How Can You Cope with Grief in the Workplace?

How Can You Cope with Grief in the Workplace?

Published on March 18, 2020 by First Responder Wellness

Everyone will experience the loss of a friend, spouse, or family member at some point in their lives. The circumstances surrounding the death of a loved one can vary greatly, but dealing with grief is always a complex and stressful process.

While many workplaces allow employees to take time off for bereavement, employees may be required to return to work while still struggling in the depths of extreme loss. Attempting to function and perform well in the workplace while dealing with grief can be one of the toughest challenges you will ever face, but it is important to treat yourself and others kindly in the process to avoid adding additional stressors to your life.

Preparing yourself for what to expect upon a return to work after the death of a loved one can help take the pressure off yourself and your colleagues in an already tense situation, and help you to maintain some sense of normalcy during a period of time that is likely to feel very unnatural.

Find a Way to Inform Your Coworkers

Depending on the structure of the organization you work for, how close you are with your team, and how many people you work with, there is a good chance that not everyone will know about your loss without you having to tell them. Of course, returning to work only to have to explain your absence and, perhaps, your lack of focus, to everyone you encounter can add to your already traumatic experience.

Instead, find a way to make sure everyone is informed about your situation without having to approach you with an array of questions. There are several ways you can go about making the announcement, such as through social media, by sending an email to everyone in the workplace or asking your superior or a close coworker to inform others that you work with on your behalf. 

When letting everyone know what happened, it may also be a good idea to inform them on how best to help you during this difficult time. For example, you may want to let them know that it is okay to mention your loved one in conversation, or you may ask them to please refrain from bringing the situation up for the time being while you process your loss. Everyone deals with grief differently, so these details will be unique to you.

Find Time and Space to Be Alone

You may intend on returning to work with a positive attitude, or on throwing yourself entirely into your work in a way that distracts you from any thought of your grief. Unfortunately, the loss of a loved one creates deep and lasting pain that tends to sneak up on you when you least expect it.

Though it would be nice to compartmentalize grief so that you can focus entirely on the task at hand, something as simple as a smell or a song on the radio can trigger memories of your loved one and cause you to become emotional very quickly. When these moments inevitably occur, it is important to understand that crying and showing emotions are to be expected at this time.

Because you are in the workplace and likely to be surrounded by people you aren’t necessarily comfortable crying in front of, it is a good idea to seek out quiet spaces in which to retreat until the wave of emotions has passed. Stepping into a restroom stall, stairwell, or out a back exit to take a moment for yourself during this difficult time is nothing to be ashamed of.

Should anyone see you briefly overcome with emotion, just know that they too may experience something similar at some point in their lives, and grief is nothing if not a definitively human experience.  

Be Gentle with Yourself and Others

Perhaps the most important aspect of handling grief is the process of forgiveness. You must first learn to forgive others for not knowing exactly how to help you during this difficult time.

Death makes people uncomfortable, and you may find that friends and coworkers are suddenly distant from you or seem to behave awkwardly when you are around. It can be frustrating to feel isolated during an already lonely experience, but try to forgive people in advance for their social clumsiness.

Even more importantly, forgive yourself for not being able to kick immediately back into gear after a painful loss.  Grief is a lifelong process and losing a loved one changes everything. Be gentle with yourself and take your time processing every feeling that comes your way.  

Many people who struggle with grief after the death of a loved one turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with their pain, and in doing so may develop an addiction. The First Responders Treatment Program at Simple Recovery uses trauma-informed strategies to cater to the unique needs of law enforcement, firefighters, paramedics, and other first responders with substance use disorders and co-occurring mental illnesses. We recognize that first responders encounter job-specific barriers and obstacles that come with the culture of their careers, and that existing stigma may make seeking help for addiction and mental health issues especially difficult.

Addiction does not have to mean the end of your career or a lifetime of struggling with your health and relationships. By taking a holistic approach to treatment and addressing the underlying causes of addiction, Simple Recovery makes it possible for first responders to regain control of every aspect of their wellbeing.

First responders dedicate their lives to protecting their community, and at Simple Recovery’s First Responder Treatment Program, we believe in dedicating our time and expertise to helping these strong and compassionate individuals find a path to lasting sobriety and mental wellness.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, call us now at 888-743-0490