Feb 10, 2023
Grief, loss, and emotional trauma are really hard to think about or talk about. Because our podcast, Focus Forward, aims to tackle these things that are hard to talk about, I reached out to Dr. Lisa Shulman to explore the topic of how the experience of loss impacts our brains and our executive functioning. You can listen to that episode here.
I also reached out to Jody LaVoie, a grief and loss expert and founder of Widows in the Workplace. Jody works with widows who are looking to find a life that they love after the loss of a loved one. Jody is a widow herself, a mom of three girls, and a business owner. Jody has learned to love her own life again after the loss of her husband. Jody joined me to share her wisdom and some tips that widows and others can use to navigate this new life after loss. This blog post is based on our conversation and you can listen to the full conversation to hear even more tips and information on our YouTube channel. You can also find the full transcript of our conversation in the show notes on our podcast page
Jody shared that the first action she encourages her clients to take is to work on their thoughts and figure out where those thoughts are coming from. She says, “That doesn't mean that we're ignoring grief, we're pushing the pain away, or we're not feeling it. It just means our thoughts trigger our behaviors, which trigger emotions and it's this endless cycle.” To gain control of this cycle, Jody suggests that “you can pause, just take a breath, and actually try to think about, okay, what is this thought really, and where is it coming from?” Once you’ve done this, you can ask yourself, “What is the action that I’m taking based on this thought?” and then ask, “What should I be doing differently?”
Labeling our feelings is a very important part of learning to understand how and why we feel the ways we do. Jody shared that another step that can be added to labeling feelings is setting parameters around those feelings. For example, she explains, “If you are in the process of feeling sad, it is okay to acknowledge that I'm feeling sad, and I'm missing my person. But I'm going to sit in it for five minutes, 10 minutes, and then I'm going to get off the couch or out of my bed and go do something to move to a different place.” This all takes practice and is a good skill we can all learn for helping move through any difficult feelings we may have.
3. Use External Resources to Help Get Stuff Done
As we learned from Dr. Lisa Shulman in our podcast episode, grief and emotional trauma directly impact our executive functioning and can make it difficult to get things done or keep track of what we need to do. Jody suggests using a SMART goal to make it easier to complete our life tasks. Using external resources such as a SMART goal, a planner, or even a simple to-do list, is always a good idea and can be especially helpful when we’re emotionally and physically overwhelmed.
4. Create Your “Grief Board of Directors”
Jody explains how “as a grieving person, we're not firing on all cylinders. We've got a lot in our brain and that can cause distractions. But yet, we still want to exceed at our jobs. We still want to get things done.” It can really help to have people that you can call on when you need them. She suggests designating people to be your “Grief Board of Directors”. These people support you in various aspects of your life. You may have a friend who can help with your kids and another person who supports you with decisions about your job. Learning to ask for help from these people is an important part of creating this “board of directors”. Jody also coaches people who are supporting someone who is grieving and shared this advice: Be specific in your offers to help. Jody says the needs of grievers are vast, so be specific. For example, “I'd like to bring you dinner this week. Is Wednesday or Thursday better?”
5. Keep a Journal
For those who listen to our episode with Dr. Shulman, you’ll hear that she talks extensively about the importance and benefits of journaling during and after loss. Jody shared that this is also a really important step for her and her clients, as well. The idea of journaling can be a little intimidating for anyone who hasn’t tried it yet, but the wonderful thing about it is that your journaling can be done in any format, length, or style that works for you. Jody’s journaling practice includes 5 or 10 minutes of writing down her thoughts, listing three things she’s grateful for, and documenting one thing for which she’s proud of herself for doing the day before. To help her remember to write in her journal, she built it into her morning routine. As soon as she’s done brushing her teeth, she sits down with her journal. This is a practice called “habit-stacking” and can be a very effective way to build and reinforce new habits.
Overcoming loss is never easy, but hopefully, these strategies will help you pave a way forward so you can truly love life again. After all, we're just one small change away from transforming our day-to-day lives.
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Hannah Choi, MA is an Executive Function Coach and host of the host of Beyond BookSmart's podcast, Focus Forward. She has over 20 years of experience working with students of all ages, from preschool to college students. Hannah is a graduate of The University of Rochester where she earned a BA in Psychology, and The University of California at Santa Barbara, where she earned an MA in Education.
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