“I really thought I was over it. I mean, it’s been six months already—so why am I still so angry?”
This was how our conversation started last week.
My client had been laid off from her job of 15 years. A job she loved—a career she’d gotten used to. A routine, a momentum, a lifestyle—and a family of coworkers. And, most importantly, a sense of purpose.
And then suddenly it was gone—all of it. And she was left to sort it out for herself.
Life is filled with happiness and feelings of success. Life is also filled with frustration and times of disappointment. Some days we’re feeling on top of the world; other days we’re far from it.
Although it’s natural to feel a greater sense of balance in our lives when things are going smoothly, the gap between our level of comfort and well-being feels even wider when times are tough.
Why? Because often we don’t recognize our disappointment as grief—and that’s why we get stuck.
Disappointment is a feeling, but grief is a process—one that typically includes many layers of emotions such as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
And it’s important to grieve. Long-term grief can block feelings of joy and happiness and may result in feelings of hopelessness and apathy or lead to depression.
In addition, there are two factors that affect how we process disappointment: time and investment.
Most disappointments are short-term and event-based—once the event is over, we feel the disappointment and move on. But grieving, on the other hand, can last days, months, or even years.
The more invested we’ve become in something or someone, the more time it takes to “unwind out of it.” Just ask my client who lost her job of 15 years or someone who’s going through a divorce after 30 years of marriage.
But there is hope. When we acknowledge that we are not just disappointed, but, in fact, grieving, we can do something about it.
In order to move beyond grief, it’s important to acknowledge the triggering event, process the feelings as they arise, and trust the process of grieving—believing that grieving is, indeed, a defined period and not a permanent state of mind.
Feeling stuck and ready to grieve? Here are some helpful tips the next time waves of grief crash in:
Stay present. Waves of emotions are as natural as waves in the ocean. When a wave of grief swells within you, practice staying present with the feelings and allow your emotions to rise and ripple through you. Even though you may feel overwhelmed at times, being pushed to our limits is part of the process of letting go and moving through grief. Don’t fight it—let it flow through you and ride the wave to shore.
Talk it out. As you process emotions, get them out in whatever healthy ways you can. If you’re alone, write down your feelings. Putting words to our feelings is one of the most powerful things we can do. If you can, find someone you trust who will hold a space for you and just listen. Never underestimate the power of friends, family, coworkers, and professional counselors to assist with our grieving process. When in doubt, reach out.
Ease up on yourself. Grieving can take a lot of energy, so give yourself a break by being mindful about self-care. Get more rest than usual and focus on clean eating and drinking to keep your mind and body strong during these times. In addition, practicing patience in the process allows us to experience and work through our grief in layers. Gradually moving through our emotions honors our ability to stay resilient and maintain the rest of our life while processing our grief.
Find healthy distractions. Turning to healthy habits rather than unhealthy ones during tough times is a discipline, but it’s also a critical part of the healing process. Especially when we’re grieving, it can be difficult to do simple things. Finding healthy distractions is just one of many coping strategies that can help you take your mind off the pain and bring temporary relief.
Give it time. The adage time heals all wounds still applies. The gift of time creates space for acceptance. Grieving comes in waves—but so does relief. Especially during the most difficult times, we can remind ourselves to just get through the day. When we understand that grieving is a process, we can rest in the knowledge that this, too, will eventually pass, and we will feel relief again.
Michael Thomas Sunnarborg is a career coach, author, and founder of The White Box Club™—live coaching sessions and resources for people in career transition. Learn more at michaelcreative.com