Making Space for Both Grief and Work During Stressful Times


Yesterday, my husband and I celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary. The day started out well. Cards and gifts, a long walk with Tango, a nice breakfast, and messages from friends and family streamed in, wishing us a beautiful day. 

It was a little after noon that I heard the news. Another mass shooting. The 300th mass shooting in the last 186 days, in fact. 


Except this one hit close to home. Literally.


Highland Park, Ill is a 10-minute drive from where I grew up. It’s where the Ravinia Festival is (the summer home of the Chicago Symphony) and where I spent several high school and college summers working. I have spent a lot of time in downtown Highland Park. 

More importantly, it happened way too close to where my family still lives. My nephew’s girlfriend is from there. It’s a miracle to me that they weren’t at the parade. 

So yesterday was full of grief and fear and worry. But that’s sort of par for the course these days isn’t it? 

This latest shooting came right on the heels of a week of horrifying Supreme Court decisions that will affect us all. And those came right in the midst of horrifying testimony about the dangerous state of mind the “Leader of the Free World” was in on January 6th. (I’m sorry-did someone say something about him sending an armed mob over to the Capitol?)

And all that came, personally, on the heels of the sudden, random, and tragic death of a dear friend of ours. 

The past month has been a doozy, to say the least. 


The problem is, and not to be a complete downer, I don’t really see things easing up any time soon. 


I’m seeing the posts on social media, I’m reading the texts from friends and family, and I’m hearing the words. The compounding stress of all of these events is beginning to take its toll on us as a society.

This constant barrage of stress is not sustainable, yet we must manage it, right? We can’t all just stay at home wallowing in our grief at the state of the world, but we also can’t (and don’t want to) bury our heads in the sand and just not think about it. 

So how does one go about living a life, getting our work done (practicing, rehearsing, writing, working, caretaking, cooking meals, etc.) while also making space for this particular kind of grief? 

After reading several different articles by people with far more expertise than I have on this topic, I’ve rounded up 7 of the top suggestions. 


1. Practice mindfulness rather than self-identification 

I thought this was really interesting and has helped me often. Instead of “I’m just so sad.” it’s “I’m feeling sadness right now.” It gives you permission to feel other things later and allows for the natural flow of emotions, rather than getting stuck, and spiraling into bad feelings. 


2. Take media breaks

It’s tempting to stay glued to the screen to get the latest possible information, but unless that information will affect you or your actions in real-time (like those who were in hiding/sheltering in place while they searched for the shooter yesterday) just turn it off. You can catch up later, but nobody needs to have their heart racing and cortisol surging unnecessarily. 

3. Connect with nature, and get some exercise

Because pacing around the kitchen isn’t doing you or your downstairs neighbors any good.


4. Engage your mind

When the stress and grief are causing the kind of brain fog that won’t allow you to get any work done, ease in with some mental busy work. Do a jigsaw puzzle, or the crossword, or knit a scarf. Make a new batch of sourdough starter. Once your brain has detached from the more stressful thoughts, you can redirect it towards productive work. 



5. Make sure you’re balancing solitude with socializing 

In trying times, you likely need both time on your own to process and think, and time surrounded by others–either to make you laugh or to share the burden. That balance will be different for everyone (know thyself).


6. Remember your “Why” 

It’s easy to think to yourself “What difference does it make if I can play this concerto if the world is ending, and all of my rights are being taken away?” But it’s just as easy to think “my artistry can provide a platform, from which I can be a force for positive change.” choose wisely. 



7. Go Easy on Yourself. (and Others)

Let’s just assume that everyone is doing the best they can at any given moment. You are. They are. We all are. Know that you’ll have good moments and bad ones. You’ll say and do the right thing, and you’ll say and do the wrong thing. 

It’s okay. 

And hopefully, with the suggestions above, our “best” will get a little bit better each day.

Sending all of you a giant hug. Here’s to better times ahead.




P.S. Did you find this helpful? Sign up for “The Weekend List”–my weekly newsletter that hits your inbox each Friday with more tips, tricks, and life hacks for creatives, as well as a curated list of things to read, try, ponder, or check out. All geared to help musicians and other creatives live their best lives.



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