Grief is complex.
Usually, it’s a time to be present with those who share our grief. During the pandemic, that norm is complicated by the limits on how close we can keep our loved ones. This presents us with an interesting challenge: to reimagine and evaluate how we mourn in this time of crisis. I thought it would be an appropriate time to present an approach to grief that brings us closer to ourselves when we cannot be close to our loved ones.
Notice that you’re grieving. Start with how you are feeling. Grief comes with a complicated array of emotions. Take note of the layers and complexity of these emotions, of whether they sway or hold steady. Just notice them and let that be the first step toward reflecting on whom or what you’ve lost.
2) Be Patient
As you identify the feelings attached to the loss, it is important to be patient and go easy on yourself. You share a story with the individuals in your life. Within these stories are moments of happiness, joy, pain, and anger. Remind yourself that as a consequence of this, emotions may arise that could make us feel ashamed or guilty. Give yourself time to sit with the complicated array of emotions.
3) Care for yourself
In times of loss it is easy to get caught up in the work that comes along with it. It’s important to remind ourselves to take a second and ensure we are practicing our own self-care routines. Remind yourself that even though you are caring for others, you also need time to rest, grieve and sit with your loss.
Today marks the 2020 US election. 😱
Okay, take a deep breath.
Now, as a Canadian company, you may think… well, why are you thinking/writing/worried about the US election?
A couple reasons. First, we deliver a ton of mental health training in the US and have a ton of American clients. Second, personally, I consider the US my second home having lived and worked there. Third, we can’t deny that this is a global moment or reckoning of the kind of world that we want to build.
While that sounds heady, it’s not really. This election has very real consequences for us in Canada, the kinds of behaviour that’s normalized among our leaders, and the validation (or rebuttal) of the worst human impulses.
Feeling anxious yet? If you are (like me), here’s what we can all do today…
Trust our gut
Over the past four years, we’ve been exposed to a firehose of hate, division, fear-mongering, alienation, and cruelty in a way that was previously unfathomable. Many of us have become addicted to staying up to date on each development (see John Mulaney’s bit on comparing the Trump Whitehouse to a horse in a hospital). The emotional scars of the past four years are immense, let alone the anticipation of an election that could make this chapter history.
All of this is to say, there’s no need to feel guilt or shame in how you feel about this election. This anxiety runs deep. So trust whatever you’re feeling — because you’re feeling it with good reason.
Take any action
This kind of nervous-jittery-anxiety is best countered by taking civic action. What kind of action? Well, anything really, so long as you are using that same fire that’s within you right now for good.
Write something on Facebook about how you’re feeling about today. WhatsApp your American friends and ask how tensions are in their community. Use this as an opportunity to reconnect with old peers or friends. Moments of collective anxiety are ripe for reconnection. Take advantage of that.
If you’re hungry for more, shift your focus to what’s local, even if you’re in Canada. Know that crosswalk in your neighbourhood that’s dangerous? Write to your counsellor. Know that provincial proposal that’s frustrating you? Sign a petition. Know that issue you’ve been meaning to learn more about? Dive into it. Action beats inaction. Choosing our focus is an act of control. And when we feel a sense of control, our anxiety can be tamed.
Limit the scrolling and reloading
Refreshing CNN or FiveThirtyEight all day won’t make a difference. Nor will scanning Twitter incessantly. The results will come in as they do (or don’t… looking at you Pennsylvania!). Make a plan to consume coverage in a measured way and stick to it. That means, for example, checking out the news once an hour for five minutes. Later tonight when results start coming in, pick a channel you’ll watch and set a window for when you’ll tune in. Don’t be afraid to break up that CNN time with something funny — like an episode of It’s Me or the Dog.
Find solace in like-minded voices
I’ve found a great deal of comfort in the content from Crooked, the media juggernaut launched by ex-Obama staffers that include podcasts like Pod Save America. On these big nights, they do something called the “Group Thread” where they broadcast their own Slack channel with a feed from MSNBC on YouTube. Their team shares their candid, hilarious reactions to each development in a way that humanizes the profundity of the moment. It’s a great normalizer, reminding us that if you’re outraged, scared, or hopeful that there are millions of people out there just like you. If you’re looking for something lighter, Steven Colbert is doing a long livestream over on Showtime. And if you’re looking for something insightful, The Daily is doing their first-ever live show starting at 4pm EST.
Accept that we’re not done yet
Regardless of what happens, tonight won’t be the end of the past four years or the messes that it’s caused. There will be uncalled races, heightened tensions, and a — at a minimum — a president that won’t be out of office until January. Accept that there’s still a lot to happen beyond this evening — and believe that you have more control over your anxiety than you might think.
And if you need support at any time in the aftermath of tonight, we’re always here for you.
There’s a principle called Parkinson’s Law that says “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
Put simply, that means that the more time you give yourself to do something, the longer it will take to get it done.
For example, when you block off a whole weekend to work on a paper, but then find yourself procrastinating like crazy and get almost nothing done? Or when you have a bad date that is goes on forever because you didn’t set a clear ending?
Yeah. Exactly. That’s Parkinson’s Law in action.
But it’s not just papers or dates — it’s everything we do. Whether it’s cleaning, shopping, relaxing, errands or partying, the time each of those tasks takes up way more time than we thought they would. Think about your life and your habits, and consider how much you really get done when you give yourself tons of time. The answer is probably not much.
Here’s a better approach that’s a secret weapon used by the world’s most productive people.
The next time you have to complete a task, put a deadline on it that’s firm and then work backwards using what’s called the Pomodoro Technique.
This approach makes you give yourself only 25-minutes to complete a specific task followed by a 5-minute break. So that’s a cycle of 30-minutes… 25-minutes of work, 5-minute break. Each 30-minute cycle is called a Pomodoro, hence the name.
Once you repeat a Pomodoro four times, take a longer break of up to 30-minutes. Then sit back down and do another round of four Pomodoros, or as many as you need to do to get your work done.
All you have to remember is that one Pomodoro is 25-minutes of working time followed by a 5-minute break. And then after four Pomodoros, take a 30-minute break. Got it? Great.
The key, however, is to be organized and have your work cut into manageable chunks. It’s not like you can write a massive essay in 25-minutes. And I know that breaking up a big project, like a paper or a major research project, down into small pieces doesn’t feel natural. This is especially the case if we feel stressed about it and feel like it’s so big that no matter what we do, we’ll only ever scratch the surface of it.
That’s not true. Break. It. Down.
Before you begin your work if you’re using this technique, make a list of the bite-sized tasks that you have to do to write, for example, a paper. Your list might start to look like this:
- Pick a topic and narrow it down
- Draft a clear thesis
- Look for research to support my thesis from online sources
- Look for research to support my thesis from journal articles
- Go back and refine my thesis based on the research reviewed above
- Outline my three main arguments in a couple sentences each
- …and so on
Then once you have your list, start at the first item with one Pomodoro. Get it done before 25-minutes is up? Great, move onto the next. If not, let it roll into the next 25-minutes. Make sure that you’re focused during each Pomodoro. Don’t do anything but that one thing. Keep all other distractions at bay.
On a logistical note, there are a ton of apps and tools out there to act as a timer. You can use a timer on your phone. Or you can try PomoDone (which has a free version) or Pomotodo (which is also free for the basic plan). All will work. Just find something that works for you.
So before you dive back into work, stop everything and give this a shot! It might not feel natural at first, but keep at it. Before you know it, you’ll be a productivity machine.
Oh, and by the way, I wrote this blog in exactly two Pomodoros.