The Five Stages of a Pandemic

Is it over yet?

The pandemic, I mean, and all the tempestuous overflow that continues to rock the world as we knew it.

The bad news is that we—the global “we”—are still working our way through the stages that mark our assimilation and ability to move forward after something has changed us this deeply. Because we are definitely changed.

We’ve lost trust in what we thought were infallible traditions—there would always be school, and prom, and graduations. We could always eat out, and we could always visit our family, and we could always plan a vacation and actually take it.

For all we lost, we gained time at home, with family, and discovered all sorts of things about ourselves. Do we really like our jobs? Do we really like how we are living? Do we really like who we’ve become? If not, is this the time to make a change?

With all due respect to the 5 Stages of Grief, the Kubler-Ross model, and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, there is a new pyramid worth considering.


Source: WHYSDOM®

Survival: The effort to endure and meet basic needs regardless of disbelief, fear, or circumstance

It starts at the bottom, in Survival mode. Remember those first anxious days, when we couldn’t peel ourselves off social media for fear of missing an update? Our initial disbelief turned to fear and we began hearing words like “hunker down” and “shelter in place” and the really scary “quarantine.” We stocked up—ok, hoarded—and imagined worse case scenarios so we could be prepared and protect our families.

Adaptation: The use of time to sort out actions deemed personally effective to deal with the situation

As we learned about how the supply chain was broken, and food wasn’t always available, and job layoffs were happening, and nothing was for certain anymore, we moved into Adaptation. No chicken anywhere in  town? Let’s see if that recipe works with pork. No graduation party? Let’s have a parade! Offices closed? Let’s figure out Zoom and work remotely. We adapted quickly, and somewhat surprisingly. What’s more, some of those adaptations made sense, and are here to stay.

Innovation: The ability to react, pivot, and create to meet new scenarios as they arise

When we saw how we could adapt, it gave us the courage to try Innovation. Let’s see what we can make out of whole cloth. We fixed our own cars, at least enough to get by. We made our own bread. We cut our own hair. We experimented, giving each other permission to fail, and we learned new things or created new things along the way.

As much of the world is now at least peeking outside to see what is left, we survived. We adapted. We even innovated. In the midst of the amazement that we’ve made it, we managed to get beyond the fear and move into acceptance, get past the revolt and move into assimilation, get  past our resistance to change and, well, change.

Optimism: A self-defined view of opportunities ahead

We are still innovating—freed to find new and interesting ways to do things. We may even move into Optimism, as we see signs of people uniting around change, uniting around fixing what’s broken, even while it looks a lot like rebellion. These are the steps to something new, different, and—if we do it right—better.

Realization: The understanding and embrace of new cultural norms

We may never hit full Realization. That’s when we fully realize that we are doing things differently, and the temptation then is to stop and accept where we are—when, in fact, we should keep going. Keep changing. Keep examining ourselves and our world. Keep at it.

We now know more than we did six months ago. It can happen to us. It is real. The world has changed. We can follow directions, although we want to know why. We recognize when something has to change, and we are, as a nation, willing to figure out how to change.

Stage by stage by stage.