Saturday 08 2024

How to be Emotionally Present at Work When You Have Real Stuff Going on at Home

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by Eileen Hoenigman Meyer

Colleagues paying attention to a presentation - Yuri A/Shutterstock

We all go through hard times. Whether it's managing an illness, supporting a sick family member, going through a divorce, aiding a struggling child, or dealing with a job loss in the family, weathering a crisis is an emotional and logistical undertaking.

Most of us have to work during these difficult stretches, which means we can't navigate them as privately or as independently as we'd like. While this can be challenging, there are benefits to managing stressful times in the comfort of our professional communities. Existing in a known space driven by a familiar routine and populated with supporters can be helpful when we're struggling.

It's important, though, to proceed with a plan. Developing a self-care strategy and remaining realistic about how much you're asking of yourself are key to staying emotionally grounded and present when you're working through a challenging time. Here's what to consider as you get started.

Lean Into Your Routine

According to Assistant Professor Nadia Ibrahim-Taney, being emotionally present in the workplace means "how one is connected to themselves, their work, and the people they do work with." Your daily routine fortifies this interconnectedness by providing a nourishing, familiar framework that you've carefully crafted over time.

Recognizing the familiarity of our professional rituals and relationships reminds us that one part of life continues to make sense, even during a crisis.

"Work is a constant in most people's lives so in difficult times, which can often coincide with chaos or change, having elements of daily life remaining constant and predictable can be reassuring and helps center us," explained Ibrahim-Taney.

While your workplace can offer a sense of reprieve from the stress of the situation at home, there is also pressure, expectation, and stress at work. It's a lot to manage, and you may be operating differently while carrying this additional weight. You may find that your patience, resilience, and attention is impacted. This is normal and understandable.

Recognize your new limitations. Don't apologize for them. Make a plan, and reach out for the help.

Get Clarity Around What You Need

Talk to someone outside of your situation who can help you see and sort your feelings. Use the wellness resources on campus. Meet with your mentor. Talk with a therapist. Consider doing these things before you discuss what you're weathering with anyone who is directly involved in your work.

Having a sense of what you need before you bring any team members into your situation puts you in control. While it can feel overwhelming to manage a difficult situation, it's helpful to be the one driving this.

As you work through it, outline what you need: Will you need to work remotely more often? Will additional support with certain projects help? Is a leave of absence possible?

Make a list. Review your employee handbook. See what your institution offers. Think through who you feel most comfortable coming to as you access your needs. Are you ready to talk with your manager or would it feel better to start with your human resources partner?

Even though your feelings run deep about what you're going through, try to think about the management of this like any workplace project. Plan it in stages with the colleagues with whom you work best.

Identify Your Support System

"Sometimes when it rains, it pours, right?" said Ibrahim-Taney. "It can often feel like that with work as well. If things are hard at home in your personal life and hard at work and it is tough all around- that's when you need to lean into your people."

It's important to be strategic about who you invite into your support network, especially at the start.

Share your news strategically rather than spilling it to try to get some comfort when you feel emotionally vulnerable.

"Consider who are the people at home and at work who can support you?" Ibrahim-Taney recommended. "What kind of support can they offer and how does that align with the support you need?"

Identify particular people for specific jobs. For example, some colleagues may be especially helpful when you're feeling vulnerable. Others may be resourceful assisting with logistics.

Keep in mind that you don't have to share what you're going through with everyone, and you don't have to discuss anything more than is comfortable for you. Make defining and maintaining your own boundaries a key part of your self-care plan.

Create Your Narrative

Sometimes, you don't have the opportunity to decide what to share or not. If a family member passes away, if you are returning from a medical leave, or if you encounter another obstacle that is known around campus, you may find yourself in the difficult spot of managing both the crisis and the communication around it.

This can be especially hard. Colleagues with the best intentions can be hurtfully clumsy in their efforts to soothe or they can ask questions that are beyond what you want to discuss at work.

It's helpful to develop a narrative, an elevator pitch, for what you're weathering. You get to decide how to shape, share, and discuss this news. You don't owe anyone information about your health or circumstances. Decide how you want to talk about it and stick to that script.

Doing this initial work can help you get some clarity around your feelings, and it puts you in charge.

"A sense of control is perception, if you feel out of control, change your perception of what you can control and be in control of yourself," Ibrahim-Taney advised.

Protect Yourself

Don't push yourself too hard. It's okay to move slowly. It's okay to need breaks. You may sometimes have to shut down for the day to take care of yourself. You don't have to be anyone's hero or inspire anyone with your strength. You just have to get through this.

Some years, we grow and thrive while other years we just survive. Both shape our character.

Recognize what you're managing. Accept it, and care for yourself accordingly. Give yourself the space, resources, and support you need to get through this. Adapt your thinking and allow yourself to be a person in pain.

Needing support is humbling and hard, but it seeds an awareness that forges deep connections among other benefits. Suffering is not the path to reinvention that most of us would choose, but it aids our reinvention nonetheless.


This article is republished from HigherEdJobs® under a Creative Commons license. 

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