If you have ever felt frustrated by being told to just "take a deep breath" when you are feeling angry or anxious, you aren't alone. It's difficult to heed this advice when, in the moment, the mind and body are distracted or dysregulated. The adage of "just breathe"...
Losing a loved one is one of the most painful tragedies that humans suffer. The impact of this loss is often crushing, and in the aftermath of loss, we often feel like we have no control over anything. Grief is a natural response to loss. It’s perfectly normal to detach yourself from your normal existence to grieve.
But what happens when grief persists when it’s time to return to work? Unfortunately, life responsibilities go on, no matter how sad you feel.
Returning to work while grieving is quite tough! You will need to figure out how to be productive, even as your thoughts are interrupted by waves of grief and remembrance. In addition to your own feelings, you may also need to deal with your colleagues who may start to act differently around you because they don’t know how to comfort you.
You may not be able to control every wave of emotion, or how everyone else acts, but 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.
COPING WITH GRIEF AT WORK
Have an honest conversation with your employer- Be frank with your employer, and let them know your struggles. Explain that you might not operate 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.
Focus on doing- It might be tempting to shut down and do nothing, but trying to be productive and crossing tasks off your checklists can distract you and prevent you from being consumed by painful feelings.
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’d be happy to pick up your workload, so you can focus more on healing.
Create a sanctuary- 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.
Carry tissues- You might find yourself crying a lot when you least expect it. Keep tissues handy, so you can clean your tears or runny nose when you’re done.
If all else fails, request leave- If you have been at your job for over a year, and your employer has 50 or more employees, you may qualify for the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). FMLA is a federally mandated leave for those unable to work due to a debilitating health condition (yes, at times, the depression that comes with grief can be quite disabling). Medical certification is required to qualify for this unpaid leave–a conversation you’d need to have with your doctor.
Always remember that grief is an important step to healing, in the wake of a loved one’s death. When you get back to work, be honest about how you feel with yourself and others. Don’t try to rush the mourning process. Everyone experiences grief differently. If you’ve lost someone in your inner circle, feelings of grief may last a long time. Be patient with yourself and the feelings that come your way.
It can help to see a grief counselor or therapist if you feel like you need assistance coping with your emotions. It is a sign of strength to ask for support when you are hurting. If you’d like help processing grief or deciding about your return to work, a counselor with Star Meadow Counseling is available to help.