I recently read an article in the Psychiatric Times where Dr Pies stated that “Beyond unsettling our minds, the current pandemic unsettles our souls in ways we are just beginning to understand. Just as the COVID-19 virus attacks the respiratory tract, the pandemic itself can assault the soul.” I could really relate to this. Can you?

We are all dealing with such collective loss, trauma and grief. We are all mourning the loss of something. Globally, thousands of people are mourning the loss of loved ones. The elderly and sick are mourning their loss of visitors. Many are mourning lost jobs, lost savings, lost security. Most of us are feeling the impact of our loss of freedom, sense of certainty and connection. “At the very moment when many of us hunger most for the reassurance of company and the solace of community, we’re hustled into isolation,” (Bruni, 2020). Personally, I have written about the myriad of emotions I’m feeling, how my heart feels broken by the devastation and loss my family, friends, colleagues and clients are experiencing. I’m in awe of the human spirit and resilience I see in the face of this pandemic and yes, I am unsettled by it all. It made me want to put some Key Steps together for us so we can settle our souls a little and continue to be courageous and…

‘be the difference that makes the difference.’

  1. Realise that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to feel. You are living through the first global trauma event for decades – arguably the first of its kind since World War II. We all react in different ways to trauma, so don’t tell yourself (or anyone else) what you should be thinking, feeling or doing. You may feel intense shock, confusion, fear, numbness or overwhelmed by a host of conflicting emotions, sometimes all at once. And these emotions aren’t limited to the people who experienced the event so what you are feeling is normal. I have heard many people trying to minimise their own feelings when dealing with the loss of a colleague because “it’s nothing compared to what their family is going through.” Don’t compare. Your loss and your feelings are real. I hurt deeply when others hurt so, yes, it’s not the same as what the family are feeling but I am hurting and I am unsettled. In order to really accept your feelings, you need to…
  2. Acknowledge and validate your feelings. David Trickey, psychologist and representative of the UK Trauma Council, says that trauma can be understood as a rupture in ‘meaning-making’, when “the way you see yourself, the way you see the world, and the way you see other people” are shocked and overturned by an event. The normal ways we cope with illness, death and grief have been disrupted by the pandemic. It is important not to ignore, justify, rationalise or minimise your feelings or the feelings of others. It will only slow recovery. In the moment, it might seem easier or better to avoid experiencing your emotions, but they exist whether you’re paying attention to them or not. Even intense feelings will pass if you simply allow yourself to feel what you feel.
  3. Practise empathy. In the face of intense emotions perhaps one of the best things we can say is, “I am so glad you felt you could share with me. I’m sorry you are dealing with this.” Or “Shooo, I can hear how tough this is for you. I’m sorry.” One of the worst things we can do is to try and add a silver lining to trauma. For example, someone says, “I am feeling dreadful today, I wouldn’t wish Covid on my worst enemy.” Poor response = “I’m sorry you are feeling dreadful but thank goodness you aren’t in hospital.” Better response = “I am really sorry that you are feeling so dreadful.” We don’t have to fix it; we just have to be able to sit with the pain of another and not move to hide it or fade it or fix it… just hold it, acknowledge it and validate it. Being a witness to another’s grief can create profound healing.
  4. Practise gratitude. This is different to adding a silver lining. It is not about that at all. It runs parallel to points 2 and 3. For example, you can acknowledge how anxious and upset you feel while being grateful for your family’s support or the healthcare workers who are tirelessly working to save lives. We have so much to be thankful for. You might want to keep a journal and write down three new things each day. You could also start each day by sending an email or WhatsApp to thank, acknowledge or appreciate someone in your network and, in so doing, spread ripples of positivity.
  5. Re-establish a routine. We find enormous comfort in the familiar. After a disaster, psychologists recommend that we get back – as much as possible – to a familiar routine to help you minimise the traumatic stress, anxiety and hopelessness. Covid is no different. If this feels really challenging because your work and/or school routine is significantly disrupted, try to bring in the sense of certainty and structure with regular times for meals, sleeping, exercising, spending time with family, relaxing and so on. Be realistic about your expectations, especially if you are recovering from ‘long-Covid’ – you might often need to scrap the routine and just get into bed if you can. A good idea that should be sustainable in your routine is to set aside time to…
  6. Stay connected with others. Social distancing is tough on people as connection is a fundamental human need – even for introverts. Withdrawal during times of extreme stress is normal but this shouldn’t go on too long. Reach out. Video call a friend. Even just sending messages to check on people goes a long way to making sure they know that they are loved and it can give you a sense of purpose while meeting the need for connection. If you really need to physically be with others, try to go for a walk outdoors or a picnic in the garden. The key is stay safe and not to invite more trauma by potentially spreading the virus.
‘be the difference that makes the difference.’

DISCLAIMER: This is not a medical opinion and it is important to seek out a healthcare professional if you are experiencing severe symptoms. This is also far from an exhaustive list so I promise to use the next few weeks to share more ways we can work on being ‘holistically healthy’ and take care of ourselves and others. Do you have any questions that you’d like me to answer or anything you’d specifically like help with? And please feel free to share how you settle your soul so we can all take Key Steps together to… ‘be the difference that makes the difference.’

NOTE: The information in my blog may be freely shared and re-used in any online or offline publication, provided it is accompanied by the following credit line: This was written by Dr Sharon King Gabrielides, and originally appeared in her free weekly  ‘Key Steps Food for Thought Blog’ available on the Key Steps website.

Dr Sharon King Gabrielides

About Dr Sharon King Gabrielides

Sharon is a dynamic facilitator, speaker and executive coach with over 20 years’ experience in leadership and organisational development and transformation. She is a registered Education, Training and Development Practitioner (ETDP), holds an Honours degree in Psychology and practices as an NLP master practitioner. She is also one of only three women in South Africa to hold the title of Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) – it’s the Oscar of the speaking business.

Sharon’s PhD thesis contributed a framework for holistic and sustainable leadership development that has been published by Rutgers University in the USA. She is faculty of Henley Business School and highly sought-after by leading corporates because she works hand-in-hand with them to create sustainable results and long-term success. Sharon has become known for her practical approach, useful tools and genuinely caring manner. She is really looking forward to working with you and taking Key Steps to ‘be the difference that makes the difference.’