Grieving the loss of a loved one has no set end date. Grief is a journey, and the path toward peace will be different for everyone. Unfortunately for many of us, we’ll have to return to our responsibilities even before we feel emotionally ready. Below is a guide for healthy coping techniques when returning to work after the bereavement period.
Impact of Grief on Work
To understand how grief impacts one’s work, it’s important to understand the impact grief has on our body. Coping with the loss of a loved one affects both our physical and mental health. In terms of our physical health, studies have found that grief can aggravate physical pain, increase blood pressure and increase the risk of blood clots. Grief also can weaken our immune system, cause a loss of appetite, make one feel fatigued, and much more.
In addition to the physical effects, grief impacts our mental health. Symptoms of grief on our emotional well-being include detachment, anxiety, frustration, guilt, and depression. All of the above impacts our ability to perform daily tasks at work. Here are some strategies to help.
Strategies for Coping While at Work
Understand your benefits. Most employees don’t fully look at their company’s bereavement policy. Make sure to look through your benefits and take advantage of them. In addition to bereavement days, some companies offer grief counseling and therapy sessions.
Balance work with time for yourself. Work can often be a natural distraction, and diving back into a daily routine can help restore stability in your life. However, don’t ignore your emotions. It’s one thing to focus on productivity, but you also should let yourself grieve. Trying to hide your grief behind work can lead to complicated grief. Try to balance your workload with moments of nurture and self-care.
David Williams, a leadership coach, wrote in an article for Forbes that after a loss we are “expected to rush back to work or to our busy lives. This often leaves us feeling abandoned and uncared for. Take time to nurture yourself — practice yoga, meditate, sleep as much as you can, and fill your body with nutrient-dense foods that tell it that you care. I find it helpful to remember that our loved ones would want us to be healthy, cared for, and loved as we remember them.”
Let others help. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to let others help. Coworkers understand your situation and are often happy to help out. You might feel like you can isolate yourself and pretend everything is ok, but that only leads to unhealthy grieving and inhibits productivity. Be honest with yourself and your workload.
Find a safe place. Grief tends to come in waves. And there will be times at work you might feel overwhelmed or feel like crying. It’s a normal part of healing. Find a place at work where you can escape for a few minutes and reflect. It could be your car, the employee breakroom, or another secluded spot.
Helpful Tips for Coworkers and Employers
Here are some basic tips for coworkers and employers to remember when dealing with a coworker returning to work after a loss:
- Provide flex time so that a grieving employee can work from home. That way they can remain productive, but also have some private time for themselves.
- Consider reassigning projects or changing deadlines to help ease the workload for a grieving employee.
- While the employee is out during the bereavement period, go through their workload and find areas you can help.
- Be sensitive to important dates, such as birthdays and holidays. And above all, be patient. Grief has no set recovery time. It may take months, even years to feel at peace after the loss of a loved one.
What other strategies are there for coping with a loss while at work? Share them with us in the comments!