my usual errands to the grocery store and bank.”

Stage 4: Depression. “Being stuck at home is miserable. I miss seeing my friends and family. When will it end?”

Stage 5: Acceptance. “I’m getting used to the new normal. At least I can still enjoy phone calls. What can I do to help others?”

Kubler-Ross said that people won’t necessarily follow a linear path through the five stages. She also noted that some people won’t experience all five stages. That thinking applies here, too.

If you’re having a hard time with other people right now – especially the way they’re handling the new coronavirus outbreak – try to remember that we each experience the world so differently. It can be helpful to step back and try to understand where people coming from. I think that offering compassion is one of the best ways to help people, especially now.

This blog reflects the medical opinion of Dr. Shari Rosenbaum, an MDVIP-affiliated internist, and not necessarily the opinion of all physicians in the MDVIP national network.

About the Physician
Shari B. Rosenbaum, MD

My goal is to manage and anticipate your unique healthcare needs. As an MDVIP-affiliated doctor, I will partner with you on a personal level to help you achieve the optimal health we all value. We will closely collaborate on what it takes to stay on the path to wellness. You will feel welcomed by the relaxed, individualized attention you will receive from everyone in our office.

View All Posts By Shari B. Rosenbaum, MD
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