Grief-induced anxiety

— Calming the fears that follow loss

By Jessica DuLong

Millions of Americans are grieving loved ones taken by Covid-19. Yet even outside of a pandemic — with its staggering losses of lives, homes, economic security and normalcy — grief is hard work.

“The funny thing about grief is that no one ever feels like they’re doing it the right way,” said therapist Claire Bidwell Smith, author of “Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief.” But there is no right way, she insisted. The only “wrong” way is to not do it.

What often trips people up is misattributing the sensations of grief-related anxiety to some unrelated cause. “Probably 70% of my clients have gone into the hospital for a panic attack following a big loss,” Smith said.

After doctors rule out physical illness, clients come to her for counseling, frequently struggling to understand the link between their physical symptoms and bereavement.

This becomes especially problematic in grief-averse places like the United States, Smith explained.

With over 4 million reported Covid-19 deaths reported worldwide since December 2019, grief and loss have touched an untold number of hearts and minds. Smith recommends connecting the dots between loss and anxiety as a critical first step toward healing.

This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

CNN: How are grief and anxiety related?

Claire Bidwell Smith: When some big change comes seemingly out of nowhere and disrupts life, we realize we’re not safe, things aren’t certain, we’re not in control.

All of that is true all of the time, but loss is a huge reminder. The life changes and emotional upheaval are so much bigger than most people understand. Grief, which is the series of emotions that accompany a significant loss, can drop you to your knees. That feeds anxiety.

Grieving people can begin feeling anxious about their own health or the safety of other loved ones. Sometimes, they don’t even realize what they are experiencing is anxiety or is in any way related to their grief.

Anxiety, a psychological condition that causes fear and worry, can present with many physical symptoms. These can be misleading, making you think you have heart palpitations, a stomach issue, a new sweating problem, headaches, insomnia. Many people think they have a medical problem and not an emotional one.

CNN: How do you help people ease their grief-related anxiety?

Smith: My first job is to help people connect the dots between their loss and their fears by tracing their anxiety on a time line: When was I last anxious? How were things before my loved one died?

If the loved one had a long illness, the anxiety might begin before the death. After a sudden death, the anxiety might start right away. Usually if someone’s going to veer into anxious territory, it’s something that happens quickly following loss.

Some people I see, who have never had anxiety in their lives, suddenly begin to have panic attacks right after the death of a loved one. Others, long familiar with anxiety, see symptoms really ratchet up after a loss, or maybe take on new manifestations.

CNN: What coping strategies can people use?

Smith: Seeking out support is really vital. There are so many more support groups and grief therapists available right now. And because of the pandemic, many are available virtually. You can often find support online and start tomorrow. If the therapists or groups you find are booked, get on a wait list. It’s never too late to work through your grief.

If people don’t seek out help to untangle their emotions, they get stuck in anger or guilt. Those play out in substance abuse, depression and anxiety, in relationship issues and in trouble at work and school. So, the domino effect of trying to muscle through and not seeking out support isn’t good.

CNN: What advice do you have for those resistant to formal mental health treatment?

Smith: Self-guided online courses are one option that many therapists provide. Even reading articles or books or listening to a podcast about grief can normalize your experience and help you give you more permission to mourn. You can feel like you’re going crazy, like something else is wrong with you, when really, it’s grief.

Social media offers so many grief resources. A simple search on Instagram for #grief can help you find solidarity with others. Even just reading about other people’s experiences through their posts and comments is valuable because it can help you realize you’re not alone.

CNN: Because of the pandemic, so many people have been unable to be with their dying loved ones. What impact might that have?

Smith: We will see more complicated grief, with extended periods of grieving where people may get stuck in a loop of guilt or regret or anger. That comes, in part, from the feeling that a lot of the losses were preventable, and because people were forced to say goodbye to loved ones over Zoom and FaceTime with nurses wearing masks and face shields. Those kinds of endings can lend themselves to complicated grief.

Clients I’m working with who have lost a loved one to Covid-19 are feeling anger as they watch people get vaccinated — or choose not to get vaccinated. Everyone’s posting reunion pictures. Someone who lost a parent to Covid a month ago is painfully aware of just how close they were to not having to go through this loss.

Initially, they have to work through shock, anger and guilt. Then we can begin to find new ways to say goodbye. That can look like doing self-compassion exercises or speaking with a pastor, minister or rabbi to work on absolution of guilt. It can involve finding spiritual connections to someone they have lost by writing them letters. I urge people to embrace their own sense of ritual and perhaps even hold memorials.

CNN: What role do meditation and mindfulness play in healing?

Smith: When we are grieving, and when we are anxious, we spend a lot of time dwelling in the past and fretting about the future. Meditation and mindfulness help bring our awareness to the present moment.

Meditation also helps us to understand our own thoughts, and how we can learn to detach from negative ideas and irrational fears.

CNN: You write that imagination can be another powerful tool. How?

Smith: I wasn’t there the night my mother died. Even today, I imagine myself crawling into her hospital bed and holding her and saying the goodbye that I didn’t get to. I’ve found catharsis in envisioning what I would have done, had I been able. But it took me years — definitely more than five — to get to that point.

Just like when athletes envision a course the night before, imagination can almost give your body a sense memory, which can be soothing. But it’s not something that people are ready to do right away.

CNN: What role does story play in coping with grief and loss?

Smith: People carry around stories of loss and death, but they often feel like they are suppressing them because they haven’t found good places to share them. How we hold a story is very indicative of how we feel emotionally. When we are holding a scary story, an uncomfortable story, a story of regret for a long time, it plays out in our day-to-day life.

Healing comes from finding outlets to explore a story and possibly find ways to reframe it. We can do that in therapy, counseling, support groups, online grief forums and grief writing classes, among other places.

CNN: You’ve come to believe that staying connected with our lost loved ones can be more healing than letting go. What does that look like?

Smith: That looks different for everyone, and it isn’t something most of us can do right away — we often just want our person back in front of us. But once they are ready, I encourage my clients to call upon their loved ones, continuing to be in conversation with them internally. There used to be this emphasis on letting go and moving on. Now, I feel it’s more important to move forward with the person you have lost.

For example, pondering: What advice would my dad give me about this job offer? What would my mom think of my new boyfriend?

Developing and fostering a relationship with our person can include sharing stories about them, taking on certain aspects of work they did or doing things in remembrance.

CNN: You quote Hope Edelman, author of “The AfterGrief,” who has said the crux of grief work is making meaning out of loss. Is there a way to foster the meaning-making that can have such lasting value?

Smith: In some ways, that stage comes naturally. However, we can’t get there until we work through guilt, regret and anger that stand in the way of our ability to make meaning. If we’re angry with our loved one or a situation that happened, a lot of people will hold onto that anger because it’s a very powerful emotion.

But I’ve never seen a grieving client who hasn’t questioned life in a new way. Where’s my person? Can they see me? Will I ever see them again? Why am I still here?

It’s really hard to go through huge loss and not have those questions. Those inquiries lead to finding meaning and transformation.

Complete Article HERE!

On the Politics of Death

Global events such as pandemics can momentarily focus attention on a fundamentally overlooked pre-existing human condition: the sheer inequality of how individuals in power decide who lives and who dies.

By: John Troyer

Pandemics make ignoring death harder to do. That doesn’t mean government officials and friends alike won’t symbolically look the other way or reflexively stare harder at their phones during mortality spike events. But the longer any act of ignoring continues, the more obvious the avalanche of death being ignored becomes.

Ignoring something is, of course, different than repressing it. We are acknowledging its existence by ignoring it. We see death. We understand it happens. All of us know people who have died. Everyone reading these words will eventually die.

Which brings me to our current death moment.

The Covid-19 pandemic is but one example from a long list of morbidity and mortality events that momentarily exposed the politics of death for everyone to see. And by everyone, I mean the citizens of every single country on the planet who are suddenly witnessing what those of us who work in death full-time already knew: Our leaders regularly choose to decide who lives and who dies.

Now flip that last statement into a question and one can begin to see the genealogical shadow of Queens and Emperors: Who lives and who dies? Thumbs up or thumbs down? These are foundational and urgent questions that confront modern governments with choices to make on any given day but especially so during a pandemic. The early AIDS epidemic remains a tragic illustration of how different governments decided that the queer communities watching gay men die in unprecedented numbers could be ignored until suddenly those same governments were dealing with a pandemic that remains with us today.

Thanatopolitics, or the Politics of Death

Who lives and who dies are clearly not new questions, but global events such as pandemics can momentarily focus attention on a fundamentally overlooked pre-existing human condition: the sheer inequality of how individuals in power answer those questions.

And while it is correct to state that all biological creatures die at a certain point, that dying is hardly universal in how it impacts different communities. What I’m saying may not come as a surprise, but it is important to foreground this information as a way of stating that when discussing death in the modern Western world, we are often discussing the politics of death. Even if people do not realize this distinction when talking about death and dying — and many people, I believe, do not — the ways end-of-life trajectories become discussed focus on the dynamics causing that death to happen. This distinction matters since understanding how a person died — the core causation of the death, especially during a pandemic — is often laden with political questions around access to care, medical ethics, and economic stability.

While death and dead bodies are obviously connected, the politics surrounding each remains unique and should be distinguished from one another.

This death politics can properly be called a thanatopolitics, borrowing thanato for death from the Ancient Greeks and working with both Giorgio Agamben’s and Michel Foucault’s ideas around biopolitics and forms of life.

What this thanatopolitics of who lives and who dies — with a heavy emphasis here on the “dies” bit — is not is the related concept of necropolitics. The latter is a distinct and important idea first suggested by philosopher Achille Mbembe that more accurately describes the politics of dead bodies (the necro in Ancient Greek). The thanato/necro distinction is crucial in everyday circumstances since the politics of death is often described using the necro- prefix — and while death and dead bodies are obviously connected, the politics surrounding each remains unique and should be distinguished from one another. Dead body politics and death politics occupy distinct experiences for the average person, and recognizing the difference between what death is and what a dead body is remains profoundly important for medicine, the law, and everyday decision making in places such as hospices.

In my book “Technologies of the Human Corpse” I devote the entirety of a chapter to discussing precisely these distinctions between the bio, thanato, and necro, since the politics of each remains simultaneously always visible (if you know where to look) and completely hidden. The book manuscript was completed in 2019, before Covid-19, but spends many pages discussing the ways AIDS both impacted and significantly changed how funeral directors handled dead bodies, e.g., personal protective equipment, or PPE, an acronym we’re all sadly familiar with by now.

By discussing the thanatopolitics of the early AIDS epidemic (which is still happening, lest anyone forgets), it is easy to see how the Covid-19 pandemic ticks all the boxes as to what contemporary thanatopolitics relies on: social and economic disadvantages that contribute to higher mortality rates, especially in brown and black communities; hundreds of thousands of people dying entirely preventable deaths in populations that become economically acceptable deaths (e.g., the elderly and disabled); access to life-saving medical treatments that significantly favor wealthy communities and nations, and so on.

Where Covid-19 thanatopolitics morphed into something I had not predicted was when the emergence of what I call virological determinism became the logic that almost every local, national, and global governing body used to lay blame for preexisting societal problems. This is a gloss on technological determinism, the tendency we humans have to blame any “technology” for causing our very human-created problems, and works much the same way. By taking a rapidly-out-of-control pandemic and mixing in contemporary health inequalities and unprepared — and sometimes negligible — political leaders, we in the West ended up in this thanatopolitical quagmire.

I say quagmire, since it is unclear right now if and when any of this will actually be “done” no matter the speed with which people want to move on. But there are lessons to be learned, and in this way, thanatopolitics can be extremely productive and useful.

The politics of death become a way to acknowledge all those who died and what should be done in the future to prevent more needless deaths. One of those key lessons includes governmental leaders both knowing about pre-existing pandemic response plans and then using those plans when responding to a non-stop mass fatality event such as Covid-19. In addition to following the already extant response plans, leaders should continue to update and renew those plans on a regular basis. HIV/AIDS taught the world how quickly a virus could adapt to everything we threw at it. I remain hopeful that we reflect on that lesson in the coming decades.

Understanding how a person died is often laden with political questions around access to care, medical ethics, and economic stability.

On March 18, 2020, I flew on a plane from the UK (where I normally live) to my hometown in Wisconsin to help my parents with some health issues. I did not know it then, but this was one of the last planes to make that trans-Atlantic flight for many months due to the pandemic.

On the flight, I read an incisive essay by Michael Specter in the New Yorker on the cascading failures of the U.S. health care system. It ends with the following prediction that presciently understood the who-lives-and-who-dies thanatopolitics that defined the past 18 months: “The bigger question is whether we will learn from the fact that this [Covid-19] pandemic will kill many more people than it had to. I’d like to think we would, but, if the past is any guide, this pandemic will end with a bunch of new commissions and ominous reports. As soon as they are printed, they will be forgotten.”

We can choose to ignore death and the thanatopolitics that choice brings for future body counts. But if Covid-19 has demonstrated anything it is that we do so at our own peril.

Complete Article HERE!

How to comfort or show compassion for grieving friends

By Joy Lumawig-Buensalido

SIXTEEN months into the pandemic, so much in our lives has drastically changed. Traditions have been put on hold and common habits and practices have been severely altered—for good or for ill. Why, even dealing with personal losses—ours and those of people we love—has been reduced to stoic acceptance. We can no longer hug or hold hands during such times of upheaval and grief. These days, we must be content with reaching out to the bereaved across the digital space, hoping that offering our sympathies on social media will suffice.

I should know. For some time now, news of friends and acquaintances dying from Covid-19—or from other illnesses—have popped up in my Facebook newsfeeds, Chat and Viber groups. Some of them belonged in my own circle of family and cherished friends. When you have shared history and deep kinship with the “dearly departed,” you are gutted by the loss no matter if you had been prepared for it. Yet, we feel something is quite missing when we try to comfort the family left behind.

Take, for instance, a young coworker who recently lost her thirty-something high-school bestie and groupmate. She and her friends (some of whom are now based abroad) were stunned and felt totally helpless about how to deal with it. They were at their prime; they couldn’t imagine one of their own being gone too soon. They all wanted to reach out and extend some help to the bereaved family but how could they make it special for them?

A virtual mass offering for a departed friend.

That was when I thought of coming up with a brief guide on the simple things we can do when confronted with the sudden demise of someone we want to remember, honor, and send off in a good and memorable way. This may appear to be a distressing topic to some but it is a reality that many of us might experience at some point in our lives.

A few random questions that have been asked of me:

  • Is there an acceptable way of inquiring about someone’s death discreetly and without sounding like one is prying?
  • What is the best way to express one’s sympathy or condolences during the pandemic when even family gatherings are not encouraged?
  • What are the do’s and don’ts when you want to put together a loving and respectful send off to your deceased friend during these restrictive times?

Before Covid (BC), it used to be so simple. When someone we knew died in our town, my parents, or more often my mother, would make it a point to visit that friend’s wake (sometimes held in the homes or in small community chapels). These rituals normally lasted for several days and the expected way of condoling with the bereaved family was to pray for the departed during the evening masses or to just stay a while with the family members.

It was often a chance to meet up and reunite with long-lost relatives and friends. Wakes were both religious and social occasions and people looked forward to being with other members of the community on such events. This explains why town officials and politicians were often expected to drop by and express their sympathies. Visitors would also hand over small envelopes containing their cash contribution to the funeral expenses. This was a long-held tradition and people would give only what they could afford.

Up to the early years of 2000, I witnessed the same simple tradition still being observed in small towns and communities, but the practice evolved over time. These funeral services were eventually held in funeral chapels or memorial parks. It was of course different when a well-known personality or wealthy person passed on because their wake arrangements were often elaborate—and even extravagant—affairs with food catering and flower-festooned buffet tables for the guests.

And then the pandemic came. In the year 2020, funeral wakes and services ceased to be long and protracted events. Only immediate family members—usually 10 at a time—were allowed at such services, especially if the person died of Covid. It was painful, devastating, and terribly difficult for those left behind not to be able to say their proper goodbyes.

These days, thanks to technology, funeral wakes and memorial services have gone digital. Virtual and online masses, novenas, and tributes are increasingly being held by the deceased’s family, friends, and colleagues with the use of Zoom or other online apps. Friends and kin based abroad are now even invited to join.

As for those who are digitally challenged but genuinely want to reach out to the bereaved, here are some basic steps they can take with just their mobile phones.

1. Give some words of comfort but mean what you say.  Prayers, condolences and messages are good but to make it more personal, here are a few comforting words that you can use. The simpler and more heartfelt, the better. You may tweak these according to your own emotions.

“I am so sorry for your loss”

“I wish I had the right words but just know that I care.”

“I don’t know how you feel but I am here to help in any way I can.”

“You and your family will be in my thoughts and prayers.”

“I am always just a phone call or text away.”

2. You may offer some kind of support if you’re very close to the bereaved party. Practical assistance such as help with the funeral arrangements, making phone calls to relatives and friends, sending food to their home, or if they have young kids who need attention, offering to take them into your home for a few days to watch them while the parents are busy.

3. Financial assistance is always a welcome form of support especially if you know that the deceased spent so many days in the hospital and are facing huge medical bills. Funeral costs such as wakes and cremation can also be costly. You could spearhead a fundraising effort among close friends who may want to contribute any amount they can afford and you could collect them and maybe account for it so they know whom to thank later.

4. Finally, try to provide comfort by staying in touch with the grieving person periodically. Your support is more valuable after the funeral services are over or when the other friends and mourners have gone and the bereaved is alone again. Friendship should extend long after the sad loss and it can be through a phone call, a text, a card or note.

What are some words to avoid when condoling with a grieving person?

Try not to say these.

1. “Did she/he die of Covid?” We are living in difficult times.  Don’t make it any harder for the person by putting them on the spot, especially when they don’t want to bare details of the death. If they share the info on their own, just listen quietly without judging. But better to skip this question.

2. I may have been guilty of saying this at times but according to the American Hospice Foundation, we should avoid saying “It’s part of God’s plan.” We cannot assume that everyone has the same beliefs as we do, so it could upset them instead of reassure them. I think you can only say this when you are absolutely sure about her spiritual beliefs.

3. “You should be thankful for what you have…” This may be true from your point of view but right now, they may not see it that way. Remember, they’re in grief and may be highly emotional.

4.“He’s in a better place now.” Or “he is free from all pain, sickness, and difficulties.” Let us refrain from using these statements especially when we do not know how the bereaved feels.

Personally speaking, the best gesture of showing sympathy and condolences are personal prayers. Our prayers are very much needed and appreciated by those who believe in the power of prayers.

So, it is always acceptable to offer masses for the dead (there are mass cards you can get from your parish church) or to sponsor priests to say masses during their virtual novenas or memorial rites. As one priest friend told me recently when he accepted my invitation for him to say mass for a departed friend: “It’s the least we priests can do during these troubled times: to make available the sacraments of the Church to whomever asks for it.”

This is one genuinely sincere way of showing your compassion and good intentions. Whether the deceased is Catholic, Christian or of whatever denomination, prayers and masses will hopefully make everyone, including yourself, feel so much better.

Complete Article HERE!

Reimagining End-of-Life Care During the COVID-19 Pandemic

A team of human-centered designers created Famous Last Words, a toolkit to activate agency and intentional connection during the lonely COVID-19 period

By Allison Fonder

If the COVID-19 era has taught the world anything, it’s that no one is a stranger to drastic change or loss. The early phases of the pandemic in 2020 marked the beginning of an especially frightening time for hospitalizations and death—until somewhat recently, patients with severe COVID-19 had no choice but to enter hospitals alone, many tragically dying after intubation with no family by their side.

When designer and founder of Blumline, Natasha Margot Blum, reflected upon the most urgent healthcare challenge of the pandemic, she gravitated toward palliative care, death, and dying. Designers and volunteers all over the world activated in response to the pandemic. One community of healthcare innovators and human-centered designers formed quickly through a Slack group: the Emergency Design Collective. While there were a number of designers working on critical medical equipment like respirators, Blum and other practitioners began contemplating death and the end-of-life experiences that neither patients nor clinicians desired, but were happening by default due to the rapid acceleration and unpredictability of COVID-19.

In 2020, a storm of tragic stories emerged about emergency medicine doctors being forced to make tradeoff decisions around which patients would receive limited ventilators. In addition, there was a panic around how to store bodies of the recently deceased; these stories ultimately catapulted Blum’s impassioned team into action. Gathering her studio, Blumline, and a group of volunteers from the 2020-formed Emergency Design Collective, Blum went on a search to discover what sorts of contributions to current challenges related to death and family planning could have real impact.

Can we design better discussions around end-of-life experiences?

After some time, Blum’s team decided to focus on creating, as she describes it, a “self-discovery tool” that allowed individuals and their families to have a framework for hard conversations in the context of the pandemic. A tool like this didn’t just feel important as a way to discuss death, but as a way to discuss values and make meaning. As Blum notes, the team’s vision was centered around mental health: “it’s about reevaluating who we are and who we want to be so that we can define our identity, our legacy, and have the most rewarding relationships with the people in our lives while we’re still here.”

The team created the framework for what is now Famous Last Words, a website and downloadable playbook designed to facilitate a discovery process for each participating person, and to learn alongside their loved ones. Blum shares, “we created a delicately sequenced conversation, structured with and toward the core principle of agency. People choose their questions, their co-conspirators—the people with whom they want to embark on this learning journey—and the timing themselves. It’s a three-event series that culminates in tougher ethical questions around care at the end. You can’t ask people to start with the tactical first. Traveling from abstract to concrete, as we do in the design process, is essential.”

The document thoughtfully guides family and friends through questions and reflections on life, defining a “good death”, as well as clarifying needs and wishes. Participants are encouraged to conduct these conversations via Zoom in at least three sessions, and create an artifact of notes and memories that can guide care if health deteriorates rapidly, and create a beautiful record when someone does die.

Rapid prototyping & remote-first conversations

The team also implemented the use of technology like Marco Polo, an app that lets people string together video recordings of themselves with notes in their rapid prototyping process. Platforms like Marco Polo not only allow participants to spend more time ruminating on these deep questions, but they also inadvertently create an ephemeral video log of memories and reflections that vividly illustrate a person’s network of care. In the product’s final form, Famous Last Words is platform-agnostic—whether Zoom, Marco Polo, or WhatsApp works best is up to what’s most comfortable for the group.

Marco Polo is used to answer questions within Famous Last Words and create a living narrative during a prototyping experiment with a group of mothers for feedback (who are concerned about generations above and below them in their families).

The Famous Last Words guidebook helps loved ones navigate critical medication conversations, while also recognizing how these conversations are often stopped in their tracks due to their emotional weight and our discomfort with the topic. As Blum puts it, “The whole premise [of Famous Last Words] is that it’s up to you to own your story. This pandemic offers us an opportunity to activate a culture of intentional agency in a time where many people feel like they really don’t have any. And that feeling of helplessness and hopelessness is one that results in unnecessary, and sometimes undesired care. If somebody doesn’t understand the implications of what it means to choose a ‘do not resuscitate’ versus another form of care, that can lead to a lot of challenges. So we’ve tried to build that in the best way possible to guiding people while allowing them space, time, freedom, and ultimately giving them the stimulus.”

Research

Blum and her team’s work at Blumline starts with research, which was an important tenet for a project as serious as Famous Last Words that also required a quick turnaround. The team’s first step was reaching out to workers on the front lines during the pandemic, people like emergency medicine physicians, hospice and palliative care doctors, therapists, and people who lost loved ones. After those conversations and creating a journey map, Blum said with COVID “it became very clear once you cross the threshold into the hospital, your agency decreases immediately. So clearly, the greatest opportunity space is before that happens, and that means we’re working way upstream.”

Once they landed on wanting to focus on facilitating end-of-life conversations, the team began a series of different diary studies and competitive audits in order to sensitively explore questions like, how should the conversation be structured, with a trained moderator or as a mutually-led group conversation? What is the best way to frame death within a guidebook that addresses it so heavily? After rapid prototyping a number of potential solutions, the team decided to create a document that lived on its own in PDF form so it was as accessible as possible.

The journey map that illuminated the real window of agency in the progression of COVID-19 and hospitalization.

Challenges

With such a deeply contemplative mission, it’s easy to see why it would require a dedicated group of volunteer designers to bring something like this to life—but it brings up interesting questions as to how medical professionals must prioritize aspects of care to treat as many people as they do. Projects like Famous Last Words demonstrate that there’s much more room for designers to intervene and allow space for medical systems to explore deeper questions. As Blum puts it, “health care providers don’t think about care in a reductive way, but that’s the way that our healthcare system works—it is fundamentally structured in a way that doesn’t give us a lot of room to engage in care that doesn’t produce an immediate result, relief of a symptom or a situation, and death, dying, and care just doesn’t fit into a clean, idealized silo at all.”

Famous Last Words’ current solution to this problem is to generate support from one’s own personal connections and curious, like-minded people. Conversations are led by friends and family rather than medical professionals, illuminating the power loved ones have in ensuring a person’s death is handled with care. Blum says “There are so many amazing care providers, but a lot of care and certainly a lot of decisions happen in non-transactional, peer-to-peer moments. We don’t have economic structures or incentives to manage care the way we’d ideally want to, but that’s where community organization comes in, and support from pioneers like end-of-life doulas, and radically innovative remote palliative care.”

Famous Last Words guides people to explore the origin of their beliefs around death and dying, introducing a range of provocations and stimulus to spark creativity.

This project serves as a helpful reminder to us all, especially in these fragile times, that it’s crucial to band together as a community to care for our own. Secondly, it’s more important than ever to engage more with the concept of death, and make conversations around what we want for our own end-of-life experience easier. “We’re all going through this together and so it doesn’t make sense to narrow down to a very specific design audience when everyone is thinking about their mortality. That’s why we solicited perspectives from people who had family members or loved ones who were very resistant [to that conversation] so that we could understand how to soften the tone and soften the perception of confrontation,” Blum said. And of course, the team aimed to give the topic the meaningful weight it deserves. Dan [Tuzzeo, design researcher and content strategist] put it beautifully: “it was important to strike a balance between normalizing the conversation while still respecting the subject matter—and the people having the conversation.”

With the delta variant creating yet another curve in this saga, this is still just the beginning of an opportunity to embrace a “re-design your life” mindset, rethinking what life is, and what kind of healthcare and dying experiences are possible.

For anyone who wants to uncover their own values, legacy, and boundaries (which is everyone, the team hopes) while engaging in a meaningful conversation about life and death, Famous Last Words is a great resource—you can access the Famous Last Words playbook here.

Complete Article HERE!

How COVID has transformed the death care industry for ‘last responders’

by Kat Eschner

More than 3.35 million people died last year in the United States—far more than the death trade was easily able to handle. Over 70% of those deaths were attributable to COVID-19, a recent analysis found. Others were related to the disruption of the pandemic and some to simple chance. In hotspots around the country, funeral homes, cemeteries, and crematoria were under unprecedented stress as a system designed to accommodate a predictable number of deaths (around 2.8 million in a more normal year like 2019) confronted the challenges of caring for many more.

In New York, an early hotspot, “the adjectives that come to mind were ‘overwhelming’ and ‘intense,’” said Mike Lanotte, executive director of the New York State Funeral Directors Association. In more normal times, Lanotte said, New York State sees about 400 deaths per day. That’s the number that the funeral homes, crematoria, and cemeteries in the state are set up to handle. Occasionally, something like an unusually bad flu season causes a local spike in the number of deaths, but the system in New York State and elsewhere has proved fairly resilient over time.

During those first months in New York and New Jersey, that wasn’t the case. Lanotte said his members—and their colleagues in the neighboring state—were snowed under by demand. “It probably lasted through the early part of summer 2020 before it really started to come down to a point where the system could really catch up,” he said.

New York’s outbreak, with its refrigeration trucks to store bodies, became the face of the early pandemic for many Americans and conjured up memories of 9/11, the last time local death care infrastructure was so overwhelmed by a disaster. But deaths spiked in spots all over the country throughout 2020, pushing death care professionals to their limits.

People who work with the dead aren’t often discussed. “You need their help when you need it,” said Barbara Kemmis, executive director of the Cremation Association of North America, “but my funeral and cemetery director and crematory owner [members] are never listed in any of the ‘Thank you, first responders’ things that are out there.” People in the business understand their role, she said, but the last year on the front lines has been a difficult one.

COVID-19 cases are spiking again across the country now, with a more dangerous new variant and low vaccination rates wreaking havoc. The pandemic is far from over for America. But better knowledge of how to treat and contain the disease, combined with vaccination, means those in the death trade aren’t facing anything like the nationwide deluge of last year. As they begin to take stock, industry leaders and advocates say their profession has been irrevocably changed by the pandemic.

Fast technological change, an increase in cremations, and just the sheer scale of death they had to handle have all contributed to an epidemic of burnout and many people leaving the business. At the same time, revenues last year—usually driven by funerals of the kind that weren’t possible under COVID-19 restrictions—were down, said Steve Spann, president of John A. Gupton College, which serves the mortuary business. “All funeral homes, I think, will determine that they took a pretty decent hit financially,” he said, pegging that impact in the 20% to 30% reduction range.

In the short term, that means there just aren’t enough people in the business. In the medium term, that might mean further consolidation in the already highly consolidated death business, and the loss of funeral homes that serve specific communities, such as the Black community. In the long term, it’s hard to say. But one thing is for certain: The death business will never return to the way it was in 2019.

‘Last responders’

Alabama funeral director Randy Anderson got his first call to pick up the body of someone who had died from COVID-19—a “decedent” in funeral argot—on or around March 27, 2020. That person died in a nursing home, one of the early locations where the disease spread like wildfire.

“That began the multitude of deaths that we would have, about 25% of the deaths that we handled in 2020,” he said. In total, the two funeral homes he owns, Radney Funeral Home and Langley Funeral Home, handled more than 100 COVID-19 deaths in 2020, representing an increase of 60 to 70 calls to pick up bodies over 2019, he said.

That same recent analysis of excess death—the term for numbers of the dead that go beyond the expected—showed extra deaths occurring all over the country, although the impact was distributed in time and space. Writing in the scientific journal JAMA Network, the study authors identify Alabama as the state that endured the fifth-highest number of per capita excess deaths in 2020, after Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, and Arizona.

After the H1N1 pandemic, Anderson followed CDC instructions and continuously maintained a high enough level of supplies to embalm 100 bodies, along with PPE. When COVID-19 hit, he was in a position to share supplies with local health care providers and protect his own team.

But all the supplies in the world couldn’t prepare him and his staff for what they would face. “That veterans’ nursing home, we were there probably five or six times a week during the heat of the crisis,” Anderson said. They also made numerous trips to the morgues of local hospitals and to people’s homes.

“We were working 12- to 14-hour days from about April to about October, November,” he said. The toll of all that work was physical, but—as for others on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic—it was also psychological.

Those in death care have a twinned role, said Lanotte. They are public health practitioners who ensure that when patients leave the medical system as a dead body, they are put to rest. In that role, they work with local health officials. But they are also the first point of care for people grieving the loss of a loved one.

Last year, when daily deaths surged, the public health role had to take the front seat, he said. But their other role remained. While coping with the demands of the pandemic and learning, along with the rest of us, about social distancing and other measures, funeral directors and other death care professionals sought to include grieving families in their loved ones’ final disposition.

That took innovation. Kemmis lost her grandmother last year. She and her mother couldn’t travel to the graveside service because of the pandemic, but they were still able to participate thanks to one funeral director. “She was standing at the graveside, holding up her cell phone,” Kemmis said. She and her mother watched on Facebook Live.

To Kemmis, that’s a sign of how far “last responders” will go for those left behind. “She didn’t have to do that. She didn’t charge us to do that. And I didn’t even know to ask for that.”

Rushing to catch up

Kemmis’s experience is one example of a broader trend of death care professionals trying new techniques to connect loved ones with the deceased. While Zoom funerals and Facebook memorials were new for many consumers, they represent an even bigger change in the slow-moving, traditional funeral industry.

“Death care is an old profession. They have a lot of old practices,” said Poul Lemasters, a former embalmer who is now general counsel for the International Cemetery, Cremation, and Funeral Association. “I know a lot of people who even still have fax machines.”

When the pandemic began, he said, death care practitioners found themselves navigating everything from regulatory issues around digital correspondence to dramatic technology shifts in their own workplaces. That embracing of technology “advanced funeral service by a decade or more,” said Kemmis.

Mortuary education is rushing to catch up. While in-person funeral attendance around the country is more possible now than it was a year ago, said Spann, “a good portion [of families] still want livestreaming.” John A. Gupton College was beginning to offer digital marketing instruction, he said, but COVID-19 has accelerated that part of the curriculum.

In the past, “almost everything that a consumer would do with the funeral director would be done face-to-face in the funeral home,” said Lanotte. In some parts of the country, that state of affairs was entrenched in law, further complicating the transition to a new way of doing things.

In New York State, for instance, cemeteries, crematoria, and funeral homes were legally not allowed to accept digital signatures on their documents. That meant grieving families had to provide a physical signature and send the documents by FedEx or other means—a process further complicated if they were quarantined by COVID-19 themselves, writes Joe Mahoney of CNHI. This particular law was recently changed. But it’s part of a larger dynamic in the death care industry whose fading has been hastened by the pandemic.

There was a time when funeral homes and artfully embalmed and displayed bodies were at the center of death care for nearly all Americans. That’s not true anymore, said Tanya Marsh, a professor of law at Wake Forest University who studies the funeral and cemetery trades. Cultural attitudes toward death and final disposition are slowly but surely shifting, she said, a trend exemplified by the increased adoption of cremation.

For the past few decades, the national cremation rate has grown by 1% to 2% per year. In 2016, that rate rose above 50% for the first time. “Cremation has been a game changer,” said Marsh. It allows for different approaches to final disposition and mourning because cremated remains don’t require a specialist to handle them, as an embalmed body does.

Although many predicted a spike in cremations during the pandemic, the national cremation rate went up only by a predictable 1.5% in 2020, according to numbers from the Cremation Association of North America. In some areas, however, the cremation rate increased far more. In the first six months of 2020, for instance, the cremation rate in New Jersey went up by more than 3%. These regional increases may endure, Marsh noted. “The question is going to be, Do people associate [cremation] with COVID?”

If they do, that could negatively impact the increase of cremation rates. But Marsh isn’t sure. “There’s a really strong social normalizing aspect of funeral practices,” she said. If people had a loved one cremated for the first time out of necessity but found it to be a positive experience, she added, it’s likely they will seek out cremation for future final dispositions.

The practice has a lot going for it. It’s generally less expensive than a full burial, for one thing, and it gives families time to gather and say goodbye in their own way. It allows for very different options than the big funeral many of us see on television. But for funeral homes, it represents generally lower revenues and a changing role. “They have to change their identity from being embalmers to event planners,” said Kemmis. “That’s what the trends are pointing to. And that’s hard.”

Tomorrow’s death care

A changing role, combined with the other stresses and changes of the pandemic, is having a huge impact on the death trade. Some are leaving it, while those who remain are dealing with the trauma of being on the front lines. After things settled down in his area, Anderson brought in a PTSD counselor to meet with his staff. “We view what we do a little differently now,” he said.

Like many in the profession, Anderson himself caught COVID-19. He was out of work for three months and hospitalized for a week. Seeing the ravages of the disease firsthand made the prospect of his own illness more alarming. “I had buried people that died with [COVID-19],” he said.

Kris Busini, who was an executive assistant for two funeral home owners in Connecticut through the worst of the pandemic, also caught COVID-19, along with almost everyone else at his funeral home. “We were terrified,” he said. The only one on his team who didn’t catch COVID-19 was their embalmer, a young man who worked long days in the funeral home’s morgue, away from other staff.

Busini was drawn to the death care industry because of the care involved, for both those grieving and the deceased. “There’s a tenderness to it that I really appreciated,” he said. He left, in part, because of the stresses of the pandemic.

The exodus from the death care profession will likely drive further consolidation, Kemmis said. After the past year, some members of the profession who were contemplating retirement or leaving their practice are choosing to sell to conglomerates, she noted.

Lemasters handles some of those transactions as part of his consulting firm and has seen a spike in the past few months. “This has pushed a lot of people to say, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore,’” he noted.

But the trend may be slow and unpredictable. Death on the scale of what has happened during this pandemic altered the future value of the death trade, because in some places, the boomer generation whose death peak was anticipated to be more than a decade from now happened early.

“Between now and 2025-ish, we might actually see a decline in deaths in some areas,” Kemmis said. That short-term decrease may change the valuation of funeral homes, crematoria, and cemeteries—at least for now. But it may also create time to train up new embalmers, crematorium operators, funeral directors, and others in a vast profession, Kemmis said. The death professionals of tomorrow will graduate into an industry that’s been fundamentally altered by the pandemic, in a country only beginning to grapple with its implications.

Marsh expects to see further early retirements and industry exoduses over the next three to five years. “There’s a ton of burnout,” she said.

Some seeds of what’s coming next are beginning to unfurl. The professional associations that death care professionals rely on are starting to host in-person meetings and conferences, the first since before the pandemic. For those who have stayed in the profession, it’s an opportunity to regroup and examine the recent past. During a recent gathering of about 180 members of the death trade hosted by his organization, Lemasters said, “there was absolutely a sharing of stories.” There’s a new feeling of comradery, he said.

As death care professionals reckon with the past year and a half, the industry is also trying to plan for the future. “That’s a full death care industry conversation,” said Lenotte. Part of that conversation is preparing for the next pandemic. Anderson recently presented on that topic at a state convention. “The first thing is just take care of your staff,” he said.

Complete Article HERE!

Hamlet: a play that speaks to pandemics past and present

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I went to the theatre for the first time in 15 months to see the Theatre Royal Windsor’s new production of Hamlet. Starring Ian McKellen and directed by Sean Mathias, it really resonates in a time of ongoing pandemic. Mckellen’s very contemporary, teenage Hamlet slouches around in a hoodie and trackie bottoms, grieving, isolated and angry.

The setting, like the original, is the city of Elsinore, Denmark. In this version, COVID funerals are disrupted and truncated. Hamlet, a latterday prince, is a bisexual university student stuck at home with mum and step-dad when he wants to be back at uni in Wittenberg, hanging out with his friends and lovers.

Mental health issues afflict those in mourning, especially royalty. Hamlet muses “to be or not to be” as his lover, Horatio, gives the prince that most precious of things in lockdown, a haircut. Characters are overwhelmed by feelings of loss. Suicidal thoughts lurk. Denmark feels, and looks, like a prison. The government is morally corrupt.

Much of the play, this modern interpretation and Shakespeare’s original, speak to the circumstances and current climate in which we live. There is much in it to relate to and also learn from as our world widens and we learn to “live with the virus”.

Pandemics past

The spectre of plague and pandemic hung over much of Shakespeare’s life. He was born in April 1564, a few months before an outbreak of bubonic plague killed a quarter of the people in his hometown, Stratford-upon-Avon. Such pandemics would recur during his time in London in 1592, 1603, 1606 and then 1609.

When Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, usually dated around 1599-1601, feelings of grief, mourning and bereavement were probably at the forefront of his mind. His parents were very elderly by contemporary standards. Shakespeare’s father, John, died in September 1601 around 70 years of age. Five years earlier, in August 1596, Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet, had died aged 11, possibly of plague.

It is an uncanny coincidence that the name Hamlet is so close in sound to the name of Shakespeare’s son. The play is obsessed with fathers and sons, and how to navigate mourning a father’s death. It is full of speeches about grief and attempts to move on after bereavement. Hamlet is not alone in this as Ophelia and Laertes also suffer from unresolved grief in the play.

 

What galvanises Hamlet out of his emotional lockdown is theatre. When he hears travelling players are in town he leaps into action. Like so many in the audience he has really missed the theatre.

Despite the modern dress, Sean Mathias’ production eclectically evokes the theatre practices of the troupe in Hamlet. Most obviously, casting ignores age, ethnicity and gender, something which evokes the fact that Shakespeare’s stage had young men playing women. So while Jonathan Hyde is realistically cast as a plausible, efficient Claudius, the teenage Hamlet is played by an 82-year-old, while Francesca Annis who plays his elderly ghost.

Pandemic theatre

Lee Newby’s set design also encourages audiences to think of early modern playing conditions, transforming the Theatre Royal stage into a black metal, faux Globe theatre with two banks of seats on either side of the stage and a gallery at the back.

As a result, the onstage audience are clearly on display, sharing light with the performers. The mandatory face masks offer a constant reminder of COVID, while blanking out the audience’s reactions, but they also offer a reminder that Shakespeare’s playhouse had to navigate its own pandemic and often had to negotiate sudden lockdowns.

When the weekly plague death count reached 30 in Shakespeare’s time, the playhouses closed. Plague transmission was not properly understood, but it was clear that people congregating created a super-spreader event of sorts.

Shakespeare, a player, playwright and, most importantly of all, a shareholder in the Globe, seems to have seized the moment and written prolifically during plague lockdowns. In 1592 he was writing narrative poetry – Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece – as plague raged.

The years 1603 to 1604, 1606, and 1608 to 1609 were also bad for plague, and seem to have given Shakespeare space to write. For example King Lear was performed at Whitehall Palace on Boxing Day 1606 at the end of a year of plague. From 1597 on, Shakespeare could also escape to his sprawling Warwickshire country mansion, New Place, one of the largest houses for miles, with at least 20 rooms.

Illustration of the original Globe Theatre.
Globe Theatre, detail from Hollar’s View of London, 1647.

By contrast, many players were desperate for any income and facing destitution. So, sometimes playhouses would reopen before the mortality rate fell to the level considered “safe”. The thought of what a “freedom day” was like in the early modern playhouse, with those standing (known as groundlings) pressed closely together in the yard, is perhaps even more daunting than watching people flood back now restrictions are lifted.

Now that so many restrictions have been lifted now in the UK since July 19, I am feeling very ambivalent about the shared experience of live theatre. The Theatre Royal created what feels like a very safe space and, personally, I could get used to having such a generous amount of leg room in front of me. In a COVID-secure theatre, there’s no need to get intimate with complete strangers while trying to squeeze through to your seat.

But after “Freedom Day”, the theatre is only insisting that masks remain mandatory for the audience onstage who are in such close proximity to the actors. The theatre will only “strongly encourage” the rest of the audience to mask up.

During the first decade of the 1600s, pandemic ravaged the country’s population and theatres were closed as often as they were open. This might be the case now too. Already productions have had to close to isolate, including London’s Shakespeare’s Globe, after positive cases among cast and crew. Maybe restrictions indoors could stave off more productions having to close. It took 30 deaths to close the playhouses in the 1600s, but now all it takes to close a theatre is one case of COVID.

Complete Article HERE!

Our Collective Loss of What’s Normal

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While it was certainly an adjustment, overall, I felt like I came out of COVID-19 unscathed. I’m certainly not trying to brag. I was, and still am, fortunate to work from home when I need or want to — and most of our employees are able to do the same. I was really grateful for the quality time with my family, finally getting around to projects that I’d been putting off, and it even enhanced my business savvy.

Our Collective Loss of What’s Normal

With so many other people suffering and trying to get back to work — and the economy is struggling — I don’t take it for granted that I’m grateful every morning when I wake-up. I do, however, long for the good-ole-days.

I’m certainly not the only one. Anecdotally, when I catch up with friends, family, and colleagues — some still want to meet virtually — I can hardly tolerant virtual meetings anymore. And now, the numbers have started going up in many areas of the country because of non-vaxxers.

In short, we all started to miss what we considered “normal.” According to David Kessler, author and grieving expert, that’s because we started feeling different types of grief.

Why we’re grieving — All of these things happened in Covid — and some still feel it.

“We feel the world has changed, and it has,” Kessler told HBR. “We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different.”

“The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection,” he adds. All of these are “hitting us, and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.”

Additionally, we’re also dealing with anticipatory grief — like when the numbers started going up about a week ago — what if we have to do this all over again? We will go through anticipatory grief when we’re uncertain about the future. “Usually, it centers on death,” he says. “We feel it when someone gets a dire diagnosis or when we have the normal thought that we’ll lose a parent someday.”

“Anticipatory grief is also more broadly imagined futures,” he says. “There is a storm coming. There’s something bad out there. With a virus, this kind of grief is so confusing for people.”

The reason for this is because our primitive minds realize that “something bad is happening. However since you can’t see it, “our sense of safety” is broken, he adds. “We’re feeling that loss of safety.”

“I don’t think we’ve collectively lost our sense of general safety like this,” Kessler says. “Individually or as smaller groups, people have felt this. But all together, this is new. We are grieving on a micro and a macro level.”

If there’s any silver lining, though, it’s that there are simple and effective ways to cope. For starters, Kessler recommends understanding the stages of grief and learning calming techniques. But, you should also try these nine other strategies to help you accept and manage your feelings.

1. Don’t get stuck.

“I see a lot of jokes on social media about drinking at 10 a.m. and sharing ‘quarantinis’ over video chats, almost to the point of normalizing these self-medicating behaviors,” writes Megan Seidman, a primary therapist at Caron Renaissance. “People are cut off from their usual methods of coping, and many are turning to unhealthy ways of immediate gratification to numb their discomfort.”

It should go without saying that not only is that dangerous in the short term, but it could have long-term implications. Besides putting your health and wellness in jeopardy, being funny about the consequences of much sadness may give people ideas who are on a different level of pain — and could lead to substance abuse.

Some people never allowed themselves to grieve, and now they think we might be back in the same problems that happened a year ago. They “haven’t allowed themselves to feel the loss, fear, and grief they have,” they may experience “complicated grief and post-event trauma.”

“Complicated grief becomes all-encompassing, making it difficult for people to think about anything else,” explains Seidman. “They cannot accept the reality of the losses they’ve experienced and therefore fail to adjust to the new reality.”

What’s more, it’s going to be more challenging for these individuals to get “back into their former routines.” Seidman warns that we could “see issues in ongoing relationships, divorces, rumination over losses, and difficulty sleeping. Once the social distancing is alleviated, if people haven’t worked through this process, they’re going to have a harder time reconnecting with others.”

2. Add predictability.

You may have never thought about this until your routine was broken due to the pandemic. But they’re incredibly important. First, Northwestern Medicine notes, “offer a way to promote health and wellness through structure and organization.”

Now we’ve headed back to the office — but maybe you haven’t committed to going into the office every day as before. Maybe you don’t have a routine yet — this can make you suffer from stress, unhealthy eating, and insomnia.

If you gained a few (or a lot) of the Covid-pounds — you may have gotten yourself in poor physical condition. And, you may be ineffectively using your time and feeling non-productive.

To counter the above, add some predictability to your life. Personally, I’ve started a new routine. It took some trial and error. But I set a routine of when I will be in the office and when I will work from home. I also had all of the employees commit to a determined schedule. It helps all of us to know what is going on and when.

If you’re struggling with this, here are some pointers to get you on your way:

  • Build your resistance. Don’t waste your energy fighting against change. Instead, accept it, practice some self-care, and focus on your current priorities.
  • Follow your usual patterns. If you wake up at 5 am, start work at 9 am, and eat dinner at 6 pm, try to keep that schedule. You may need to be flexible, but sticking to your previous schedule as close as possible gives you a sense of normalcy.
  • Schedule your habits in your calendar — schedule healthy habits like exercise or writing so that you’ll follow through. Physical activity is a proven way to reduce anxiety and depression.
  • Create an optimal environment. If you’re working from home, create a dedicated space reserved only for work. Don’t forget to keep it cleaned and organized as well.
  • Ask for help if you’re struggling — reach out to your support systems like a mentor or friend.
  • Take a reset day. Sometimes you need to take the day off and get things in order. But don’t squander this opportunity. Instead, use it to clean your house, review your goals, or tie up any loose ends.
  • Be the tortoise. A new routine won’t happen overnight. So be patient and work your way back into a routine.

3. Connect with others.

Last year — all the stay-at-home orders, quarantine, and social distancing took a toll on your mental health. Why? According to Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology and neuroscience and director of the Social Connections and Health Research Laboratory at Brigham Young University, it’s because “being socially connected in meaningful ways is actually key to human health and survival.”

While this was a concern before the pandemic, it does highlight the importance of connecting with others. So if you are still in some kind of a funk since Covid — make it a point to connect more completely with your loved ones. Just do it — pick up the phone — you are free to meet with people for now. Take advantage of that.

4. Practice gratitude.

Realize that the glass is not still empty — practice gratitude to put things into perspective.

Furthermore, gratitude can make you happier and improve your relationships. It may even help reduce physical ailments. These include headaches, gastrointestinal problems, and respiratory infections.

And, when it comes to being grateful — there are several ways to go about it. The most obvious would be writing in a daily gratitude journal. But, you could also send someone a ‘thank you,’ paying compliments to others and viewing each day as a new opportunity. Going for a walk outside and reflect for a moment at the end of the day and write down your wins.

5. Make time to play.

Your “play” doesn’t have to be like when you were a kid in school literally. But, scheduling time to play can give you that much-needed mental boost since it reduces stress hormones and releases endorphins. Additionally, it can make you more creative by encouraging problem-solving.

What counts as play? Anything. Board and video games, kicking a soccer ball around the backyard, puzzles, coloring, and singing are considered to play. If you can call someone to come over — do it. Our office has started to play pickleball every day at lunch and for an afternoon break. We invite other offices to join in our “tournaments.” It has been so refreshing. After such a long quarantine, sometimes we forget to get other people to come. If this is you — mark it on your Calendar or set an alarm.

6. Reduce screen time.

Now that the pandemic is over — determine to limit your screen time. Get outside and do stuff, especially since it’s summer and we can. Make a list and go do everything you dreamed about when you couldn’t get out. It is amazing how many great things are out there that are free or of little cost. But you can’t get out and do extra things if you are glued to the TV.

I’ve also established tech-free zones in the house. And, before listening to podcasts before bed — go back to reading books. You’ll be amazed at how well you sleep.

7. Focus on what you can control.

How to let go of control is no easy feat — especially for entrepreneurs. But, if there has been one key takeaway from the coronavirus, it’s that no matter how much you demand it — there are plenty of things in life that are out of your hands.

Right now, you can do things like getting on a plane, host a party and even go to a concert or sporting event. So go do each of those things. It is amazing how quickly you will perk up and be more productive.

If you are back at the office — go out and get some plants (all our office plants died). So we all went out and picked plants for the office together at a nursery — because we could. Also, get some new pillows for the office couch out front.

8. Stop worrying about being productive.

We live in a world where we obsess about being productive. And that can be problematic. Being “on” 24/7 and trying to maximize every minute of your day can make you anxious and exhausted. So to be productive and motivated — keep yourself fresh with new ideas and thoughts and do something fun.

If you feel up to getting things done, go for it, work fast and do it. On the other hand, if you are lagging in your new “back to the office” zone, give yourself a break — you’ve been through a lot.

9. Be aware of red flags.

Finally, pay attention to your grief if you have it. Don’t swallow! But pay attention to the red flags. Has your alcohol consumption increased? Are your sleeping or eating patterns different? Do you feel hopeless? If any of these things are still bugging you since the end of covid — look for a way to pull yourself out of it. It sounds cliché — but eat right, sing, dance and exercise. Ask around what others are doing, or if someone feels the same way you do.

If you answered yes to any of the above, then please seek help immediately. You can start by talking to your spouse, partner or best friend. But, you may need to reach out to a mental health professional. Please do this sooner than later so that you can move forward.

Complete Article HERE!