Covid-19 Change vs Grief theory

Covid-19 Change vs Grief theory

Which is more appropriate for explaining your reaction to the current pandemic

The current Corona Virus issue has more affinity with the Kübler-Ross Grief Model than a business change management process – Let’s explore why.

Change management and its associated processes are more related to chosen outcomes, when there is time to plan the change. The Covid-19 outbreak was not planned and has taken society all over the world by surprise. This has more to do with grief [which tends to be thrust upon us] rather than a planned change. Read more about change theory here

Kübler-Ross Grief Model

In 1969 Swiss psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross described a five stages process related to grief, [often referred to as DABDA. The stages are:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Kübler-Ross’s five-stage grief model has received much criticism, mainly because, mistakenly many readers believed this is the specific order in which people grieve and that all people go through all stages. Kübler-Ross acknowledged that the stages are not linear, and some people may not experience any of them. Other people might only experience a couple of the stages rather than all five. One needs to recognise that the five stages of grief are the most commonly observed and experienced by the grieving population.

But how does this apply here?

I would like to explore how these five stages of grief apply to an unexpected, unplanned major event like the Covid-19 pandemic.

Remember it is not a linear process but the first reaction most citizens may have experienced could have been Denial.


Denial is the stage that Kübler-Ross suggested can initially help you survive the immediate impact. Think how many people first reacted to the news of the pandemic.

“Not real”, “Government Over reaction”, “OMG you are kidding!”  “Don’t they realize I have a business to run?!” “This makes no sense”,

The potential impact is too overwhelming, so you deny the news and, in effect, go numb. It’s common in this stage to wonder how life will go on in this different state – you are in a state of shock because life as you once knew it, has changed in an instant.

Perhaps you cling to a false hope that the news will simply go away. You might believe the news is incorrect – a mistake must have occurred somewhere in the world. In the denial stage, you are not living in ‘actual reality,’ rather, you are living in a ‘preferable’ reality. Interestingly, it is denial and shock that help you cope and survive the event, helps you pace your feelings instead of becoming completely overwhelmed. We deny it, do not accept it, and stagger its full impact on us, think of it as your body’s natural defence mechanism saying “hey, there’s only so much I can handle at once.” Once the denial and shock start to fade, the acceptance process begins. At this point, those feelings that you were once suppressing are going to come to the surface. So, the next reaction may be Anger.


Once you start to live in ‘actual’ reality again and not in ‘preferable’ reality, anger might start to set in. This is a common stage to think “why me?” and “life’s not fair!” You might look to blame others for the cause of your current predicament and may redirect your anger to others. You find it incomprehensible of how something like this could happen to you.

If you are strong in faith, you might start to question your belief in God. “Where is God? Why did s/he let this happen? Why didn’t s/he protect us/me?”

Researchers and mental health professionals agree that this anger is a natural response – and perhaps, arguably, a necessary one. In a situation like the fast change in society behaviour driven by the Covid-19 pandemic, you might feel disconnected from reality – that you have no control or grounding anymore. Your life as you knew it has shattered and there’s nothing solid to hold onto. Some people might also feel deserted or abandoned during this type of event. “What will become of me?” – this leads on to the next potential stage – Bargaining


When something bad happens, it’s common for to try and strike a bargain. In a way, this stage is really engendering false hope. You might falsely make yourself believe that you can avoid the impact on yourself or your business through a type of negotiation. “If you change this, I’ll change that”. You are so desperate to get your life back to how it was before the event. You may even be willing to make major life changes to get back to normality. Guilt is a common bedfellow of bargaining. This is when you endure the endless “what if” statements. “What if I had seen this coming”. “What if I had better savings, better insurance, hadn’t just spent that money on…” These thoughts will lead on to the next stage in the process. Regret and depression.


In the current Covid-19 pandemic please do not underestimate this stage – Depression is a commonly accepted form of grief. In fact, most people associate depression immediately with grief – as it is a “present” emotion. It represents the emptiness we feel when we are living and realize the situation is gone or over. In this stage, you might withdraw from life, feel numb, live in a fog, and not want to get out of bed. The world might seem too much and too overwhelming for you to face. You don’t want to be around others, don’t feel like talking, and experience feelings of hopelessness. You might even be thinking “what’s the point of going on?” In the current Covid-19 pandemic, this is the stage where we all need the most support, the links by video, the meetings, the chats with colleagues and friends as we begin to reach the next stage – acceptance.


The last stage identified by Kübler-Ross is acceptance. Not in the sense that “it’s okay” but rather, “Life has changed, but I’m going to be okay.” In this stage, your emotions may begin to stabilise. You re-enter reality, you come to terms with the fact that the “new” reality is HERE NOW, and that the old world has changed – and you’re okay with that. It may not be a “good” thing – it may not be a bad thing, but it’s something you can live with. It is a time of adjustment and re-adjustment. There will be good days, there will be difficult days. In this stage, it does not mean you’ll never have another bad day – but just like in the “old reality” the good days will tend to outnumber the bad days once more.

In this stage, you start to engage with friends again, perhaps in a slightly different way, but you move, grow, and evolve into your new reality.

The speed at which you pass through this process can’t be predetermined.

The important point is being aware that this is normal, and everyone is going through the same process and the New reality will await us all on the other side!

Potential Symptoms of the Covid-19 disruption cycle

Your symptoms may present themselves physically, socially, or spiritually. Some of the most common symptoms of may be:

  • Difficulty Sleeping
  • Feelings of Detachment
  • Isolation from Friends and Family
  • Worry
  • Anxiety
  • Frustration
  • Guilt
  • Fatigue
  • Anger
  • Stress

More on change models – here

But remember we will get out the other side…

Remember there is always…

More Than One Answer