Managing anxiety about loss

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Part of Leading through Covid-19

Leading through Covid-19

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.

Are there other practical approaches to managing collective anxieties at work which you have found constructive? Please share them using the comment box below.

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.

Find mindfulness resources with free access for NHS staff

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Comments

Jean Hill

Position
Workforce Development Lead,
Organisation
NCIC NHS Foundation Trust
Comment date
24 April 2020

I'd lost the sense of connection with my team, all fantastic people who I love working with. We have teleconferences but recognised this was dealing with the work but not the people. We took a tip from our admin team who are holding virtual coffee breaks and we've started to do the same, and allocate time to talk to each other informally and share how we're feeling and coping and those small important human contacts, like acknowledging a colleague's grandma's 91st birthday.

Shaun caton

Position
Art Curator and Programme Manager,
Organisation
Homerton Hospital
Comment date
29 April 2020

Thank you so much for your interesting and informative posts. On a personal level, I have lost the freedom to visit my Father, who is in his 80's and my only surviving parent, who lives 88 miles away. He is now completely alone and has been for many weeks. I have lost the freedom to visit friends, work colleagues, and engage with a large social network, that both nurtures and supports my life/work. I have lost the freedom to visit museums and art galleries. I have lost the freedom to attend a conference at Tate Britian, that I spent months preparing for. To counterbalance this, I have been selecting art works from our Hospital's impressive and eclectic art collection. I am posting images of them via email to staff, to help cheer them up, provide some temporary relief and offer a pleasing distraction from the situation we all find ourselves in. I posted a batch of photos of vibrant art works created by neurological patients in the Homerton, which the Hackney Citizen published online. I have also written an illustrated article about the importance of creative thinking and action, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, during these troubled times. This will be published by Irwin Mitchell, in their magazine. I hope these small gestures will offer people some value and meaning.

Nelia Mediana

Position
Health Care Asistant,
Organisation
NHS
Comment date
30 April 2020

I have lost my peace of mind, always thinking that I could pass this virus to my husband who is on dialysis 3x a week;also with blockage of one major vessel of the heart and narrowing of 2 arteries also diabetic on insulin. My daughter could not come home to help me care for my husband. I am tearful, afraid of what will happen. next. I miss my work, we have an excellent team in my job. I miss my friends at work although they call me and I have a manager who is very supportive and very kind. However, I have this strange feeling that I will get this virus, I just feel so sad. My friends could not come and visit us too but I try to contact them so that we could pray together. My daughter who is very far from me sends me goods that we need via on line and she does her best to cheer us up by talking to us everynight. Thank you for these articles made available to read.

Nelia Mediana

Position
Health Care Asistant,
Organisation
NHS
Comment date
30 April 2020

I have lost my confidence to go back to work at the moment because I always feel that I could pass this virus to my husband who is having dialysis 3x a week; he also have major heart condition and also insulin dependent diabetic. I am now very tearful and nervous often in panic and forgetful everytime I think about this COVID 19. I asked help from medical proffesional feeling a bit better now but still not quite ready to go back to work. I try to talk to my friends and they call me to to cheer me up. I miss my job I have an excellent team happy colleauges and very kind and supportive manager. My daughter sends me goods that we need on line she talks to me via the telephone everynight. Thank you for the articles that were shared here. These are inspiring so that others like me could also cope in this difficult situations.

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