How to take time for yourself when you're grieving at work
It's really hard to check your dead mom at the office door.
I would know, as I was once asked to do so.
I found that even when I tried my hardest to just work work work, ignore ignore ignore, it was impossible sometimes. And (more importantly) I learned that THAT IS OK! Sometimes work was a great distraction - it made me feel accomplished when everything about my mom's death felt like a defeat; it made me feel like there was a positive goal to work toward when the many milestones coming up stressed me out.
Then I realized that grief (and the stress and sadness related to it) can hit anywhere at any time. And sometimes when that happens it doesn't mean that you're weak or "failing" at grieving, or "not equipped" to be back at work. It means that this stuff is with us every moment of every day, and we need to recognize and acknowledge that.
Thankfully, I started seeing a grief counselor who I talked to about my grief and work, my grief at home, what to do, how to manage, and what I shouldn't do (#ignore). I realized through our hours of talking that:
1. Life is too short to cry at your desk.
2. But... crying at your desk happens and it doesn't mean you're weak.
3. People who don't get grief can really, really hurt you (even if they have "good intentions").
4. There is ALWAYS time for a break if you really need one.
That last point was suuuuuper important to me. When she'd ask me, "How do you take time for yourself during the day?" I was always listing things that took up a lot of time - leaving work for my whole lunch hour, coming to therapy, etc. But she pointed out that the misunderstanding that we need a ton of time to take a break or reconnect with our life outside of work is really off. The concept that "I don't have time" for a walk or a talk or lunch away from our desks is unhealthy and incorrect. And there are tiny things we can do that add up and make a lot of difference.
I started reminding myself that a minute or two to stand by the window while I drink a glass of water (also important) or a walk LITERALLY around the block (not the entire downtown area) was enough to just pause and regain some clarity.
So here's a few things that I do to break up the day, stress a little less, and think about my mom on those days when meetings or phone calls pile up and it's easy to just ignore the teary-oh-no-here-it-comes-go-away feeling.
**Pro tip: If you're struggling to remember to do this stuff, BOOK IT IN! I say that in all caps, because if you're going to take the time to book in the stuff that stresses you the f out, take time to book in the things that relieve that stress, yo. Put it on your cal. Put a reminder in your phone. Make an appointment with your bro who works close by to meet them on the street without fail, fist bump, and go back inside. Just book it in so that you prioritize it. It's worth it.
Take a walk.
I'm not talking about a 30 minute walk or a trip to the gym. Just across the street, down the block, back across the street, and to the front door of your office. Ditch the "heelz waaaah" excuse, or the stress over it taking too long. Moving to get your blood flowing and your head clear can make a huge different just to break up the day - especially when we sit for SO much of our work day as it is.
Go stand outside.
Vancouver is grey af, but there's always an awning to stand under. One of the things I realized is that you don't even have to go anywhere (like for a walk), but getting away from your computer and just standing RIGHT in front of your office can provide a lot: fresh air, no screens, people to watch, and dogs to pet (huge for me, no joke).
Schedule a lunch call.
I do this with my partner, my dad, and my friends all the time. It forces you to take a personal call away from your desk and is often a chance to talk about aaaaaanything other than work - esp when you're having an "I can't f'ing deal with this and just need to cry for a minute" day. It's good to hear a familiar voice, and if you can't talk to anyone at work about #thestruggle, have a quick chat with someone that gets you.
Bring some goodies.
This was one awesome thing I learned from my grief counselor - there are lots of things you can consider bringing to your desk that'll give you positive vibes and good feelz. For me, it was a tiny elephant that was my grandmother's, which I hung my mom's ring on whenever I needed to take it off while I typed. It was hand lotion that smelled AWESOME and relaxed me. And it was flowers whenever I needed to be reminded of how much my mom loved them. My counselor also reco'd that I bring something like a shawl (to protect me from shitty feelings from people around me) and pics for my desk. Whatever suits, just make your desk a sanctuary - you're going to spend 40+ hours there a week, so it might as well be comfy and a positive place to park your butt for that many hours.