Counseling and Testing Center
Coping with Covid-19 (part 1)
- Dr. Karl Laves, (Licensed Counseling Psychologist) Associate Director, WKU Counseling Center
- Monday, March 16th, 2020
We are facing a world health threat, and it looks like it will be a while before things will get back to normal. We have created this part of our website to provide advice on getting through the days ahead. Like most mental health professionals, we are going to use the word “coping”. We hope that with each posting you will gain information, and also feel better about the process you are facing. Getting through this virus will be a big adjustment for us. What some of us will experience will be more like grief or trauma. Most of us will experience significant distress whether from worrying about loved ones, keeping a house supplied with necessary items, lost wages, or lost social contact. Just so you know, we may use humor from time to time in these postings. Please understand we are not making light of the situation; this is a very serious challenge we are facing. Humor can be a very useful part of coping with distress. Humor can offer us distraction, help us stay balanced, and it can be a way of reminding ourselves that we are above the challenge, that we are not defined by the distress. https://blogs.psychcentral.com/caregivers/2018/09/grief-trauma-5-stages-to-overcome/
To start this series, let’s talk about grief and/or trauma and the stages that follow for most people after something threatening/frightening has occurred.
See https://blogs.psychcentral.com/caregivers/2018/09/grief-trauma-5-stages-to-overcome/ for further details.
It is important to remember that people will go through the five stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, but not everyone goes the five in the same order or with the same intensity. Some people might be in denial longer than others while some people will quickly go to anger and only much later deal with the depression. The point here is that you will have your own experiences of these five stages. You don’t have to go through them the same way as others, but you will most likely go through all five eventually. Keep in mind each stage is important; while each stage can be painful, there are also good lessons learned in each stage.
In denial, you aren’t avoiding the reality of the health threat, instead you are simply buying more time to wrap your head around what has happened. Like someone who has been hit from behind, you need time to collect your thoughts. Denial can be necessary in many cases because the thing you have to begin accepting is beyond normal reason.
Anger is also very helpful; it reminds us that we are important and that something or someone is not respecting our value. Like all the stages, however, we don’t want to get stuck in anger. Anger leads to blaming and vengeance, which is a whole other can of worms. It is okay to be angry, don’t be afraid of your anger, and don’t be angry that you are angry. Do accept that it is part of the process. You don’t want to stay stuck in it.
Bargaining is also useful; it is our way of trying to find a solution, something that will keep the threat from happening again. Just realize that it is the fear that is leading you to make bargains, and in time no bargain will keep the fear from happening again. Some of the deals we make with ourselves or our deities while bargaining can be very powerful changes.
Depression sounds horrible and it certainly can be very overwhelming. Depression is also the very strong feeling that tells you why you want to go on. The sadness expressed at a funeral, while painful, is also a measure of the love you had for the person. Depression is hitting rock bottom, and most of us have to hit rock bottom to fully accept the reality of what has happened and then we can move on to acceptance. We need to feel sad because what happened was sad.
Lastly, we go through the stage of acceptance; we stop fighting or resisting the idea that what happened will go away. We accept that from time to time really hard things happen to people. We don’t celebrate it, we sure don’t wish it on others, but life will often bring situations to our lives that we don’t want. There have been epidemics before. There have been world wars and natural disasters. That doesn’t make it okay to have a virus spreading, but it helps us realize that this isn’t personal, we are all affected and we will be affected again, somehow, somewhere. In acceptance we find our way to rise above the disaster, the health threat, or the war. We remember why we want to keep on living and we do it.
Stay tuned for more thoughts about coping with COVID-19. Pay attention to what you are feeling and the stage that might explain what you are feeling. Don’t fight it, don’t fear it. Just let each stage show you what matters and what can be ignored as you move toward acceptance.