Taking care of yourself before caring for others
Now that people are somewhere between 3 - 6 weeks into both quarantining and/or working from home during the COVID-19 outbreak, it seems that the majority of the population is now shifting into the second phase of the Grief Cycle. Why do I refer to “grief”? Because almost all of us are experiencing many forms of grief all at once these days. Grief is nothing more than the emotions we experience that come with loss - with letting something go that was a part of our lives or a part of how we lived our lives - and it often shows up in the form of anxiety.
I can easily list a number of aspects of loss that people are experiencing right now — grief from not being able to see friends or family, go into the office, go out to restaurants with friends, attend sporting events, perform spring break vacation rituals, jump on a plane and go wherever I want whenever I want, attend religious services, simply go through the daily routine with my children — the list can go on and on.
Today I checked in with my college roommate and asked how she was holding up and overall she said good but she was grieving for the loss of joyous teen rituals her two girls are currently experiencing. Think about it, no prom, no graduation, the loss of a sports season. Imagine that, high school kids thinking they will never get back to school and that they won’t be able to visit colleges in person.
Image 1: Stages of Grief - The Grief Cycle
In most of our lifetimes, we have never experienced such a profound amount of loss, all at once and very much out of our control.
If you look at Image 1, the first stage of grief is Shock. I think all of us can relate to having gone through some form of that phase recently, and some of us may still be in it.
The next stages you see are tied to feelings of denial, anger, resentment, frustration and bargaining, and if you are feeling any of those, that is completely normal. Why shouldn’t we be angry and frustrated - especially at something we can’t see or tangibly negotiate with? These stages of emotion are perfectly normal and actually are a healthy part of brain function.
Grief and Loss are a normal part of the human experience. Grief is a process that has multiple phases that occur over a period of time, and those phases and feelings are different for everyone.
In order to get to the next phase, which is grounded in “acceptance,” we need to work through our denial, anger, and resentment. By that I mean - name them, honor them, sit with them, tell others whom you trust how you are feeling and even ask for permission to have some emotional space. Feel free to say to someone, “I would just like to be sad or angry for 15 minutes.”
In other words, wrestle with them for a while and don’t try to suppress them or ignore them. Because the part of the brain that makes you feel these emotions (the amygdala) is interconnected with the part of the brain that does your rational, logical thinking (the neocortex) your whole body is dealing with these emotions whether you like it or not - in your thoughts, in the form of tight muscles, in grinding your teeth, in your moodiness, in restless sleep, in finding it hard to want to do anything some days.
The best way to manage them is to give them some attention and if you do, they pass through your body more quickly than if you suppress them. If you give them their due, they will keep moving through your body and eventually move out, until the next wave. That is why we have our good days and our bad days, and our good hours and our bad hours. While frustrating, it might help to understand that this is actually a healthy brain function.
Think about each time you feel one of those less-fun emotions, that you are actually working through the grief healing process and therefore you are getting ever closer to the acceptance, normalizing phase. Granted, this new phase will most likely be different than some of the parts you had to let go, but humans are amazingly resilient and have the ability to create “new normals” that will eventually feel just “normal” again.
Episode 2: See How To Use Stress as a Source of Strength
Recently, we launched OneLogin’s Unconference Series - Together as One - for our employees. For those who don’t know what it is, an unconference is a free-style, participant-driven meeting on any topics, without an agenda. Our first ever live session with employees was how to use “Stress as a Source of Strength.” For this session, I invited my close friend and psychology expert, Bindu Garapaty, Psy.D, Director at Gilead Sciences. For episode 2 of our video blog series - Together as One: Facing Uncertainties - Bindu and I had an impactful conversation as to why people are feeling what they are feeling during these times of uncertainties. We discussed the major factors of stress today and how to use that stress as a strength to motivate yourself to move forward.
OneLogin’s Unconference Session - “Use Stress as a Source of Strength” - with Courtney Harrison, CHRO, and Bindu Garapaty, Director at Gilead Sciences.
Our first unconference session - “Use Stress as a Source of Strength” - shown above, was made for all of OneLogin employees and their homebound guests to join in on. We discussed important tips on how to work through these grief phases and how to find even an ounce of strength in all of the stress and change we are experiencing. As Courtney Harrison says, “we’ve put them into four categories: Physical Tips, Emotional Tips, Spiritual Tips, and Practical Tips.” In other words, there are so many ways our feelings and the outcomes of those feelings.
Diving into these four tip categories, here are some that stand out:
- Do or learn Yoga or Meditation - anything that helps you to be centered, and breathe deeply, will help these emotions to pass through your mind and body.
- Try to create opportunities for joy and laughter - set up virtual happy hours, watch comedians old stand up routines, have a game or trivia hour. The natural endorphins that come with true laughter can do wonders.
- Help/support others. Pay it forward. A lot of people need a lot of support these days and most of it is not tied to money but rather words of encouragement, connecting people to the information they need, sharing or giving away something you no longer need, etc. (a future blog will be coming on the beauty of the explosion of the Sharing Economy!)
- If you already have a therapist, talk to them. If you don’t and you have employee benefits, contact your Employee Assistance Program which normally offers a number of free sessions with a Behavioral Therapist. If you don’t have either, research Mental Health Tele-options. There are a lot out there and many are offering up their services for free. Talking to a professional who can give you more tips, is always worth doing.
- Think positive. For every negative image your brain conjures up about our uncertain future, force it to also make it conjure up a current positive one.
- Little changes can have big impacts. Remember that micro-changes like above, or even drinking more water or expressing more gratitude, can have a macro impact on how you feel.
Lastly, just give yourself a break. Many of us are still trying to maintain our past schedules and responsibilities with the current challenges we are all facing - learning to homeschool our kids, trying to get groceries delivered whenever someone will deliver them, 12+ hours days without going outside and then trying to cook dinner/clean- basically multitasking a million things trying to keep some sense of normalcy for you and your family. Cut yourself a break. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect. Ask others to chip in. Disappear into a hot shower for 30 minutes of “me time.” Self-care is a huge part of this process. As the flight attendants always say (and I can’t wait to hear them say it again soon!) put your oxygen masks on yourself first before you attempt to help others.
Take care of yourself and keep remembering that this too shall pass.
Enjoyed this vlog? Read our companion episodes: