We offer advice on supporting employees to cope with loss.
The current pandemic has completely disrupted our way of life. From being unable to do some of the activities we love, to being cut off from family and friends and feeling like we have lost our freedom, COVID-19 has impacted every facet.
When even just going to the shops is a challenge, it is understandable that we will notice ripples in our mental health. The feeling of status quo that we ‘muddle along’ with, the one that supports our happiness and wellbeing has been taken from us.
One of the powerful emotions that many people have reported feeling but been unable to label is grief. Grief is the way in which we respond to the loss of someone or something important to us. We normally associate it with bereavement (when a person dies) and this may well be true under the current circumstances, but grief can apply to other loss too and that’s where we see it a lot at the moment. It is a natural, normal, emotional response but it can also trigger physical reactions.
The 5 stages of grieving
Often, grief is referred to in five stages – from denial to acceptance – and you may recognise some of your staff in one of the stages below. Although healing is not a linear process, the ‘stages’ might help to understand the feelings and emotions we are processing. Everyone grieves differently, and heals at different rates. There is no right answer but recognising these feelings is the first step to healing.
1. Denial. This happens when you first learn of a loss. It’s normal to feel shocked or numb and refuse to believe the situation. This is a temporary feeling and is a defence mechanism in response to overwhelming emotion.
2. Anger. When faced with the pain of loss, we often feel frustrated and helpless which can turn quickly to anger. This anger is usually directed outwards, at people close to us, at the government, medical professionals, and even strangers. This is a common reaction.
3. Bargaining. This is also known as the ‘shoulda, woulda, coulda’ stage. We think about all the things we could have done differently and all the ways we could have prevented the loss. Again, this is particularly prevalent at the moment with many people questioning the decisions they made in the weeks leading to the UK entering lockdown. No single decision could have changed the outcome at that time, but that doesn’t stop us going over things in our heads.
4. ‘Depression’. Not in the clinical sense (although grief can trigger depression) but this stage can carry many of the same symptoms including loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, and feelings of sadness.
5. Acceptance. This is the final stage and the point where we accept our loss cannot be changed. This is a difficult stage to get to in the current situation as we know at some point it will end, or at least change. Knowing the situation isn’t permanent is both a blessing and a curse and can make it hard to start moving forward.
As we all go through grief differently, there is no prescriptive way to deal with it. It is very tempting to try to numb our feelings with drugs, alcohol, food, or even work. But these escapes can lead to addiction, anxiety, depression and further problems. If grief develops into depression, it is important to speak to a doctor and ensure the right support is in place.
Tips to support your workforce
These tips may help you to support a staff member dealing with grief.
1. Give it time
Those coping with grief should accept their feelings and not expect to get magically better overnight. Pressuring themselves to feel a certain way can damage their mental health and make it harder to move on.
2. Get them talking
We can’t see our friends, family and colleagues in the way that we’re used to but that doesn’t mean we can’t talk. Video platforms such as WhatsApp, Skype, Zoom and others can all help us to feel more connected as well. The important thing is that they do not isolate themselves further.
3. Fill the wellbeing tank
Remind them to take care of themselves. Reming them how important they are. You can’t run a car with an empty fuel tank and the same is true for ourselves and our wellbeing. Those coping with loss should take time to exercise and get fresh air; eat well and make sure they don’t survive on processed food which can lower our mood and energy levels; make sure they're getting enough sleep.
4. Return to hobbies
Obviously this isn't easy for everyone at the current time – particularly if their hobby is synchronised swimming. But for most people there are likely to be ways to participate, whether it be running or cycling, participating in online classes, or even joining quiz nights on Facebook and YouTube. Although things are not the same as they were, there are ways to still do the things we love.
5. Take a break
Be it news outlets or social media, there is such a thing as too much information. Seeing other people’s responses or sponsored news items can revive feelings that we may already processed, so encourage those dealing with grief to log off for a while.
Lindsay Twyford is SHE lead for Rheinmetall BAE Systems Land (RBSL)