March 11, 2020 is the day our world began to turn upside down for that is the day that the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Little could we foretell on that Wednesday how much of an impact this would have on our funeral homes and our lives. Seven months into the pandemic, we have witnessed the upheaval of the rhythm of our personal and professional lives. New safety regulations were put into place, then changed, then changed again. Each area operated differently from neighboring regions as each state and county may have differing standards. For one funeral home a funeral may be limited to 10 immediate family members while another could invite 50 into their funeral home. Streaming of funeral services became routine and making arrangements over video conferencing the norm. Staff schedules were altered to allow a modicum of safety, lack of exposure and continuity in case a staff member got the coronavirus. Add to this the financial impact as visitations and funeral services turned into direct cremation or direct burial with the “promise/hope” of a memorial service on a future date.
None of this is news to you and, if misery loves company, we can all take solace in the fact that around the world funeral homes and cemeteries are adapting to our current way of doing business. However, all of this has only added to the stress we already had and leaves us wondering how to make it through the day and maintain our sense of inner peace or, at least, our outer “not freaking out” demeanor.
State it - Rate it - Obliterate it. These are my three steps to stress relief. Each will bring you to a new awareness and allow you to know where you are versus where you want to be.
- State it – Acknowledge that you are feeling stressed. For some, this may seem like a pre-set way of being so it can be difficult to know the difference between stress and calm. Others are acutely aware when a situation arises that shifts them into a stress state and takes them from a feeling of balance. Doing an inner check-in from time to time throughout the day allows you to notice the fluctuations in your mood and tolerance for others.
- Rate it – Do you need to go to see the doctor or visit the ER, or can you just take a few deep breaths or a quick walk? How severe and long lasting is the stress state you are in? Do you know the root cause of it and, if so, is it something you can remedy?
- Obliterate it – What can you do to address the stress and return to a place of peace? This is where most get stuck. They accept that stress is a way of life and just push through with their day. Unfortunately, ignoring the physical, mental and emotional ramifications of stress may lead to poor health, short tempers and sleepless nights. Better to make a plan, a SPOA (Stress Plan of Action).
When creating your personal SPOA, ask yourself these questions:
- What are the things I do that bring me joy, laughter or a sense of calm? Meditate? Golf? Play with my children or grandchildren? Yoga? Gardening?
- What do I watch or read? How do I feel while in this activity? Uplifted? Anxious? Angry? Hopeful?
- Who do I spend time with? People who are fun to be around? People who are “energy vampires” and suck the life out of me? Those who I refer to as “Omelets” because you have to walk on eggshells around them?
- How often do I step away from my desk and move my body? Do I go to the gym regularly? Walk outside even as the weather turns colder? Ski, swim or run?
These are just some of the questions you should ask yourself as you make your plan. Pay attention to what you are doing when you are feeling light and happy, as well as when you find your blood pressure rising. It is overly simplistic to say do more of the former and less of the latter, but by noticing you at least have the opportunity to try.
By accepting that some things in life are out of our control, we are able to relax a bit into the situation and observe what is going on before we react to it. Every family who loses a loved one unexpectedly has taught us this lesson and now COVID-19 has as well. I am often asked why it seems like I never have a bad day. I respond that I may have bad moments, but working in funeral service I know the value of today and that there is no promise of tomorrow, so I use my SPOA to shift from feeling stressed to feeling blessed.
The attitude of gratitude is one of the key components of what I aim for. Even during the most difficult of times, I look for the grace within the situation. Those who are grieving the loss of their loved ones exemplify this when they share a story of a happy time or tell you about the many people who have reached out to them to show they care. Pivoting towards the positive has been a challenge during the pandemic, especially when you are watching your business struggle and there is no known timeline of when this will end.
Yet, even now, there are hidden blessings within the darkness of this time period. Perhaps communications within your company may have improved as more staff works remotely or in staggered shifts. Technology that had been resisted is now installed and embraced, which allows your services to reach more people without regard to geographic location. Families you serve appreciate you and your staff at a new level as they witness the lengths you go to provide meaningful and dignified rituals for their loved one.
Stress will never go away, but if you listen to the lesson it is sharing, heed its warning and address whatever it is that the stress is bringing to your attention, you may just find yourself feeling lighter and more energized. Your thoughts may turn from pessimistic to seeing hope within the situation. Perhaps you will make time to play with your dog, take a walk and truly listen to the crunch of the autumn leaves beneath your feet or stop from time to time to just breathe. Knowing what to do when life throws you an unwanted surprise can turn a stressful situation into a moment to practice accessing your inner calm.
About the Author
Nancy Weil is a leading authority on the relationship between humor and grief. Nancy is the founder of The Laugh Academy and serves as Member Resources Director for the International Order of the Golden Rule (www.OGR.org). She also serves as Director of Grief Support and Community Outreach for Veterans Funeral Care in Clearwater, FL. For the past ten years her monthly column has been featured in Funeral Home and Cemetery News. She has certifications as a Grief Management Specialist, Grief Services Provider, Funeral Celebrant and Laughter Leader.
At this year’s NFDA Virtual International Convention & Expo, Nancy will share her program All Stressed Out and Ready to Blow, as well as host one of the lounges addressing the theme of Pivot Towards the Positive. You can also take Nancy’s on-demand learning course, Ten Tools for Stress Relief, through the NFDA website.
Nancy Weil, International Order of the Golden Rule, St. Petersburg, FL
firstname.lastname@example.org 512-334-5504 ext. 304