The Discomfort You Are Feeling is Grief: David Kessler to HBR

The noecoronavirus outbreak is threatening to change our world, and our understanding of it, in many ways. The fight with the invisible enemy—the Covid-19 virus, its menacing fast spread, the breakdowns of reputed health systems, quarantines and lockdowns, the spine-chilling rising graphs of deaths, dark clouds over economies, offices and educational systems grappling with sudden work/study from home logistics—these are scenes that are going to be irrevocably linked to Covid-19.

To emerge from the feeling of desolateness is important. Harvard Business Review (HBR), turned to expert David Kessler, founder of which has over 5 million visits yearly from 167 countries, for ideas on how to help manage this unexpected and unfortunate turn of events.

Interestingly, Kessler co-wrote with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross “On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss”. His new book adds another stage to the process, “Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief”.

Kessler told HBR: “We’re feeling a number of different griefs. We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way and we realize things will be different. Just as going to the airport is forever different from how it was before 9/11…The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.”

When asked by HBR what individuals could do to manage this grief, he said: “Understanding the stages of grief is a start. But whenever I talk about the stages of grief, I have to remind people that the stages aren’t linear and may not happen in this order. It’s not a map but it provides some scaffolding for this unknown world. There’s denial, which we say a lot of early on: This virus won’t affect us. There’s anger: You’re making me stay home and taking away my activities. There’s bargaining: Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right? There’s sadness: I don’t know when this will end. And finally, there’s Acceptance. This is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed….Acceptance, as you might imagine, is where the power lies. We find control in acceptance. I can wash my hands. I can keep a safe distance. I can learn how to work virtually.

On the techniques to deal with the situation, he said: “If you feel the worst image taking shape, make yourself think of the best image. We all get a little sick and the world continues. Not everyone I love dies. Maybe no one does because we’re all taking the right steps.”

He emphasised the sixth stage to grief, which is “Meaning”. “I did not want to stop at acceptance when I experienced some personal grief. I wanted meaning in those darkest hours. And I do believe we find light in those times. …I believe we will continue to find meaning now and when this is over.”

Finding meaning will help us in looking at the situation with positivity, that is needed in copious amounts right now, since we are dealing with an unprecedented situation and an invisible predator. Finding meaning will help us sail through with a better all-round perspective of the situation.