Grieving at Work: Coping with Loss While Managing Responsibilities
Mourning the loss of a relationship, the death of a loved one, receiving news of a debilitating health issue, or even the passing of a pet can affect people differently. Grief, and especially grief from a traumatic event(s), can trigger significant emotional and psychological impairment including the potential for developing PTSD.
Everyone has unique obligations and job/career situations, however getting back to work and daily responsibilities are often a requirement even when still grieving. If employed part-time or self-employed, there may be additional flexibility available to you, yet taking an extended mourning period is not always an option. Other responsibilities such as education, home, family and finances also require your time, which leaves less time dedicated to grieving and healing from a loss.
With life’s responsibilities often vying for your attention, finding the necessary time and energy to grieve is not always possible. These additional stressors can exacerbate the grieving process or cause other symptoms which may include: gastrointestinal problems, muscle tension, headaches, dissociation, memory issues, depersonalization, emotional detachment/hypersensitivity, autoimmune or long-term health issues.
Grief is a natural response to a loss, which may include a traumatic loss such as purging a trauma bond from a narcissistic relationship that ended, or grieving the loss of personal safety from surviving an assault. Grief includes cognitive, emotional, psychological, behavioral and existential reactions which may include both immediate and delayed responses.
According to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, “the five stages — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with the one we lost.” Grief can affect everyone differently, there is no timeframe on “how long” the grieving process will last, and it is very common to move through the stages several times until finally reaching acceptance. A misnomer is that with acceptance should come peace, or re-experiencing your life how it was before the grieving process began, which is not always true. Instead, reaching acceptance is more of a coming to terms with the reality of the loss, and in finding healthy ways of coping with the pain.
It is important to give yourself time to get back into the groove of things once you’re back at work and not to compare your productivity today to where you were productivity-wise before your grieving began. Grieving is a process and it can be slow and painful for many. Some things to consider for helping you adapt back into your job may include:
Be Kind with Yourself
Expecting yourself to jump back at the pace or intensity of your job or life you may have had before grieving is not realistic and may impact your grieving process. There is no “right” way to grieve. Some may be more emotional, others may express less outward emotion. This is not to suggest they aren’t processing grief effectively.
Give yourself a short break during work, even if at your desk, if you become overwhelmed or experience an emotional flashback. Practicing mindfulness, breath work and grounding techniques can be very effective in helping calm and redirect when feeling emotionally vulnerable.