The Thrive Guide to Navigating Work During a Personal Crisis

Five tips to help you through a difficult time.

Illustration by Julia Yoon for Thrive Global
Illustration by Julia Yoon for Thrive Global

Juggling life and work takes effort on a normal day. But when we’re dealt a setback — a divorce, a family member’s illness (or our own), a financial nightmare — it’s a much bigger feat. I know this challenge quite well: I had been the Chief Well-being Officer at Deloitte for less than a year when suddenly, in May of 2016, I received an unexpected breast cancer diagnosis following my first mammogram. 

While there’s no one “right” decision for everyone, the best decision for me was to continue working during my treatment. Showing up for work added a sense of normalcy to my life and helped me feel connected to my purpose. I came out on the other side (I’ve been in remission for three years), and through that ordeal learned some lessons about navigating a job when you’re going through a personal crisis. This advice may help you keep your career on track — and your stress in check — if you ever find yourself in a tough time. 

Illustration by Julia Yoon for Thrive Global

Schedule self-care — and stick to it.
During my treatment, I was diligent about taking care of myself and my health. I booked nap time into my calendar every afternoon because my body needed it. I was open about it with my team and other colleagues, and simply being honest served as a virtual do-not-disturb sign. There are other ways to build small acts of self-care into your day, whether it’s eating a healthy, satisfying lunch away from your desk, taking a 15-minute walk with your colleague, or listening to soothing music while you do solo tasks. P.S. Once you find a routine that works for you, stick with it — even once you’re no longer in crisis mode. To this day, I keep that time blocked out on my calendar for whatever self-care I feel I need at the moment. 

Make H.R. your ally.
Many employers offer support — everything from counseling and even legal services — that can help you get through a crisis, but learning about them often requires opening up to human resources. Your H.R. rep should walk you through any options that might be useful, including benefits you are eligible for. To make the conversation less stressful for you, do some prep before disclosing your illness. Think about what you are — and aren’t — comfortable sharing, along with any accommodation requests you’d like to make that may allow you to keep doing your job. 

Ask for help (so you can get it).
It may seem obvious, but learning how to ask for help can be a game-changer during a personal crisis. Keep in mind, we often assume our needs are more apparent to others than they really are, so it’s important to be explicit. If you need a pal to pick up your kid from school so you can visit a sick parent in the hospital after work, make that known. If you’d like some leeway on a deadline to take some pressure off, talk to your boss about it. Remember: People want to step up, but often don’t know what to do until you ask. 

Seek out people who lift you up.
When a personal hardship enters your life, you need all the positivity you can get. That’s why it’s especially important to be intentional about who you spend your time with when you are going through something difficult. Surround yourself with people that lift you up and look to have human contact as often as you can. Our instinct may be to isolate and withdraw when we’re struggling, but going toward connection is key. 

Expand your network.
Once I started to open up about my breast cancer diagnosis, it seemed that so many people I told knew someone who’d been through it, too. After all, there is a one in eight chance of developing breast cancer for women, and a very small percentage of men get it, too. As people offered to connect me — to their friends, sisters, mothers, daughters, cousins, and co-workers who’d experienced breast cancer — I built a solid network I could tap into anytime. People who’ve been in similar situations can guide you, share their experiences, or even just answer your call so you have someone to scream and cry to, if that’s what you need. Often times we believe that what we are going through is unique, but we are all human and we all struggle — and being reminded of that can be enormously helpful. 

The Life-Work Integration section includes content meant to inspire and inform Thrive Global readers and is not a part of any other partnership across both brands.  

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