How to handle a personal crisis when you still have to work

I had to work through the death of my father around this time of year in 2014, and it took a toll on me. Like it or not, I wasn’t able to perform at my best. Many workplaces will accommodate those who are grieving with the leave they need, but if you have a personal crisis, of whatever nature, there are things you can do for yourself even while you are still working.

Talk to your boss and workmates

If you’re having a crisis, don’t keep it to yourself. Don’t tell yourself you should be coping better. Just be your real self. When you let key people at work know, most of them will respond surprisingly well. After all, they’re going to have a crisis someday, or perhaps they already have. If they know a little about what you’re going through, they might bend a few rules for you or find ways to lighten your workload. If nothing else, they can lend a sympathetic ear, which can reduce your worries about not playing up to par. Crisis is a great connector.

Take timeouts

Each day, look for ways you can take a little time to yourself. Flunk on the lower priority tasks to create space. Call in favours with people who can cover for you. Excuse yourself from meetings, if you can. If you are feeling stressed or emotional, as a last resort, try an extended bathroom break. If you are able to meditate, even for a couple of minutes, it can do wonders for relief in a crisis. Mindfulness taps in to your basic goodness and the sense that things are fundamentally OK, despite the crisis.

Ask for backup

Ask for what you need – particularly if this goes against the grain for you. If you know you need to take time off, communicate that quickly and clearly, even if it’s part of a day or starting late. It’s much easier to set expectations first, than try to explain your absence away later. You shouldn’t need to justify time off for crises, but staying organised makes life easier. If you want to offer suggestions about how they cover your work, that can help both parties, but make sure your work isn’t just piling up while you’re gone. Don’t expect yourself to make up the time, because you need space and time for yourself.

Get out of the office

Walking outdoors is very good for just letting yourself go for a minute. When I was grieving my father, the sadness would come in sudden waves. They were infrequent, but surprisingly debilitating. Stepping outside the office gave me chance to deal not just with the sadness and regrets, the wrench of loss, but also with the energy slumps that came along with my grief. I like to be in nature, so when I could get out and see a tree or some grass, or hear a bird, it reconnected me with the essence of life that felt so missing in the office. It restored my perseverance for the rest of the day.

Stay connected

Keep doing anything you normally do to get grounded, feel protected and nourished. A drunken night out might be cathartic, but it’s sometimes not so good in a crisis. Talk to the people (or pets!) who care about you and with whom you feel most relaxed. Allow them to share in your experience. If connecting with your spiritual side grounds you, make time for that. Personally, I like to go to the ocean or spend time with dogs. Then I seek out someone who can make me laugh, even when everything’s gone wrong. Especially when everything’s gone wrong.

Be creative

This one sounds bizarre, but for me it really works. If I’m not willing or able to really connect to my emotional experience in a crisis, I draw, take photos, make videos or play around with words. I put on music I haven’t listened to for years. I take myself to an unfamiliar gallery or park with my sunnies on. I cook (badly, when I’m in crisis). It’s like lancing a boil, it keeps my emotions from getting too gummed up and helps me express what I’m feeling freely, without fear of judgment. If you’re experiencing a crisis, take it seriously and look after yourself. Please.

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