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Dealing With Grief When You Still Have to Work

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Loss is an inevitable part of life – but so is work. And all working professionals who experience grief in their personal lives must at some point get out of bed with their alarm, get dressed in their business casual and show up to the office. If you're at a crossroads between mourning a loved one and having to do your job, there's no easy way to deal with both at once. But there are some strategies to help make it all a little more manageable. Here's where to start.

Ease Into It

Schedule some one-on-one time with your supervisor at the beginning of your first workday back, and discuss the option of lightening your workload temporarily. The Alberta Learning Information Service suggests that you ask for some help and some slack as you return to work, and potentially an extra 15-minute break or two during the day so you can be alone and gather yourself. If it's possible to decline extra work requests, do so, and be patient with yourself when you struggle to concentrate on your tasks or remember certain information. Have patients with your coworkers, as well – some might be overbearing in their concern, while others might seem disconnected or distant from you. Everyone acknowledges loss differently. Try not to get hung up on it, if you can.

Keep Yourself Busy

Many people experiencing grief also experience situational depression, which can zap you of energy and motivation. If that's you, you might feel inclined to drift off from the tasks before you, and glaze over your responsibilities. However, according to the Muse, action is much more effective in easing grief than inaction. Even if you feel like you're just going through the motions (getting up, going to work, going home, going to bed, getting up, going to work, going home, going to bed...), keep moving for as long as you can. If and when you're able, focus on things outside of your grief, to help get you out of your head and maybe even enjoy that feeling of productivity.

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Lean On Someone

It may be tempting to isolate during times of grief, especially at work, where you might not feel comfortable with colleagues observing you in such an emotional and vulnerable state. But Dr. Don Mordecai, national mental health and wellness leader for Kaiser Permanente, told U.S. News & World Report that it's healthier to lean on your support system following a loss. That support system might not be in the workplace, and that's OK – but make time during the workday to check in with your friends, family or whoever is in your support group. And on that note, don't feel obligated to stuff down your emotions at work. If you have to cry, excuse yourself and find a space to do so. Emotions following loss are natural and normal, and repressing them can lead to negative behavior.

Re-Order Your Priorities

For many, sudden loss becomes a wake-up call. You might still have to go to your job, yes, but perhaps you're now realizing all the experiences you've bypassed for the sake of your career, or because your priorities were out of order. Your workplace tasks might begin to seem menial, especially if you're experiencing a kind of wake-up call, but avoid making any drastic decisions while you're in the throes of grief. If you feel a sudden urge to quit your job, perhaps ride out the urge for a couple months and see if it persists. But even so, you can use this opportunity to choose life over work, when you're able. Put those built-up vacation days to good use, and finally visit that Southeast Asian country you've been dying to experience, or do that volunteer work you've been pulled toward. Dedicate more of your free time to the things that make you happy, whether it be art, time in nature or education. Prioritize yourself, and figure out a healthier work-life balance.

About the Author

Brenna Swanston is a freelance writer, editor and journalist. She previously reported for the Sun newspaper in Santa Maria, Calif., and holds a bachelor's in journalism from California Polytechnic State University.

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