Compartmentalizing and handling grief & stress
Yesterday was one of the hardest days of my life. I was dealing with grief of having just lost a beloved fur-kid, my mixed breed dog of 9 years and yet I was at work and it was the first day of the week.
It occurred to me that this was not the first time that this has happened. Over the past two years I have been coping with intensely personal stress while still keeping up with office and trying to keep the stress from affecting my work.
A couple of things that helped me to keep my official performance on an even keel are the determination to not let my personal life rule, an ability to take time off as needed and an open talk with my boss to explain what I am going through and how I would appreciate his feedback if he feels that my performance is slipping.
The last one was a bit tricky, how do you bring up your personal problem at work without actually making it seem like you are whining or asking for special favors? I started by requesting my boss for a dedicated time slot to discuss my work performance. I started the session by requesting his feedback on my recent performance and whether he had observed any short comings or if he felt that there were certain areas where I could do better. After carefully listening to and jotting down his feedback, I brought up the fact that I felt that since I was personally going through a hard time (a divorce no less), I was concerned that my performance may be affected and expressed my appreciation for his feedback.
This session which lasted for barely half hour had a ripple effect. It brought my boss’s attention to the fact that I was struggling personally but that I was still intent on delivering my best at work. The level of empathy and understanding that I received from him was very supportive.
Some people are not so lucky to have as understanding a boss as mine. However, there’s something that all bosses expect: employees will put in their required time and at the end of the day produce the required output. Keep those two in line and the rest is usually easy to handle.
In my grief and stress, work is something that I look forward to because it allows me to escape the endless ruminations going on in my head. I eagerly took on new challenges that keep me busy with learning new things and proving myself in new areas.
Yesterday was however one of those days when I would unexpectedly find my eyes tearing up and catch myself beginning to sniffle. You know what helped? The acceptance that grief is a part of life. So I marched myself right to the ladies room, had a good cry then washed my face and went right back to work again. I kept reminding myself that I was at work and that I needed to concentrate on what needs to be done now. Compartmentalizing if you will – is something that helps me to maintain a clear distinction between I will allow to affect me and when. End of the day, to be affected or not is a choice that we all make, whether that’s consciously or unconsciously.
Days like these, it helps to obey the law of forced efficiency – “there is never enough time to do everything but there’s always enough time to do the most thing”. No matter how good we think we are at multi-tasking, our brain is still wired to concentrate on one thing at a time. So shift your focus and develope a sense of urgency to complete the work on your plate. Pretty soon, you will find that you have either forgotten or successfully ignored whatever it was that was bothering you in the first place.
Today I am sitting at my desk, finishing up my work and marveling at how I have still managed to complete most of the stuff on my to-do list. I find myself eternally grateful for the friends that I have at work and the boss who doesn’t give me hell if I need to take a day off here and there. Compartmentalized, the grief will have to wait till I am back home before it can come out to play with me until the next morning when I go back to work again.