Saying Goodbye

Saying Goodbye

We’ve all been through a time when the world seemed dull and hopeless after experiencing a loss – regardless of whether they’re family, friends or simply an individual of great significance to us. People experience loss in a multitude of ways beyond the passing of a loved one; we grieve at the end of a relationship, a permanent change in appearance, a passing life stage, or simply anything that we can never again regain or revisit. Due to the cyclic nature of life, we deal with grief constantly. Some of them are more gradual and less noticeable like ageing, while others may be more unexpected and sudden like the death of a loved one.

Grief affects us in ways beyond both physical and emotional pain. The five stages of grief modelled by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross concluded that the five major emotions experienced during grief were denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance (Kübler-Ross & Kessler, 2014). This model was based on her work on patients with terminal illnesses, suggesting that these five stages were more applicable to people facing their own existential crises rather than those who were grieving. But in practice, we find that the five stages were also shown in grief clients despite the lack of linearity of graphical evidence. Most of the time these emotions are interwoven with many others, including guilt and fear. Beyond emotional responses, the process of grief also includes natural physical responses like sleeplessness, appetite loss, and a weakened immune system. But with proper coping mechanisms, these responses can be alleviated with time, allowing you to feel more prepared to make peace with it. 

Grief is a personal and subjective process, and coping mechanisms vary amongst people, so there is no norm or timetable to abide by. In most cases, people can process and resume their day-to-day functions after a certain period of time. However, in more severe cases (i.e., the loss of a romantic partner, the loss of a parent, the loss of a grandparent) we find it overwhelming. Especially if such grief was complex or unresolved (for example through sudden life changes, traumatic events, or unresolved issues with the deceased). During Covid-19, these situations were more prevalent than ever before. One of my friends was unable to complete quarantine in time to see his beloved family member in the hospital for the last time. Another one was unable to enter Hong Kong due to Covid-19 restrictions and had missed the last call from his father before he passed in the ICU. 

In sessions, we sometimes find people still struggling with loss even after many years due to the build-up of pain over time in addition to mental challenges stemming from grief, including difficulties in emotion regulation or disassociation. Such challenges can become debilitating as individuals often do not even realise that grief is still affecting them. Clinically, the prevalence of prolonged grief disorder (PGD) was found in approximately 9.8% of bereaved adults in the population. Of the adults suffering from PGD, the symptoms they experienced consisted of intense preoccupation with the deceased, persistent distress, detached or numbed emotion, inability to trust others, and avoidance of the reality of loss (Rosner et al, 2018). 

However, there are many ways to make it easier to cope with grief. If you are currently grieving, there are a multitude of things that may help you navigate this time:

  • Know That You Are Not Alone

Because there was love, there will be pain. Whenever there is a start, there will be an end. As the pain of loss is natural and inevitable, no one can live without going through it. But rather than fearing it, try to remember that it is possible to have an easier relationship with the pain of the loss by allowing ourselves to feel it.

  • Talk About Your Feelings

If you feel that you are struggling with grief, resistance or avoidance will not lift the burden. Instead it may cause unnecessary frustration. Try to express and share your feelings though they are difficult. It will aid your grieving progress. Begin to share these thoughts with your support system, address them in a journal, and find your emotional outlet. 

  • Share Your Memories

Share your memories to alleviate fear of forgetting them. Recalling and sharing the memories with those you surround yourself with can bring you a sense of peace amidst this painful time. The most memorable moment during the funeral of a loved one is the sharing of cherished memories with the people who share our pain. These moments may remind us of the fragility of life and how despite the fact that we are mortal, the love we have is eternal. 

  • Find Ways to Remain Connected With Your Loved One 

You can still connect with those who are no longer with us. I have seen many post-it memos placed along the surface of a tombstone by a wife or a grandchild, each inscribed with a message yearning for their beloved husband or grandfather’s embrace one last time. While others may play songs they used to listen to together, or plant a tree to symbolise their everlasting life. These things serve as a reminder to us that despite our loved one not being physically with us, they are here with us in spirit. 

  • Prioritise Yourself

Everyone grieves at their own pace. To find the best way to heal you have to take care and prioritise yourself. If you feel like crying, cry it out. If you need space, ask for space. It is not selfish nor insensitive to take time for yourself to heal. Please do not be hard on yourself for not being ‘strong enough’ in such circumstances, instead, we learn how to be strong enough through grief. Only through pure transparency with ourselves and our emotions can we make peace with them.

  • Remember That Your Life is Valuable

There are a lot of changes that follow loss, sometimes the change is so drastic that you begin to feel lost in the world. Just as how precious the deceased are to you, your life is just as precious to your family, your friends, and most importantly, your own self. With this mindset you will learn to find purposefulness in continuing on with the future and finding back your sense of self that was lost amidst the grief. 

  • Seek Help When You Need It

If you ever feel overwhelmed in the madness, reaching out to your support system is a wonderful method. You can also read self-help books pertaining to grief, seek help from your religion, your support group, or perhaps by paying a visit to a professional psychotherapist as a source of help for navigating past these mental challenges.

If you are accompanying someone who is grieving, here are some helpful ways you can engage:

  • Keep Them Company

Yes, you just need to stay with them. Remember that they do not need advice or positive talk at the moment, they simply need your presence. Having someone alongside you who is listening with all of their heart is one of the best forms of support. Even if you cannot be there in person, texting or calling them is another viable way of showing support. The feeling of being cared for will aid them through this difficult time.

  • Distractions

Whether it is house renovation, work, or travel planning, it can help people temporarily disconnect from reality and focus on the world around them. Exercise is always a good idea to help them feel uplifted naturally, so asking them for a walk if they are willing to do so is another effective form of distraction. If they do not want to engage in anything physically, providing them with a list of TV show recommendations may help occupy part of their mind.

  • Be of Help

There are a multitude of things you can do to help provide an extent of aid towards a grieving individual. For instance, you can help them with their chores, take their kids to the park, order food for them, etc., Simply by doing this you are offering substantial help and providing time and energy for the individual to deal with the chaos surrounding their loss.

  • Respect, Empathy, and Understanding

There are times when grieving individuals may have some irrational thoughts like bargaining with fate or impulsive, emotion-centred reactions such as blaming the hospital or the doctor. Try to give them space to sort things out and accommodate them with understanding. Everyone heals at their own pace, so your respect is an important buffer for them to feel supported and loved to learn to make peace with their bereavement. 

 “The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not get over the loss of the loved one; you’ll learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.” – On Grief & Grieving, Kübler-Ross and Kessler

It is a heartbreaking part of the journey. But aren’t we blessed to ever have someone or something that was so hard to let go of in this life?

References

Kübler-Ross, E., & Kessler, David. (2014). On grief & grieving : finding the meaning of grief through the five stages of loss (Scribner trade pbk. ed.). Scribner.

Rosner, Rita, Rimane, Eline, Vogel, Anna, Rau, Jörn, & Hagl, Maria. (2018). Treating prolonged grief disorder with prolonged grief-specific cognitive behavioral therapy: Study protocol for a randomized controlled trial. Trials19(1), 241–241. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13063-018-2618-3

Megan Chang

MC

If you would like to speak with a counsellor about how we can support you, please contact us.

Find out more about Megan here.

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Removing the Mask

Removing the Mask

I arrived at my gym for an appointment with my trainer.  “Are you going to Lan Kwai Fong tonight?” he asked enthusiastically.  As a busy (and middle-aged) professional who’d been up since 5 am and still had several work obligations after this gym session, I figured the probability of hanging out in LKF on a school night was pretty low.  “Why on Earth would I do that?” I asked.  He responded, “Everyone’s going there at midnight to burn all their masks!  Can’t wait to see the bonfire!”.  While the thought of such a sight was pretty attractive after 945 days of mask-wearing, I immediately thought of the toxic fumes that would soon travel through central Hong Kong – fumes we could avoid breathing through a mask.  The irony was not lost on me.

I do not know if the LKF mask-burning event occurred, but the sentiment resonated.  It also prompted me to wonder how the people of Hong Kong would feel as they prepared for this change.  No doubt everyone considered what it meant for them and their loved ones.  And as I’ve been listening to friends and colleagues over the last 48 hours, I’ve come to the view that regardless of whether removing the mask mandate is “good” or ‘bad”,  it allows for personal choice, which empowers us all.

Let’s consider kids, for example.  As of Wednesday, millions of five-to-eight-year-olds will (strangely, after showing a negative RAT test to attend school in the first place) be seeing their teachers’ full faces, perhaps for the first time.  Children three years old or under do not know the world without masks.  It will be interesting to see how they interact with their friends now that they can see their whole faces.  It’s difficult enough as an adult to recognize people when they see them without a mask for the first time.  How we look at people and recognize their faces is different with masks on than with masks off.  Also, these little children have learned to read people’s emotions just by looking at their eyes.  What will it be like for them to see a full facial expression?  How will they interpret what they see? Ongoing research at places like the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London links facial expression to healthy social interactions. Within a social context decoding facial expressions is an essential foundation for stable emotional relationships. It is a skill that helps to reduce anxiety.

And just as kids are not used to seeing their teachers’ full faces, the same is valid for teachers with their students.  One teacher shared a story of playing “guess the child” with her peers:  When the kids took their masks off to eat, the teachers tried to figure out who they were.  It wasn’t easy to recognize them, as the teachers had a mental image of the children’s faces, which was inaccurate.  They almost had to re-learn who Nancy, Tom, Millie, or James were, as they were unrecognizable without the masks.  Imagine the child who bounds up to her teacher with a big “HELLO!” and the teacher isn’t sure who she is.  This experience could result in children losing identity or sense of place, as the teachers they’ve become comfortable with don’t seem to know who they are anymore. How disempowering would that appear to the child that a person who is essential in their lives fails to recognize them?

And what about vulnerable people or those in hospital environments?  Most medical clinics allow their staff to choose whether or not to wear masks at work.  Patients with respiratory illness symptoms are still requested to wear masks. 

The mask mandate may have been removed, but does this mean we should no longer consider the needs of others?  A diverse city of 7.6 million people like ours does not thrive without the goodwill and tolerance of its people.  It’s worth remembering that Hong Kong people commonly wore masks when sick – well before any mandate and well before the rest of the world – out of consideration for others.  Perhaps there’s no need to burn all our masks, and we might instead choose to keep a few around for the greater good. As mentioned earlier, it is a choice, and being able to make choices is positive for our mental health.

Today, I also heard another example of two brothers – the younger one thrilled to see his friends’ faces, and the older one worried about his facial acne.   Female colleagues are talking about needing to spend money on makeup now that their whole faces are “on display” again.  Jokes about teeth whitening products selling like hotcakes and dentists being completely booked out.  For the last three years, the beauty ‘playing field’ was somewhat even, and the eyes were all that mattered.  Now our whole faces are back in the limelight. Face masks eased the anxiety of people with body dysmorphia or those anxious about their appearance. This anxiety will have to be dealt with by many people.

And another friend told me she was thrilled to see the mandate go for the simple reason that she’d be able toread lips again – a helpful skill when seeking assistance at various customer service counters around the city.  It was hard enough before trying to understand what the customer service agent was saying behind the plate glass window with tiny holes and poor quality intercom – add mask-wearing into the equation. This friend has said, “sorry, can you please repeat that?” about 17,000 times over the last three years. These are six words that she’s delighted to remove from her vocabulary.

There are so many stories about the effect of mask-wearing, but that is enough for now. Hong Kong is finally free from HAVING to wear a mask, now is the time for people to appreciate they have choices, and it is up to them what they choose to do.

Perhaps the take-home point is that we in HK must celebrate our adaptability and resilience – we kept masks on for 945 days, the most extended period of mask-wearing in the world.   Now they are no longer mandatory, and we can decide for ourselves.  I can choose to wear it or not, just as I can decide to go to Lan Kwai Fong on a Tuesday at midnight or go home to bed.  Free will and choice are empowering, and as you read this, make a choice for yourself and be empowered in the process of having that choice.

By the Team at AMindset

If you would like to speak with a counsellor about how we can support you, please contact us.

Other Articles by AMindset Counsellors:

The Mental Health Impact of Hong Kong’s Mask-Free Policy on Children, Anoush Davies

Re-entering the Outside World, Kelly Hutchison

Christmas Alone, Elise Phillipson 

Talking About Eating Disorders, Megan Chang 

“Doing” Leadership

“Doing” Leadership

“DOING” LEADERSHIP by KELLY HUTCHISON

As a long-time leader of teams, I often get asked for my thoughts on how to “do” leadership.  Just recently, I was talking with a bright, early-career entrepreneur who said, “My business is growing like crazy and I’m starting to hire people.  I don’t know how to manage and lead others.  What training course would you recommend? Or are there some books I can read?”

These questions are more common than I’d like them to be.  While they are well-intended, and it’s great that people who seek leadership responsibility actually want to do it well, the assumption (or perhaps hope) beneath the question is that if you read the right books, and/or take the right training course, you will be able to lead.

The question I asked this poor soul in return was, “regardless of the training course or the books – how will you know when you can manage and lead other people?  Does reading the books and attending the training mean you’re done?  Tick, you’re a good leader? Cross it off the list of things to do?”

The truth (like it or not) is that managing and leading others is not a destination.  It’s a practice.  Kind of like yoga.  In fact, yoga can teach us a lot about leadership.  No matter how good you get at yoga, there’s always something more to learn.  There’s more to practice.  You never FINISH working at yoga.  And if you’ve practiced yoga, you’ll know that some days are great – you nail the pose, you go deeper, you balance longer.  Some days are terrible.  You fall over, or you can’t hold even the most basic version of the pose you held for 10 minutes yesterday.  It requires focus, getting back into the pose even when you’ve fallen out of it six times already, and tuning in to your thoughts and feelings. Perhaps most importantly, it requires a willingness to push beyond your comfort zone – taking your pose just a bit further, without a guarantee that you’ll nail it the first time (knowing, in fact, that you’ll probably fall over).

The same is true for leadership.  This is because leadership exists within a human system.  One set of leadership behaviours which works perfectly well with one group of people may completely backfire with another.  Or a style of leadership that works when times are good, fails when times are difficult.  Some days are great – the team is humming, people are happy.  Others stink – business is underperforming, there’s tension between people, tough decisions to be made, and politics to manage.  Pesky human beings – they are so unpredictable.  

So what is this achievement-oriented entrepreneur to do, as the company grows and leadership becomes a necessity and requirement?  While I do not endorse the concept of a “checklist for good leadership”, in the spirit of helping these shooting stars along the journey, I offer the below as a non-linear process.

First: understand the baseline.  Look for clues.  Do you lose people from recruitment processes after they interview with you?  What’s your voluntary employee turnover rate?  If you use an employee engagement survey, what does the data tell you about how people feel about their manager and/or senior leaders?  You should also look inward.  Who’s been your favorite or most respected leader over the course of your career and why?  Who do you emulate as a leader?  

Second: ask your people what they need from you  – what motivates them to perform at their best.  Again, these pesky human beings are all slightly different.  But one thing remains consistent – people join great companies and leave bad managers..  The trick is to find out what “bad manager” means to your people – and practice behaving differently.

On the note of PRACTICE…this is a critical third (and ongoing) step. Just as you don’t become a star tennis player on day 1, and you can’t learn to play the piano with one lesson, leadership is a practice.  Remember that feeling of trying something new when you were a kid?  It’s frustrating and uncomfortable.  Get used to this feeling – in fact, seek it out in your workplace.  It means you’re learning – and learning is supposed to feel uncomfortable.  Try new behaviours.  Refine.  Try again.  Try again.  

Fourth – ask your people how you’re doing.  And “your people” should include those below you, above you, and beside you.  If you’re heading a start-up, maybe there’s no one technically above you.  Whose opinion do you respect and admire?  Do you have a board of directors? An investor or business partner?  Importantly, consider this guide for soliciting feedback (and ignore it at your peril).

Fifth (and arguably the most important element to include in your practice): Reflect on the feedback and use it as a source of data to improve your practice.  Extending the “learning to play the piano” analogy, consider how listening to a recording of your practice can shine a light on areas where you need more practice.  You listen, you think about what you want to work on, and then you work on it.  The same is true in leadership.  What can you learn from the feedback you received?  What should you try differently?

What can you learn?  What can you try?  

Sixth (or maybe first!) – ask for help. What professional athlete does not have a coach? What opera singer doesn’t study under another professional?  It can be very lonely at the top.  Cultivate your network, join leadership forums or communities, and consider a psychotherapist, counsellor or performance coach to help you reflect, learn, and grow.  As someone who has been practicing leadership for decades and advising others who are doing the same, I firmly subscribe to the view that every leader needs a therapist and coach.  

Finally – Repeat steps 1-6.  Often, and for as long as you hold a leadership role.  In doing so, you will exceed your own expectations and you will make a difference to your team, your company and potentially by extension, the world around you.  

After all – isn’t this why you became an entrepreneur in the first place?

Kelly Hutchison

Kelly Hutchison is a psychotherapist, counsellor and executive coach with aMindset, based in Hong Kong. 

To book an individual consultation or discuss mental health & wellness initiatives for your organization, contact Kelly on +852 9179 4454 or kellyamindset@gmail.com 

Other Articles by Kelly:

Find out more about Kelly here

Qualifications:

  • Master of Counselling, Monash University, Australia
  • Master of Applied Science (Innovation & Organisation Dynamics), RMIT University, Australia
  • Bachelor of Arts (Liberal Arts/Music), Florida State University, USA
  • Executive Coaching – Level Two Coach, Institute of Executive Coaching & Leadership, Australia
  • Member, Hong Kong Society of Counselling & Psychology
  • Member, Australian Counselling Association
  • Member, Hong Kong Professional Counselling Association

If you would like to speak with a counsellor about how Kelly or AMindset can support you, please contact us.

 



Eat Plants Not Meat

Eat Plants Not Meat

“Transformation to healthy diets by 2050 will require substantial dietary shifts. Global consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes will have to double, and consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar will have to be reduced by more than 50%. A diet rich in plant-based foods and with fewer animal source foods confers both improved health and environmental benefits.”
– Professor Walter Willett, MD Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Eat Plants Not Meat

A recent report by the EAT-Lancet Commission, from 37 leading scientists from 16 countries from various fields including human health, agriculture, political sciences and environmental sustainability, has found that “the global adoption of healthy diets from sustainable food systems would safeguard our planet and improve the health of billions.”

Here are a few excerpts from their report:

  1. Food is the single strongest lever to optimize human health and environmental sustainability on Earth.
  2. Without action, the world risks failing to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement, and today’s children will inherit a planet that has been severely degraded and where much of the population will increasingly suffer from malnutrition and preventable disease.
  3. A large body of work has emerged on the environ- mental impacts of various diets, with most studies concluding that a diet rich in plant-based foods and with fewer animal source foods confers both improved health and environmental benefits.
  4. Unhealthy diets now pose a greater risk to morbidity and mortality than unsafe sex, alcohol, drug and tobacco use combined. Global food production threatens climate stability and ecosystem resilience and constitutes the single largest driver of environmental degradation and transgression of planetary boundaries. Taken together the outcome is dire. A radical transformation of the global food system is urgently needed.
  5. How food is produced, what is consumed, and how much is lost or wasted all heavily shape the health of both people and planet. The EAT-Lancet Commission presents an integrated global framework and for the first time, provides quantitative scientific targets for healthy diets and sustainable food production. The Commission shows that feeding 10 billion people a healthy diet within safe planetary boundaries for food production by 2050 is both possible and necessary.

This is not new information and it was passed on by Dr McDougallwho has been lecturing on the importance of a starch-based diet, with the addition of fruits and vegetables and no added oils, for the sustainability of both optimal health and the planet, for over 45 years.

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