By Holly LeMaster

Over the past weeks as the COVID-19 pandemic has spread and we have found ourselves in various stages and phases of self-quarantine, exposure out in the world, or some combination of both, my colleagues and I have had the privilege to continue coaching leaders and clinicians in organizations across the country, one-on-one and in groups. 

What’s struck me the most as I consider the overall tenor and themes emerging from the conversations is this: we are complex, dynamic human beings who can and do hold two (or more) seemingly opposite thoughts and emotions simultaneously. Our mental constructs allow us to see and experience things for more than one perspective at a time. It can be confusing and overwhelming, fascinating and enlightening, terrifying and exhilarating, all at the same time. We can be grateful and bereft. Proud and angry. 

We are complex, dynamic human beings who can, and do, hold two (or more) seemingly opposite thoughts and emotions simultaneously.”

While each one of us human beings is having a wholly unique experience of navigating the pandemic waters with our teams, our loved ones, our communities, and ourselves, we share in a number of common themes. In this series of blog posts, I’ll share some of what we’re hearing.

Heightened emotion, especially grief and fear

People are experiencing waves of various emotions, sometimes vivid and intense. They range from calm and accepting to rage and despair, with every nuance in between. 

We are well-acquainted these days with the stages of grief defined by Elisabeth Kϋbler-Ross—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance—painfully aware that the emotion of grief is not limited to the death of a loved one or a patient (although there is plenty of that to go around). We are experiencing the pain of everyday grief and loss, as well—the kind that comes from missing our family members, canceled rites of passage like graduations and weddings, inability to take part in sports, the arts, events, and other things that bring us joy, the lack of human contact that only comes from physical presence.


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And many of us confront daily a smorgasbord of fears, including:

Health. Our own, our loved ones’, the health of our teams and front line providers. We’re concerned about COVID-19 as well as previously existing conditions that may not being attended to timely, as well as the mental health implications of living in a pandemic.

Financial. Folks are worried about personal finances, both current (employment, salary, ability to make current commitments and “keep the lights on”) and future (impact on retirement savings); organizational – for those with responsibilities for the bottom line, employing staff, containing costs, forecasting revenue, keeping the doors open; as well as uncertainty for our national and global economies.

Well-being of our loved ones, including kids who are missing out on school and activities, elders in long term care facilities, those at high risk—all of the people who we long to hug, comfort, and look in the eye.

The unknown future and not knowing what might come next.

Some report a lack of energy, motivation, or desire to do anything as a result of what’s happening. They just want to stay in bed with their heads under the covers. Others have a sense of overwhelm, confusion, or disorientation, feeling that it’s impossible to get one’s footing in this environment of never-ending change. (Aside: It’s fairly common and “normal” for these feelings to come and go, but if you feel genuinely depressed, anxious, or despondent in a way you can’t manage, please reach out to a mental health professional or someone else you can trust and talk to.)

Countless people have directly experienced the consequences of the virus, including illness (their own or loved ones’), death of friends and family members, the grim reality of working on the front line in our healthcare facilities. And many of our brothers and sisters are experiencing suffering due to poverty, lack of access to healthcare, and racial inequities. Even those who have thus far been fortunate enough to be spared such direct hardships may be feeling the emotional impact of this global suffering on humankind. 

And while all of this difficult emotion is washing over us, we simultaneously continue to enjoy the everyday joys, pleasures, gratitude, and sense of meaning that enrich our lives. 

In the next posts, we’ll address: 

  • Part II – Staying at home
  • Part III – Leading virtual teams
  • Part IV – Service and altruism
  • Part V – Innovation, creativity, and silver linings; dreaming up the new day