Coronavirus: Grief and trauma counselor breaks down what we’re really feeling

The coronavirus pandemic has left many of us anxious about life and death issues, stressed about finances and struggling to manage our many emotions. For some, the loss of jobs, connection with friends and family, and feelings of hopelessness can be overwhelming. Others are experiencing the death of loved ones within and outside of this pandemic.

Joanne Cacciatore, PhD, a grief and trauma counselor and a research professor at Arizona State University, helps us understand the difference between grief, trauma and fear. She says, “At the core of this pandemic is fear. It’s fear of a lot of things.” She stresses the importance of being sensitive in the words we use because there are people whose loved ones will die during this pandemic.


Cacciatore tells Yahoo Lifestyle grief is “a word that’s an umbrella for a lot of different emotions that we feel in response to the death of a loved one.” Those that are truly grieving are people who have lost loved ones to the coronavirus disease and to other circumstances not related to COVID-19. There are people who are experiencing “secondary” losses (loss of a job, loss of routine, loss of social life) but Cacciatore says, “It’s very different from someone who never gets to see their child again.”


Trauma she describes as “something that happens to us or that we witness that feels out of our control.” There are many things that can trigger trauma — one of them being a feeling of helplessness. “I think it all comes back to fear for both grief and trauma,” she explains. Some of us may be experiencing vicarious trauma — indirect trauma that happens when we are exposed to difficult or disturbing images or stories second-hand. “When you have a situation like the pandemic a lot of people have a low-grade fear,” she says. “In some people, it can rise to the level of vicarious trauma. The images, the constant talk about the pandemic in the news, social media … people can be traumatized just by the news.”

To cope with fear, she suggests talking about it, connecting with friends and keeping a journal. “Express it and then let it move,” she explains. “We don’t have to pretend we’re not fearful.” Cacciatore also encourages parents to talk to their kids. “This is a really good time to be teaching children about emotions and how to cope with their emotions,” she says.

Cacciatore is the founder of the MISS Foundation, an international nonprofit organization aiding parents whose children have died or are dying.

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC and WHO’s resource guides.

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