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Acknowledging Grief: How To Live And Lead Through it

Acknowledging Grief:
How To Live And Lead Through it

As they say, ‘loss is merely a part of life we must all learn to accept.’ Occasionally, the acceptance part is far harder than we wish it to be. This is especially true in the case of grief that doesn’t directly stem from a visible loss like a death or a break-up. It’s not just hard to cope with but difficult to describe and articulate to others. As such, these losses and the grief associated with them can be extraordinarily difficult for women leaders to experience and subsequently overcome.

Losing a business relationship, losing sight of yourself and your purpose, losing a pet, feeling isolated, or even losing the freedoms of remote work and the relationship dynamics you developed from that work environment are all entirely valid forms of loss that rightfully lead to grief and sorrow. Did a close work associate leave the company to find a job closer to family? Loss. Were you separated from your pet after years of working from home? Loss.

Even when feelings of grief are hard to explain or considered an overreaction by others, there are ways to accept and overcome them. With the right coping mechanisms and tools, you can accept the sense of loss you’re currently feeling and be of service to others in the workplace who may need support in this area.

Going Back to Business as Usual

With the way that the current workplaces and workforce are quickly changing, grief and hardships affecting people’s mental health and well-being are being felt at every level. According to Spring Health, “Impromptu conversations are what 43% of employees miss most while working remotely.” Similarly, a recent WHO-led study estimates that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion each year in lost productivity.

The truth is that lost business relationships, stress at home, feeling isolated, and trying to reintegrate into an office space after a stretch of years all can be difficult. Coupled with the expectation that as corporate leaders, we must maintain ‘business as usual,’ it can be downright harmful to our success and our industry’s growth. It’s imperative that we recognize and validate feelings of grief in the workplace and empower ourselves and our employees to navigate these feelings of loss, isolation, and anxiety in healthy ways that help us to keep our purpose and professional goals aligned.

Fortunately, we’ve already taken the first step to overcoming grief by acknowledging it exists in many forms. Now, let’s further explore ways to handle these complex and unique feelings.

How to Overcome Feelings of Grief and Loss

What many people don’t realize is that the source of grief isn’t what was lost but how important it was to you. With this being said, losing a colleague or changes in your work dynamic can spark similar reactions in the brain that may occur after the passing of a friend or the loss of a significant other. Therefore, having the right strategies to overcome these emotions and heal is incredibly important. Fortunately, with the list below, you can begin to do just that.

Grief Counseling

Grief counseling is a type of professional therapy designed to help you work through the various stages and range of emotions you may feel after a loss. The confusion surrounding grief counseling is that this form of treatment is only for people that have loved ones or animals which have passed away. However, this is far from the truth.

People attend grief counseling for a myriad of reasons including divorces, job losses, traumatic ends to friendships, and losses of their identities as well. The efficacy of grief counseling is very well documented, allowing patients to feel relief and learn valuable coping skills they wouldn’t have otherwise been able to master on their own.

For workplace grief, having a professional help you pinpoint and articulate your feelings of loss and isolation can be very empowering.

Create a Supportive Network

In a recent study by The Recovery Village, ‘complicated grief’ was defined, “When grief is overwhelming and powerful, it can seem to have no end. Grief this extensive is called complicated grief, which affects between 10% to 20% of grievers.”

It was also stated, “Employees experiencing grief process higher levels of daily stress than normal. This can lead to poor decision making, substance misuse and increased risk of injury. Because of these issues, employers in the United States lost up to $75 billion annually.”

Meanwhile, Kelli Harding, Assistant Clinical Professor at Columbia University, explained how these problems can be overcome with the help of a strong supportive network, no matter where it stems from, “The benefits are with anyone in your life that provides positive social support,” she says. “No matter if your network of friendships looks like a partner and a lot of close family ties, or if it’s filled with people who aren’t related to you biologically, every type of positive social support is beneficial.”

Communicating your feelings with your work team and your boss is crucial in the modern workplace setting to truly be able to feel supported when losses occur. While this might have previously led to women leaders being labeled ‘emotional’ or ‘sensitive,’ the truth is that inclusivity and mental health initiatives have made it far easier to avoid the toxic standards of the past.

To best communicate with your boss and team when facing grief, try initiating regular conversations about mental health in the office or in virtual meetings. You can also respectfully communicate how you feel on apps like Slack or Teams to start conversations about the topic. This is especially valuable when a team member leaves or there is a feeling of isolation and anxiety in the workplace.

Overall, the main goal of this strategy is to be open with your loved ones, friends, and colleagues. With a sense of transparency and self-reflection, you can start to recognize the ways grief is affecting you and overcome these hurdles with emotional maturity, intelligence, and support.

Redefine Your ‘New Normal’

From virtual meetings and conferences to diversity initiatives and company meditation retreats, the workplace dynamic of our parents’ generation is all but gone—and for good reason. One thing we must not forget is that it is also okay to redefine the status quo for ourselves.

Instead of falling susceptible to workplaces demanding that we all go back to what was once considered standard, we must learn to embrace a healthier approach. To reinvent your concept of a better ‘normal,’ try looking at the things in your life that are causing you grief and finding fresh alternatives that bring you a higher level of joy and contentment.

For instance, if you feel that leaving your remote work environment is straining your relationship with your significant other, try scheduling dedicated moments of connection, like planning and cooking dinner together or date and movie nights with one another.

These new transitions will certainly help you to redefine your life in a way you enjoy instead of simply dealing with the card you were dealt in haste during the pandemic. However, it is also important to remember that this must be done gradually as a major life shift can have the exact opposite effect and cause you more instability and grief.

Consider exploring the She-Suite Brand Leadership Institute where you can learn valuable skills to help you define who you are, how you want to be represented, and what optimal balance looks like for you.

Getting Through the ‘Five Stages’ with Purpose

Everyone has more than likely heard about the ‘five stages of grief’ at least once. These stages are defined as follows:

Denial
Anger
Bargaining
Depression
Acceptance

Even in a workplace grief situation, these stages are sure to appear and affect your work and personal life significantly. You must be ready to go through each of these stages with a sense of purpose. As Viktor Frankl once stated, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”

As you face each stage of the grief process, you can use your own sense of purpose, happiness, and fulfillment to help you focus on what truly matters and heal in a ‘future-forward’ manner. To begin this process, create a purpose path of your own and use it to persevere. It should serve as a piece of hope that fuels you as you overcome your loss and isolation with strength and determination. Find more information on creating a purpose path here.

In the end, grief is something that can either consume you or empower you depending on how you manage your hardships and the lessons you learn from each of them. The overall goal is to gather coping tools, create a dedicated support network, and never lose your sense of purpose. With a bit of determination and positivity, you can truly overcome anything—including the workplace losses and feelings of grief society is now facing more than ever before.

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