Covid-19. Our Fear, Trauma, Loss, and Grief. by Karen Walker

Government campaigns to keep us all safe during Covid-19 have, by design, ignited our fear.

 

Fears of becoming infected, of infecting others including those we love, of getting sick, of long-term disabilities, and of dying.

Covid-19 is an emergent crisis, the cause and solutions are uncertain, with no end in sight, stretching us well beyond our human resources. 

"Surge capacity is a collection of adaptive systems — mental and physical — that humans draw on for short-term survival in acutely stressful situations. The pandemic has demonstrated .. the limits of surge capacity. When it’s depleted, it has to be renewed."

A companion of fear, can be traumaPsychiatrist Dr. Julian Lagoy says

"the current COVID-19 pandemic has qualities that qualify as a traumatic experience as it takes a physical and emotional toll on many people.”

 

In many communities - such as my hometown Melbourne - sadly it's not uncommon to know someone who has lost a loved one to the pandemic.

It's hard to escape the pervasive daily updates on Covid-19 statistics, constantly reminding us of the escalating loss of life and health.

These losses are accompanied by a myriad of other types of losses in our personal and work lives. Losses during Covid-19 can be

" framed in terms of basic human needs - for identity, purpose, attachment, & control, among other things. When people feel the loss of one or more of these deep-seated needs, they are experiencing grief."

George Bonanno, a clinical-psychology professor, describes grief as

“natural adaptive reaction - a painful but necessary mental recalibration to accommodate a new absence.”

In That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief during Covid-19, David Kessler, a world expert on grief, shared

"we’re also feeling anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief is that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain." 

Covid-19 work related fears and losses

Covid-19 workplace related fears about, and/or actual losses, include the following.

Workplace psychosocial health and safety through the lenses of trauma and grief

Actions taken by employers to meet their workplace health and safety duties to protect workers from psychological risks, differ significantly from those pre-pandemic.

The current global pandemic means the scale, nature, and ongoing and evolving causes, of psychosocial workplace related hazards harming workers, are both unique and unprecedented.

As is the resultant wide scale trauma and grief being experienced within organisations. And this is why a focus on supporting continual emotional expression is key, for anyone experiencing fear, trauma, loss, and grief.

  • Every feeling is a reminder of something important to us.
  • We learn about what’s important to us through our feelings.
  • We learn about what we need and value.

If something important to us is:

  • threatened, we're likely to feel fear,
  • blocked, we're likely to feel anger,
  • achieved as part of our job, we're likely to feel inspired, and
  • also important to others, we're likely to feel connected.

Naming emotions being experienced, is the first step to understanding needs, loss. and what will keep people safe.

 

In That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief during Covid-19, David Kessler says,

"There is something powerful about naming this as grief. It helps us feel what’s inside of us. When you name it, you feel it and it moves through you. Emotions need motion."

Putting Feelings Into Words Produces Therapeutic Effects in the Brain, includes the following.

"Why does putting our feelings into words - talking with a therapist or friend, writing in a journal - help us to feel better? A new brain imaging study by UCLA psychologists reveals why verbalizing our feelings makes our sadness, anger and pain less intense."

In We Need To Specifically Label Our Emotions, Harvard Medical School psychologist Susan David, Ph.D. says

"you can't expect to effectively deal with your emotions without accepting them - but the work doesn't end there. Once you acknowledge your emotions (without a positive or negative connotation surrounding them), the next phase is to try to make sense of them."

In Taking Your 'Mental Health' Temperature During COVID-19Kimberly Yonkers, MD, a Yale Medicine psychiatrist, says.

“There is a field called disaster psychiatry, and the COVID-19 pandemic falls within its purview. People need to check their emotional health every day by asking, ‘How am I feeling? How is my mood? How is my energy? What can I do about it?"

Steven Marans, MSW, PhD, a child and adult psychoanalyst and chief of the Trauma Section at the Child Study Center, shares

"emotions aren’t always a sign of a clinical diagnosis - in fact, they are a normal human reaction to acute stress resulting from a major external event.

Because each of us is in a different situation and our experiences and circumstances vary enormously, it may be helpful to identify what is bothering you the most (as opposed to trying to grapple with the pandemic as a whole)."

 Arman Fesharaki-Zadeh, MD, PhD, a Yale Medicine neuropsychiatrist, adds

"people who do not address their emotions in the short term could be putting themselves at risk for more serious potential long-term problems, such as PTSD.

What may be a surprising bit of advice on preventing long-term mental health issues is to allow yourself to fully experience your uncomfortable emotions, overwhelming as they may feel. It’s important to remain aware of your situation and - if you feel frightened - give yourself permission to feel that."

McKinsey's The hidden perils of unresolved grief during Covid-19, stresses

"opening up emotionally allows those who have suffered from unresolved grief to restart the process of bonding with other people. As their focus shifts outward, their internal dialogue shifts from defensive to positive. This brings calm, clarity, gratitude, and even playfulness."

The power of feelings at work shares the following Katzenbach Centre model.

I use the excellent riders&elephants emotional culture deck (some of the cards in the deck below), as part of supporting emotional expression in my coaching and consulting work, with individuals, teams and organisations.

Workplace COVIDSafe psychosocial planning

Does your organisation have a plan?

Does it include assessing psychosocial hazards at organisation, and individual employee, levels?

Is it informed by practices for supporting people experiencing fear, trauma, loss, and grief?

Has your organisation also enacted a Mental Health First Aid approach and resources, as part of your COVIDSafe psychosocial planning?

From Mental Health First Aid Australia's Dealing with COVID-19 ANXIETY

 

Want to learn more ....

Are you curious about how to effectively optimise human performance at work, during Covid-19?

Or maybe you want to create an effective workplace COVIDSafe psychosocial plan?

Or you just don’t know where to start, when it comes to identifying psychosocial workplace hazards?

Everyone is welcome to join the Optimising Human Performance at Work in a Covid Safe World Meetup Group, and participate in regular free events, LIVE and online via Zoom.

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Karen Walker is an Advisor, Expert and Operative in Strategy Execution, the series of decisions and actions undertaken to turn strategic visions of organisations into reality. An evolving journey of understanding possibilities and using situational awareness to adapt tactics and goals to realise maximum value. 

A specialist in the casino and gaming industry, with extensive experience in the implementation of new and innovative practices and the establishment of greenfield operations, Karen’s career spans senior operational management and leadership, program director, project and change management, and business transformation lead roles, across a number of sectors.