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Lisa Stewart-Brown

Program Manager, Mental Health and Wellbeing, Banfield Pet Hospital

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Mental Fitness: It’s Okay to Not be Okay

06/18/2020 06:00AM | 3415 views

Younger generations can teach us a lot about how to be open and honest with our grieving. 

In my previous two articles I talked about some of the self-regulation skills that younger generations might have had less opportunity to practice growing up(How to Fight Isolation and How Feedback Makes You Resilient). This time I want to focus on something they can teach the rest of us: openly communicating about grief.

This is an important skill, especially during times of uncertainty. 

We’re all grieving something.

Life gives us a variety of experiences and events that change our routines and alter what we thought our future would look like. Those experiences might be bigger traumas that are shared collectively (like a pandemic), or events that affect us individually (like losing a job or someone close to us). 

When something changes about how we live our lives – whether that change is big or small – we experience a loss. That loss is something we need to acknowledge and to grieve. 

We all move through the same stages of grief in our own ways. Those stages – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – are not linear. We don’t necessarily go from one to the next to the next until we’re done. The stages come and go like waves. Sometimes they're small waves, and sometimes they're big waves, sometimes they come and go quickly, other times they last longer. 

The process can be irritatingly unpredictable. But if we know this, it’s easier to withstand those waves when they come. 

Talk about your grief.

My 19-year-old son has been remarkably resilient during the uncertainties of the pandemic. The other day, a wave of grief hit him seemingly from out of nowhere. He was open with me about it: "This world may never be the same and my future kids will never know the same world I knew. That makes me sad.” 

He recognized his own grief and he openly talked about it. He is strong enough to cry about his loss of what the world will be like for his children. 

Some healthy things we can do when these feelings arise are: 

·      Admit we’re experiencing a loss.

·      Acknowledge that we feel grief about that loss. 

·      Talk about it with someone we trust. 

This is true in the workplace, as well. 

On a call with some colleagues the other day, a leader shared about her experience working from home while also taking care of young children under the age of three. She said she went into a closet, closed the door, had a good cry, and then came back out and returned to what she was doing. 

The key is: she felt comfortable and strong enough to tell us about it. She’s not denying how hard things are for her at the moment, and she’s not hiding it from the rest of us. 

Being able to share those moments with others is the only way we’ll get what we ultimately need: support, recognition and validation. 

Look out for each other.

It’s easy for me to tell you to be open about sharing your grief, but the truth is it’s not always easy to do. We don’t always recognize it in ourselves (hello, denial). Also, we don’t always know if it’s safe or appropriate to share, especially at work. 

That’s why it’s up to leaders to be an example and to set the stage. 

·      Be an example: if you’re having a bad day, admit it. “Today's not a good day. I'm not going to be as productive as I’d hoped.”

·      Set the stage: during a crisis, especially one that disrupts normal workplace routines, communicate more than usual. Ask people questions and listen to their answers. 

Active listening in the workplace. 

Whether or not we’re in the middle of a crisis, there are always people who are experiencing grief or pain and keeping it to themselves. 

We all have hard days, but how do you know when it’s more than that?

Last year, Banfield Pet Hospital launched a program called “ASK - Assess, Support, Know” – to help veterinary professionals recognize and address emotional distress and suicidal thoughts.

The training teaches us how to have real “How are you?” conversations. Participants learn how to communicate with empathy, what resources are available for someone in distress, and how to partner with someone to connect them to those resources.

It’s helpful to have a framework for how to ask open-ended questions and to truly listen and be okay with the answer – even when it's a hard answer. Just as important, the training helps us know what to do with someone’s answer. When does someone just need a listening ear? And when do they need professional help? 

Having that kind of training, knowing what to do with hard information – that’s what helps us become more comfortable with sharing our own grief and listening to the grief of others. 

And that’s how we can take care of ourselves and take care of each other. 

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Lisa Stewart-Brown a Licensed Clinical Social Worker is the Program Manager for Mental Health and Wellbeing for Banfield Pet Hospital.

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