Category Archives: Thought Leadership

5 Things to Know About Coping with Grief and Loss!

Broken heart stitched up
Broken heart stitched up

“Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.”

Vicki Harrison

Last week, I had conversations with two men who were struggling with grief from recent losses they had experienced.  One of the gentlemen had lost his promising young adult son in a harrowing car accident two months ago, and the other had just gone through a divorce. Despite the differences in their personal situations, age and background, both were grieving and struggling to cope with the painful and overwhelming emotions associated with their losses. These conversations reminded me of my own most painful experience in dealing with loss and prompted me to do some research on how to best cope with grief and loss.

I know from other people in my circles that these men are not alone. Over the last 2 years, many people have dealt with loss in some area of their personal or professional lives. Some of have lost friends, coworkers, neighbors and loved ones to the COVID-19 pandemic or were unable to be with a loved one when they died or to mourn the death in person with friends and family. Other kinds of loss that people have suffered from include a big move, illness, divorce, loss of employment, reduction in earnings, and even a loss of normalcy in their everyday routines and lifestyles due to drastic changes associated with the pandemic. But regardless of the type of loss experienced, grief is a part of life and a natural response that everyone has to loss. 

Though everyone deals with or processes grief differently, some of the common responses to loss include but are not limited to:

  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Anger and resentment
  • Strong feelings of sadness or depression
  • Loss of sleep and appetite
  • Shock, disbelief, and denial
  • Decline in mental health and overall well- being.

It is also important to note that there is so set time for grieving a loss. Grief like happiness is a universal emotion and people go through the process of grieving at their own rate and pace. Notwithstanding, understanding the grieving process will help you to cope with your own feelings when you experience a loss or help you show empathy and support to a friend or loved one who might be grieving. Additionally, it important to remember that you cannot measure another person’s grief or judge how they express their grief. Even with two people dealing with the same loss, you might find that one person is able to bounce back quickly, while the road to recovery might be longer and more challenging for the other person. Grief can be a singular and deeply personal matter. So, if anything, be patient and kind and do not judge.

Stages of the Grieving Process
Stages of the Grieving Process

Stages of the Grieving Process

As you can imagine, grieving a loss of any kind can be challenging in normal times and becomes even more so during the holiday season. For people grieving, holidays, anniversaries, and other key milestones can present painful reminders of loved ones lost or the drastic changes in life as they knew it. And this can make it even harder for people who are suffering to move through the different stages of the grieving process.

So, what does the grieving process involve?

According to WebMD, the grieving process includes five stages as follows:

  • Denial: When you first learn of a loss, it’s normal to think, “This isn’t happening.” You may feel shocked or numb. This is a temporary way to deal with the rush of overwhelming emotion. It’s a defense mechanism.
  • Anger: As reality sets in, you’re faced with the pain of your loss. You may feel frustrated and helpless. These feelings later turn into anger. You might direct it toward other people, a higher power, or life in general. To be angry with a loved one who died and left you alone is natural, too.
  • Bargaining: During this stage, you dwell on what you could’ve done to prevent the loss. Common thoughts are “If only…” and “What if…” You may also try to strike a deal with a higher power.
  • DepressionSadness sets in as you begin to understand the loss and its effect on your life. Signs of depression include crying, sleep issues, and a decreased appetite. You may feel overwhelmed, regretful, and lonely.
  • Acceptance: In this final stage of grief, you accept the reality of your loss. It can’t be changed. Although you still feel sad, you’re able to start moving forward with your life.

Having established the different stages of the grieving process, it is important to recognize that each individual moves through the different stages at their own pace and might go back and forth between the stages or skip a stage altogether. And when people who are grieving are triggered by events or something, they might experience feelings of loss all over again.

Tips for Coping with Grief and Loss

I’ll be the first to admit that I am not an expert in dealing with grief. My most significant loss occurred when I lost my guardian around age 16. I can still remember feeling a loss of security and a sense of regret for words of love not spoken often enough. I also felt immense guilt for choosing to skip a hospital visit to finish a school assignment the night before she passed, because I had planned to go see her the next day. And I can still remember how drastically life changed after she passed as the family struggled to maintain order and stability. Christmases were never the same thereafter and for a long time I found it difficult to celebrate Christmas or even to be around friends who were celebrating with their own families. But overtime, I was able to make peace with my loss, move pass the regrets and start to find joy in celebrating Christmas again.

People who fail to process their loss and grieve sometimes disconnect and become numb to their pain. However, this approach to internalizing pain and walking around as if things are normal is unhealthy and can undermine one’s ability to live a positive and healthy life. So here are 5 tips from the experts at Memorial Sloan Kettering Center to remember about coping with grief:

1. It won’t feel like this forever: MSK bereavement counselor Kimarie Knowles likens grief to waves cresting and then crashing at the shore. “Part of what people find helpful is riding the wave,” she says. “Understand it’s coming up, try to find support, take care of yourself, and allow it to go.”

2. You can handle it, even when you feel like you can’t: It’s human nature to want to avoid painful experiences. When we lose someone important to us, we may feel like we won’t be able to cope with the pain of grief. But “we only learn about our capacity to handle things by moving through them,” says Wendy Lichtenthal, Director of MSK’s Bereavement Clinic. When we try to stifle or avoid our feelings, they can come on that much stronger when something triggers them, she says. Making space to experience painful emotions allows us to practice our resilience and grow our own internal resources.

3. Be gentle with yourself: “Grief is exhausting,” says Reverend Jill Bowden. She suggests caring for your body during periods of intensive stress. Carve out time for naps, eat nourishing foods, and drink plenty of water. Alcohol and sugar may seem like quick fixes, but they can actually have the opposite effect.

5. Your feelings are normal: “The pain of grief itself is hard enough to tolerate,” says Ms. Knowles. “What can make it more challenging is when you or other people around you tell you what you should or shouldn’t do.” Allow yourself to feel whatever it is you feel: anger, sadness, even relief. The emotions that accompany grief are all valid, adds Dr. Lichtenthal. “Everyone comes to their loss experience with their own story, their own unique context and meaning,” Dr. Lichtenthal says. “Whatever they are feeling at a given moment, it always makes sense.”

In closing, if you or someone you know is grieving a loss, just know that time heals. Be kind and patient with yourself and others. You don’t need to know the right words to say, being silent is okay. Just be present or what the person needs in that moment.

Until next time, Remember ItsALearningLife!

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It’s Been A Year:COVID-19 Anniversary!

COVID-19 Global Pandemic-sign
COVID-19 Global Pandemic

March 12th, 2021, marked one year (the anniversary) since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic and stay at home orders were issued across the U.S. According to the World Health Organization, “Globally, as of 12:25pm CET, 22 March 2021, there have been 122,822,505 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 2,709,041 deaths, reported to WHO. Read that statistic again and let it sink in.

Prior to the onslaught of the COVID-19 disease (Coronavirus) in 2020, no one saw a global pandemic coming. Most of us had heard the news of the virus in China and probably thought it would have been confined to that region or country. The only corona many of us knew of was the popular beer. Still, many of us had little or no context for the word pandemic (infectious disease affecting people across the world) and no real knowledge of what it meant to live through one. Sure, we had heard about the Swine Flu that killed thousands of people over the period 2009-2010, and of other infectious diseases that had emerged from time to time. Yet, all those recent diseases pale in comparison to COVID-19 and the far-reaching devastation, loss of lives and the sheer havoc wreaked on people lives and economies all across the world.

If fact, if we were to compare apples to apples, except for the Influenza pandemic of 1918, no other infectious disease in recent times had affected the world like COVID-19. Nobody could anticipate or imagine how COVID-19 would rock our worlds, disrupt every plan, and change the ways we fundamentally lived our lives. We were not prepared. We did not know how long it would last (still do not) and could only watch as the world as we knew it shut down and real life became as if we were living in a movie.

The Next New Normal-Wooden Blocks-Image
The Next New Normal

No More Normal

Here in the U.S, I can still remember when the stay-at-home orders rolled in. My daughter’s school had sent urgent emails indicating closure, which was shortly followed by my employer’s announcement that we should transition to working from home for the foreseeable future. Then came the news that churches, retail businesses, restaurants, recreational and entertainment establishments would be closing their doors and life as we knew it ended abruptly. Uncertainty, fear, panic, confusion, and chaos filled the air and our homes, as our TVs and social media bombarded us with news of deaths, severe illnesses and the suffering of people infected by the coronavirus across the world. We were advised to stay inside, socially distance and to restrict outdoor activities to help flatten the curve.

Hand sanitizers, masks, toilet paper, disinfectant sprays became scarce hot commodities in very high demand as we scrambled to figure out how to keep ourselves and our families safe. We turned everywhere for information to learn all we could about the coronavirus, how it spreads and googled home-made remedies with ginger, garlic, and turmeric to boost our immune system. Trips to the supermarket required careful planning and mental preparation to avoid crowds and get supplies safely. When we interacted with persons outside of our bubbles, we would painstakingly go over the interaction in our minds to ensure that we had not touched our face, phone, pocketbooks, or any item of clothing we were wearing.

Wash your hands, do not touch your face and sanitize seemed to be the never-ending tune playing in our heads.  Sneezing and coughing became taboo in public spaces and could earn you the side eye amongst family and friends. Paranoia set in and many of us became germaphobes and hoarders overnight, while our home became multipurpose spaces for school, church, and work. Suddenly, normal daily routines were abandoned, the outdoors were empty, cars were parked, and the roads were traffic free. Life became quiet and eerie.

Safety Protocols for COVID-19 -Image
Safety Protocols for COVID-19

Challenges of the New Normal

Dealing with change is hard is normal times but the struggle got more real as COVID-19 began to impact every aspect of our everyday lives. Over the last year to current times, some of the biggest challenges I have experienced and heard echoed by my friends, family and coworkers had to do with the following:

  • Social isolation: At the start of the pandemic, the first thing the authorities advised to do was to practice social distance to slow the spread of virus. One unfortunate psychological effect of this social isolation has been an increase in feelings of loneliness that people have experienced due to the lack of interactions with others. This has led to anxiety and depression in both children and adults alike. For me and others, minimal physical touch and contact when greeting friends or families, smiles being masked and the no large in person social gatherings have been especially hard. Additionally, effective communication has been made even more difficult as we largely rely on texts, emails and phone calls and are not always able to pick up on the emotions that the other person might be feeling.
  • Work life balance: It has been a year since I have been working from home and I have now adjusted to my new routine. However, the first couple of months were incredibly stressful as I tried to figure out how to keep my team connected, adjust to new technologies and systems to get the work done while supervising online school for my daughter and keeping her engaged. The lines between work and home became blurred and I now work longer hours (many times without the necessary breaks) at home and still find it hard to wind down at the end of the day.
  • Technology overload: Pre COVID-10, one of the parenting struggles I had was managing my daughter’s screen time. That became an exercise in futility the moment school went virtual, and she currently spends way more time looking at screens (from Computer, to iPad to TV) than ever before. The same is true for me as I spend my days doing back-to-back online trainings and meetings on Zoom and Microsoft Teams and then turn to my TV or video calls to connect with friends and loved ones. The struggle to unplug is real.
  • Decline in mental health: Whether you were affected by the coronavirus or not, fear for personal health and safety, as well as that of loved ones was a huge driver for poor mental health. And if that were not enough, every day the news was saturated with alarming death statistics, images of grief, job losses, hospitals inundated with patients, overwhelmed doctors and nurses and misinformation about the virus which had us questioning what was safe and what was true. All these factors created the perfect storm conditions for a mental health catastrophe.
  • Loss of leisure life: Closed borders, travel restrictions and occupancy guidelines have all resulted in a loss of opportunities to travel, participate in organized events and activities to have fun and maintain physical health. With a few exceptions, my interactions with public spaces have been reduced to going to the supermarket and doctors’ appointments. For my daughter and I, the decision to participate in any fun recreational event or even to visit friends can be stressful as we balance the need to be safe and sane. And so, my daughter frequently laments about the good old days of playing with friends, going to camps and longs for the days when she can feel free again.
Key Takeaways
Key Takeaways

Top Takeaways for the Next and New Normal

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it is easy to get stuck reminiscing about the good old days before the coronavirus and all the opportunities that you have lost. But despite the many hardships we have endured and continue to, if you are reading this article, you are still here. So, what will you take away from this experience? How will you use the lessons you learned during this time to serve you in the future? As I reflect on this COVID 19 anniversary and the ongoing pandemic, here are my top reflections and takeaways for the future:

  1. Mental Health is everyone business: Regardless of your age, gender, status, educational level or financial position, no one is immune. Mental illness is not about being “crazy” or being locked up in an institution. Mental health is an important part of our overall well-being and we should pay attention to signs of stress, anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts in ourselves and others. If you or someone you know are struggling, get help.
  2. Change is constant: Navigating change and transitions can be hard and uncomfortable. Since change is always happening around us, it does not make sense to resist. Spend your time and efforts trying to figure out how you will adapt, what new skill you need to learn to respond effectively and how you will make it work for you. Embrace uncertainty and learn to become more open and comfortable with not having all the answers.
  3. Life is short and precious: ‘Here today and gone tomorrow’, gained new meaning for me as I watched countless amounts of people express their grief over the sudden loss of loved ones to the coronavirus. Pay attention to what and who truly matters in your life and take no one or nothing for granted. Try to be intentional about staying connected to the important people and relationships in your live and to let them know often how much you love and appreciate them.
  4. Gratitude is a must:  Waking up every day and being able to breathe on your own has never been more meaningful. So, at a minimum, all of us have something to be grateful for. Avoid the temptation to grumble about the 10 lbs. you have gained, the vacation you did not get to take, the opportunities that you missed, or the amount of money in your account. We have more than we need. Instead. use this time to think about your plans and start putting things in place that will help you work towards achieving your goals in whichever version of normal we move on to.

So, stop, pause, and reflect on the past year and identify your biggest challenge, takeaway or win.

Until next time, Remember, It’s A Learning Life!

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Level UP!!

Balloons Up In the Sky-Photo
Balloons up in the Sky-Photo by Padli Pradana on Pexels.com

Catchy phrases and  cool slangs have always been attractive to people trying to ensure that they are “in the know” and/or keeping up the times. And so, in professional circles you might have heard your colleagues drop phrases such as “Lean In” (made popular by Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook titled book), “circle back”, “weigh in” and/or refer to “serial tasking” (Instead of multitasking) and so on and so forth.

“Level Up” or “levelling up” is the one of the newest and trendy phrases now being used in various circles across the globe to describe an attitude or mindset towards upgrading oneself or performance and/or the desire to go to another level in one’s personal or professional development or career journey. The Urban Dictionary describes level up as “To make a move in your life or career for the better”. Based on that definition,  who among us could not think of an area(s) in our lives that we want or need to level up or improve ?

Why Level Up?

According to Business Wire, there is a  $9.9 billion market for motivational self-improvement programs and products that seek to improve us physically, mentally, financially or spiritually. A quick at YouTube quick look at Amazon’s platform or YouTube respectively,  will reveal a  plethora of self-improvement books, podcasts on everything from how to improve finances, learn a new skill, motivational content on personal development and how to videos geared at people who want to try something new. So, regardless  of where you fall on Maslow’s  Hierachy of Needs , the concept of “levelling up” appeals to individuals who are  looking to  their improve skills or performance, advance in their career  or  wanting to step outside of  their comfort zone. It also provides motivation for those of us seeking to pursue bold new goals whether its buying a new home, starting that degree, taking a relationship to the next level or taking steps to improve nutrition and fitness for improved health and well-being. Additionally, the organizational environments in which we operate and the tools and technologies we use are always changing. Failure to adapt and our agility in responding to such change can affect our success and progress in the varied roles we perform.

What Does Levelling Up Look Like?

This truly will depend on your end game and what you are trying to achieve at this stage of your personal life or career. One of the things  that I learned very early in my leader development is that, development is dynamic. Our strengths can become weaknesses and gaps in skills that we have (that were not critical at one time) can suddenly become urgent. Simply put, the skills and talents that got us to one level, may not take you to your next or ‘What Got You Here Won’t Take You There’ . Plus, we all have blind spots, those things that people know about us that we don’t know about ourselves.  For example, the way we  make decisions, how we ‘show up” when working with others or perform everyday tasks,  that can potentially undermine or derail our very best efforts.

For me, I have identified a couple areas in my interpersonal and technical skills where I am seeking to grow and level up. For you, the area(s) for improvement will be different. What matters most is that you take the time to process feedback you might have received, and or spend some time reflecting on where you are vs. what you want to achieve. Once you’ve  identified  your  opportunities to growth, challenge yourself not to focus  on the barriers but instead, commit to  taking little steps as you work towards change.

So, ask yourself- what is one area (s) in my personal /professional life that I would like to or need to grow/improve? Whatever you answer might be- that is the place to start becoming the person you truly want to be.

Until next time, Remember, It’s A Learning Life!  

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Rated R: That Resillence Factor

If you’re going through hell, keep going!” Winston Churchill

I’ve often heard that quote and found some humor in it (As you might as well). As I wrote this post, I couldn’t think of a better reference for framing what resilience truly means. This quote from Winston Churchill, named the Greatest Briton of all time in a 2002 poll, and widely regarded as being among the most influential people in British history, provides timeless wisdom that help us understand the concept of resilience. Simply put, resilience (resiliency) refers to one’s ability to bounce back from the adversities (Illness, failures, trauma, disasters, tragedy or loss) experienced in either or personal, or professional lives. Resilience speaks to courage, determination, hope, that will to win or succeed, no matter how tough the race gets, how great the obstacles are, or how difficult the fight.  That resilience factor,  determines not only  how well we adapt and  cope with change, and the challenges life throws at us, but also whether we merely survive or thrive, and even influences how we see ourselves as victors or victims.

“Whether you think you can, or  you think cant- you’re  right.” Henry Ford

Is resiliency a skill, a trait, a talent that comes more naturally to some than other? Probably, but this might not matter in the long run. For me, resiliency is more of a personal quality, a mindset that influences the behaviors some people show in times of great difficulty. And while it may seem that, some people are more disposed or more proficient at it, this might be a result of their different life chances and experiences. We all know someone in our circle(s) of influence (client, friend, family member, and coworker) who has faced adversity. And at one extreme, there are those who seem unable to recover from the situation or event, or move forward. Their stories are filled with despair and hopelessness. On the other end of the spectrum, there are others, who despite the pain, hardships and  setbacks, push pass their circumstances and display that inner courage, determination and a will to succeed despite the odds. How then do we account for these different responses in people? Truth is, we are all wired differently, but that resilience factor can certainly determine an individual chances for success or failure and even their  performance on the job.

“Almost Every Successful Person Begins With Two Beliefs, The Future Can Be Better Than The Present And I Have The Power To Make It So.” Author Unknown

 In today’s unpredictable and rapidly changing environment where organizations exist, resilience has become a highly desired trait for both leaders and employees alike. Organizations are investing significant research, time and money into talent management and leadership development programs to build resilience in their teams and to help employees understand the importance of resiliency. In so doing, resilience is being touted as a “new skill” valued in employees, much like customer service in its heyday. After all, resilient employees make resilient companies.

7 Tips to Become More Resilient

So whether you were born or not born with resiliency as a special skill or trait, you can certainly, develop or hone it. You can deliberately choose to demonstrate resiliency in our responses to setbacks, change and adversity at work or in our personal lives. As you choose, here are a few tips that might help you develop your resiliency:

  • Practice self-awareness by understanding who you are (Strengths, gaps, and talents), and by defining what is important to you (Values).
  • Establish a vision for yourself by determining what your goals are and how you would like your life to be. Once you’ve done this, be resourceful by finding ways and opportunities (Using long and short terms plans) to leverage your skills and talents to achieve your goals.
  • Learn from your failures and mistakes and don’t get derailed by focusing on them. Truth is, you will not be the first or last to suffer setbacks and detours. Acknowledge your current situation and your role in it, and then move forward.
  • Embrace a positive mindset and perspective that will help you make sense of all your experiences and help you overcome your challenges. There is a lesson in every experience and these provide great opportunities for learning.
  • Believe in yourself and have confidence in your abilities (even when no one else does) and keep striving towards your goals even when things do not work out as you planned. There will always be people who do not support your goals, surround yourself with the ones who do.
  • Develop positive relationships at work and healthy friendships. Not only will these relationships help you to cope with stress, they will give you key support when times are difficult and also people to share and celebrate your successes.
  • Practice a balanced lifestyle that embraces your spiritual, physical, and emotional self. Remember to pray, rest when you need to and have fun on your journey.

Therefore,  the next time  you find yourself in a difficult situation– Choose to Be Resilient! For as the  great  Jamaican reggae singer and legend  Bob Marley once said, “You Never Know How Strong You Are, Until Being Strong Is The Only Choice You Have.”

Until next time-  Remember, ItsALearningLife!

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