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Managing anxiety about loss


What have you lost since the arrival of Covid-19? What are you afraid of losing as the pandemic unfolds?

I have lost my usual routines; which help life hang together. I’ve lost the in-the-flesh laughs with colleagues that carry us through the more difficult conversations; I’ve lost meaningful work projects that I’d invested time and labour in; and I’ve lost watching the joy my mother takes from holding my children on her knee.

I’ve also lost my sense of safety and my peace of mind. Though I haven’t yet lost someone close to me, I know many people who are vulnerable to the disease because of their physical state or the degree of their exposure. And I fear my fears may go on for a very long time.

In the context of the pandemic, what we have already lost, how acutely we feel that, and what we fear losing, are particular to each of us as individuals based on who we are, who we are connected to, our roles and what gives meaning to our own lives. And yet we have all lost something, and we are all fearful about what else we may lose: anxiety about loss is both highly personal and collectively shared.

This anxiety will be affecting how we and others show up at work, and how we relate to our colleagues.

Managing our anxiety about loss

David Kessler, the death and grieving expert, recently recommended [four strategies for surviving and managing our anxiety about loss](, which may be useful to you and your teams.

1. ‘Find balance in the things you’re thinking’

If you find yourself focusing on the worst things that could happen, challenge yourself to think through a positive alternative. ‘The people I know and love stay safe’. This is not to say you shouldn’t allow yourself to think through negative scenarios, but just that you should aim to find balance in your thinking.

2. ‘Come into the present’

If you find yourself feeling very anxious, even panicky, about the future, focus on bringing yourself back to the present moment as a way of calming yourself down and being able to better manage your thinking. Notice what you can see around you. What can you hear and smell? What can you feel on your skin? It also helps to work on slowing down your breathing.

3. ‘Let go of what you can’t control’

Some things are in our control; some things we can influence; and many things are out of our realm of control or influence. Recognise what falls into which category, and focus your energies on what you can control, and not on what you can’t.

4. ‘Stock up on compassion’

This collective anxiety means that people, ourselves included, may be acting out in unusual ways. Anxiety about loss might express itself in a variety of ways including as anger, denial or depression. Recognise that many people may be struggling even if they don’t, or can’t, articulate this, and try to show people as much understanding and compassion as possible. Show yourself that same compassion.

How can we do this in a context of limited time and space in a challenging work environment? Perhaps through sharing personal reflections and experiences with our teams and colleagues. And by providing space and encouragement for team members to describe how they are feeling, for example, at the beginning of a meeting, or by having dedicated meetings that focus on mutual pastoral care.

Want to know more?

Find five minutes to read ['That discomfort you’re feeling is grief']( Scott Berinato’s interview with David Kessler in the Harvard Business Review, 23 March.

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