What's Next for the Women of the Time's Up Movement

Change is up there with death and taxes as the only constants, and because of this, it also harbors hope. As we learned from Rosa Parks, the steps to end segregation took a collective group of government officials, advocates and supporters to ensure the final outcome of permanent change. Change can come slowly, like the end of segregation or ending sexual harassment, but when it finally comes, it often comes like a hurricane. The most recent hurricane came in the formation of the Time's Up movement, a groundswell of women who have suffered rape, sexual injustices and harassment. The movement also brought out 265 young US Women’s gymnasts who were subjected to these atrocities.   

This is not, however, where the story ends. The road to healing for these women and their families is the same path of others who have befallen a personal tragedy. The freedom the women first feel from telling their stories has unforeseen consequences. The memories of the incident do not get buried. Instead, the emotions sit just below the surface like sore underneath a scab—one quick scratch and it begins to bleed again. After personal catastrophes are exposed, the healing needs to begin—and it won’t be easy. This is grief and loss, and it manifests as chronic stress affecting an individual not only emotionally but mentally, physically and spiritually.  

The truth is that the grieving process is necessary evil in order to continue living. It is impossible to shorten it or manage it, and it may take many years to move through it. We also know that most people do not have the luxury of years to return to work and life. Instead of forcing someone back into the daily grind, we encourage high performers to share their feeling, and get the best support they can. 

In our work, we regularly coach executives and business leaders through the grief process. While each individual’s situation is different, here are some common themes that we typically address. If you are a high performer facing a grief situation, consider the following steps to help make the healing journey less of a downward spiral and more of a slow-moving roller coaster. 

Five Tools for Coping with Work Under the Strain of Grief          

Be real
Understand that dealing with personal catastrophe is never going to be easy—in fact, it’s hell on earth. The loss wounds us and makes us face emotions that we are generally unfamiliar with. Allow yourself the ability to experience these emotions, to really cry and let your feelings take their course. It’s okay to let it all out. Pushing on and pretending you are “fine" does not honor your individual experience. My wise Grandma used to say “Crying is the bath your soul needs."    

Remember to breathe
It’s easy for a high performer to ignore their grief because they have so many demands placed on them. To simply put a cork in the bottle that contains their emotions, fears and thoughts is the easiest reaction. They are afraid to take a second to breathe because if they do, they open up the opportunity for everything they have bottled up to come spilling out. However, our individual breaths provide a powerful message to the rest of our body—breathing in and out tells our heart and our mind that we are safe, secure, loved, and that everything will be okay. Give yourself some breathing room by taking a break, or going for a walk or a run. Stretch and remember to take a deep breath, slowly.  

Connect with the people around you
Fight the urge to put up a barrier around yourself because people look at you as being in charge. Like a tug boat to a barge, this journey will take help. Everyone around you—your peers, direct reports, family members, friends—all of them have experienced pain and can empathize with what you are going through. Allow yourself to become a member of this community by being honest about what you are feeling. You are allowed to be supported—don’t think that you have to be the captain at the helm of the ship all the time. Compassion has more of a gift for the one giving it than it does for the receiver. Allow your people the opportunity be compassionate. 
Get stronger  
Exercise is known for its physical affects, and for the endorphins it releases. Endorphins are hormones that have wonderfully positive effects, like deeper sleep, and they can help control cortisol, the hormone associated with stress. I recommend exercising in nature if at all possible—a run, a hike, or even stretching. Sweat out the toxins and the negative emotions.

Be gentle with yourself
The grieving process is one that has many phases, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t rush it. Grant yourself the permission to heal slowly. Know that you are going to face many different feelings. Welcome the emotions as they come, wherever they come—at your desk, at home, in the shower, at work. It’s okay to feel how you do. After all, you’re only human.   Remember that good can come from any experience. 

When we learn how to share our experiences, join in community with others, ask for help, and apply the tips discussed in this article, we create a path that heads toward wellness, productivity and rebuilding.  

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