5 Tips To Handle Personal Issues At Work (podcast)

It’s relatively easy to focus at work, school or in your community service or organized activity under normal conditions. This is what we do; we’re high performers. As a healthcare provider, I need to be able to critically think and recognize that each patient is different. Each outcome will be different whether that’s an IV stick or a response to a medication. I have to be present in the moment to identify that, to interpret that information and then take action. But it’s hard to be mentally wrapped up with what’s in front of me when I’m mentally wrapped up in something else. Physically you may be there, but mentally you’re a no-show for work.

So how do you get through your day professionally when you’re distracted with a personal crisis at home? It’s tough, but I’ve got five tips that have helped me get through some heavy situations, and I’m hopeful that these tips can help you, too.

>>Listen to this episode on the Ask Nurse Alice podcast

Tip #1: Share, Don’t Keep it Bottled in

For some people, sharing makes them feel better. They can talk about the issue with selective colleagues, making them more comfortable and able to be more productive at work. But for some, it can actually exacerbate the problem because now you feel like everybody’s looking at you, judging you and talking behind your back.

Nobody wants to be the topic of discussion in the break room.

Instead of divulging what’s going on to a lot of people, find one person who you can talk to who you would likely consider a friend outside of work or school, someone you’re more comfortable with. It’s also important to consider sharing that something is going on with your leadership, those who evaluate your performance and productivity, whether that’s your professor, manager or charge nurse.

If this is going on while you’re at school, you can simply send an email to your professor, letting them know you’re having a personal issue that’s really weighing on you and making it a little difficult to focus, so you’d appreciate a little flexibility and compassion on some of your work assignments. And if you’re someone who’s typically very bubbly and a big contributor, this can let them know why you may be more subdued and not as participatory.

If this is going on while you’re at work, just let your charge nurse know you have a personal issue going on so if you seem a little quiet or sad, you just need some space and it’s not something you really want to talk about, but you just want them to be aware. You want to be sure they know you’re not being mean by wanting some alone time, and that you are a team player, you just need that space. But you’re still showing up, ready to take care of your patients, you’re just ready to ask for help if needed. 
Sometimes you’d rather act like everything is fine rather than divulge any personal information, but if they will be able to tell that you’re not acting like your usual self and begin to question what’s going on, it’s better to get ahead of it.

Tip #2: Set Boundaries

Some people feel more comfortable if they face their problems and/or tragedies head on, while others feel better to just keep their minds off of their personal worries while they’re at work. In either case, when you’re at work, you should be at work. To keep it this way, you’ll want to set boundaries.

  • Don’t talk to your friends or other people who are involved in the issue while you’re at work, because they’ll keep your mind focused on that personal problem.
  • Focus on that issue at home, because it will still be there. We’re all human and have feelings, and you’re entitled to those feelings, but your emotions can’t supersede your ability to focus and provide safe patient care.
  • When you’re at work, you are saving lives; there’s no room for error because you’re having an emotional moment.

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Tip #3: Consider Your Employee Benefits

Many companies offer a wide variety of employee benefits that some employees aren’t even aware of. Even if you experience a specific personal problem that has nothing to do with work, you can usually go to your human resources or employee assistance program and they can help you with certain things. They have the resources to help refer you for legal or daycare services, clinical therapy, or financial assistance programs. The same goes for school, you can check with your counselor, which is exactly what they’re there for: you. Even if they don’t have a specific service for you, they may be able to direct you to someone else that can help that may be low or no cost which is especially helpful as a student.

Tip #4: Show Yourself Compassion

Getting back to work at full-speed after a major life crisis can be a serious challenge. Your body shows up, but your mind might be a no show. You need to be patient with yourself, because you might have some problems getting back up to speed or you may even be doing really well, then all of a sudden fall off the wagon. Be compassionate to yourself; life is a marathon.

You’ll experience several challenges throughout your life, and this is just one that you’re through right now. Get over this hurdle, get back in the race, and hopefully establish some patterns and behaviors that will help prepare you for the inevitable next challenge.

Tip #5: Take Time Off

Sometimes there’s an issue where you don’t have enough PTO and you can’t afford to be off. I’ve experienced that, but I also know that there comes a certain time at work when you’re going through a personal dilemma where you just can’t be and don’t want to be at work.

If you are in a crisis, and it’s so bad that it’s consuming you and you get to a position where you not only can’t focus or perform the task at hand, but you also begin to hate work, you just need to take time off. Because you don’t really hate your job, you just need time to rest and reconcile your thoughts. You need to learn how to accept the things you cannot change, recognize what it is you can change, and create a plan for yourself with what you’re going to do to make those changes. If you’re dealing with a crisis, it’s not a quick fix. Mental and emotional injuries can last a lifetime, especially if you don’t acknowledge them. So take some time off, rest and recover so that you can heal. Then, you can get back to work and resume in a more usual state.

Some of us haven’t gone through a big crisis yet, but it’s inevitable during the course of our lives. It will be overwhelming to us physically, mentally and emotionally, and we need to take care of ourselves. When you’re ready to get back in the game professionally, I’m hopeful these tips will help you in that journey. 

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