When someone close to you dies, it can be the most painful experience our life. The impact of this loss is usually crushing, and in the aftermath of loss, you may feel like you have no control over anything. Grief is a natural response to loss. But dealing with grief at work feels anything but natural. It’s perfectly normal to detach yourself from your normal existence to grieve. Unfortunately, life goes on, no matter how sad you feel.
Returning to work while grieving can be tough. You need to figure out how to be productive and deal with your colleagues who may act different around you because they don’t know how to comfort you. While you can’t control how others act, you can make your return to work while grieving a little easier. From dealing with awkward conversations to accomplishing tasks, here are a few tips to help you navigate your work life while grieving.
strategies for Dealing With Grief at Work
1. Be Transparent with your employer
Be straight with your employer, and let them know you’re struggling with grief. Explain that you probably won’t be operating at an optimal level for a while. Tell them exactly what you need, so they can help you. Ask for mental health days, work from home opportunities or anything else that you need while you grieve.
2. Focus On Productivity
It might be tempting to shut down and do nothing, but trying to be productive and crossing tasks off your checklists can be a healthy, temporary distraction. It can also help prevent you from being consumed by painful feelings. However, don’t fall into the trap of this being your go-to for dealing with uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. At some point, you have to face them to move past them. But doing so at work, isn’t the time or place.
3. It’s the strong ones that Ask for help
People generally want to help those who are grieving but don’t know exactly how to go about it. Don’t be ashamed to ask your colleagues for help. Instead of insisting that everything is great, tell them what you need. They would probably be happy to feel useful and to pick up your workload, so you can focus more on healing.
4. Create and use a sanctuary Frequently
When you return to work, add breaks in your calendar where you can go for walks, take a nap, do some journaling, or anything else comforting. Grief needs dedicated time, and for busy professionals, this may mean allocating time for your feelings.
You may notice that your creativity and cognitive abilities are hindered and your mind may tend to wander elsewhere. Or, tasks that once took five minutes now take an hour. This is all completely normal.
Loss makes it hard to concentrate. Our usual ability to multitask and to be productive may be hindered, so you should allow extra time for familiar tasks,” Kessler says. “Giving your grief a time and place allows you to keep up with work while honoring your loss.”
Find a quiet place to retreat to when things get a little too much, and you just want to have a good cry. It could be your car, or a room where people don’t go into often.
5. Don’t Assume Your Co-workers know
Most companies and businesses handle death just as poorly and awkwardly as most people. Death makes people uncomfortable and leaves most at a loss for words, which is why they usually resort to euphemisms, saying the wrong thing or, (even worse) saying nothing at all.
Assuming your employer informed everyone you work with about your loss while you were out is a bad idea. While some businesses might let every employee know companywide, many others will only inform the coworkers in your department/division, or just your immediate supervisor, and presume that the word will “get around” before you return to work.
Grief is an important step toward healing after you someone you care about dies. When you get back to work, be straight with yourself and others about how you’re feeling. Don’t try to rush the process. The sooner you confront your grief, and live through it, the sooner you’ll be able to live the rest of your life in a better state of mind.
Life is short but dealing with grief at work can feel like an eternity. If you’re struggling to cope, find and awesome therapist you like and trust to help you create and implement coping strategies to stay focused and productive while you work toward getting back to your best self.
James Killian, LPC is the Principal Therapist & Owner of Arcadian Counseling in New Haven, CT where they specialize in helping over-thinkers, high achievers, and perfectionists reduce stress, increase fulfillment and enhance performance so they can move From Surviving To Thriving.