No matter your role or title in the dance community...teacher, studio owner, parent, dancer, or fan, you have likely felt a roller coaster of emotions since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our world has been turned upside down and the future can often feel daunting. All the closings, cancellations, disappointments, loss, and sickness, coupled with the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and more. It’s devastating. It’s sadness. It’s anger. It’s avoidance. It’s denial. It’s uncomfortable. It’s waking up every day, feeling heavy, disconnected, and anxious.
Grief is often thought of as losing a loved one, but we can (and do) experience grief for any loss. Loss of dance classes, Broadway shows, studios, income, employment, graduations, college orientations, performances, Nationals, social interaction, normalcy, loved ones, and health are just a few of the many things we may be grieving right now.
We are also simultaneously experiencing personal grief, collective grief, and anticipatory grief, which can be unbearable. In an article for Harvard Business Review, grief expert David Kessler, explains, “Anticipatory grief is that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain. Usually it centers on death. We feel it when someone gets a dire diagnosis or when we have the normal thought that we’ll lose a parent someday. Anticipatory grief is also more broadly imagined futures. There is a storm coming. There’s something bad out there. With a virus, this kind of grief is so confusing for people. Our primitive mind knows something bad is happening, but you can’t see it. This breaks our sense of safety. We’re feeling that loss of safety. I don’t think we’ve collectively lost our sense of general safety like this. Individually or as smaller groups, people have felt this. But all together, this is new. We are grieving on a micro and a macro level.”
Kendra Cherry, MS, describes the signs of grief as:
I can say, personally, I have definitely experienced all of those in the last few months. Most of them on several occasions. So what can we do from here? First step: naming it and understanding the stages of grief. Naming it means, when we are experiencing those symptoms, we stop and acknowledge our feelings. We recognize we are in the middle of grief. From there, we can explore the stages of grief and our own personal journey with it.
In 1969, Psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, wrote the book On Death and Dying, where she presented the 5 stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Since then, her colleague and grief expert, David Kessler, has explored a 6th stage of grief: Meaning Making. Before we dive into each stage, let’s look at a few misconceptions on grief and the stages. Here are a few things Kessler says to keep in mind:
After naming our experience as grief and understanding the misconceptions, we can then look at the stages to get a sense of where we are. As it pertains to Covid, Kessler describes what each stage could look like: “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.”
In explaining his 6th stage, Meaning Making, he says, “The meanings not in the death (or loss). You know, there’s no meaning in my son dying horribly at 21. Meaning is what I do after. There’s no meaning in this virus. There’s going to be meaning in what we do after this.” Since the stages are not linear, and can reoccur, it is possible, and probable, that we will vacillate between the stages, and their accompanying feelings, several times throughout these days. Name them, acknowledge them, feel them. You may feel broken. But there is nothing to fix in grief.
Naming and acknowledging our grief and feelings can be a very powerful coping skill. More coping skills to try during grief are:
For more resources, check out David’s Kessler website grief.com. If you are close to someone currently in the middle of grief, he also has a great list of the best and worst things to say to someone grieving.
Practicing these coping skills on a daily basis can be, at least for me, overwhelming and intimidating. I’ve found it helpful to start with naming and acknowledging my grief and feelings, every time it comes up. Sometimes that means stopping what I’m doing and letting myself cry. Sometimes that means texting my husband or a friend that I am experiencing deep sadness. Often, that alone is enough. Other times, I pick one thing on the list above and try it. And I try to remember, there is nothing to be fixed. Just experienced and felt.
If you’d like support while you go through this process, or if you’re interested in my work, head to my website to learn more and see how we can work together to build your healthy mindset to navigate the dance world at your best. You can also find me on Instagram for more free tools, resources, and inspiration.
Ashley Mowrey is a Performance Mindset Coach and Educator located in Fayetteville, AR. She holds a B.A. in Psychology from The University of Arkansas, is a Certified Professional Coach through Coach Training World, as well as a trained facilitator in Tara Mohr’s Playing Big Leadership Program for Women. Ashley trained as a competitive dancer out of Dallas, TX before teaching and eventually directing a company and dance studio in Fayetteville, AR. It was during those years that she felt drawn towards the dancer’s mindset and the need for training and tools for a healthy mindset in the dance community. Now, as a Performance Mindset Coach, she is also a dance specialist with Dancers for Doctors. Ashley has also recently been featured on Dance Studio Amplified Podcast, (Ep. 14), Dance Boss University Mastermind guest presenter, and will be on an upcoming episode of Dance Boss Podcast.
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