173 Tackling Grief & Productivity with Krista St-Germain
In this episode of Work + Life Harmony, Krista St-Germain, a master certified life coach and widow, helps us tackle the heavy and hard topic of productivity through grief, teaching us to actively prioritize joy, acknowledge our emotions, and challenge the pervasive grief myths that can hinder our healing.
Krista St-Germain was a widow at the age of 40 after her husband was killed while trying to change a flat tire. She found herself struggling to find resources to help her through her grief and eventually stumbled upon a life coaching program. Through that program, she was able to learn how to change her thoughts and create something she genuinely wanted in the future. Krista now hosts a podcast to help other women struggling with grief, teaching them how to manage their thoughts and emotions and prioritize joy. With time, their brains can adjust to the new reality and create new data.
In this episode, we talk through:
1. How can we tackle productivity through grief
2. What are the common myths surrounding grief
3. How can we prioritize joy when planning our lives, both during and after grief
You can connect with Krista further on her website or over on Instagram @lifecoachkrista. If you are struggling with grief, she also has a free grief quiz that you can take to help decide which of her podcast episodes would serve you best: www.coachingwithkrista.com/griefsupport
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Hey there. So today's topic is one that is a little bit tougher and heavier, where we're going to be talking about grief and managing all the todos the life that is still there. You may want to say handling productivity through grief, but I have a guest expert on today that is a grief counselor. She is an expert in this area and she's going to be sharing just some different ways to think about about it. We're going to be talking about some of the brain science that's happening there as well.
So if this is something you have struggled with in the past or maybe you're currently in a stage of life where you are working through some really tough grief as well, I am very honored to be able to introduce you to our guest here today.
Welcome to the work life Harmony podcast. I'm your host, Megan summerl. I'm the creator of the top program and top planner teaching all things time management, organization, and productivity for women. I'm also a mom and wife, and just like you juggling hashtags all the things while running multiple businesses and a family, guess what? You don't have to feel constantly overwhelmed, exhausted and stressed out.
There is another way. When you have the right systems and tools to plan and manage your time, you can live a life of harmony. This is your show to learn from me and other amazing women how to master your time, planning and organization, to skyrocket your productivity so you can have work life harmony. If you're ready to stop feeling overwhelmed, this is the show for you. And if you're new here, I'd love to get you started with my work life harmony assessment.
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All right, everyone, welcome back to work life Harmony. I am very pleased to be able to have Krista here with us today. This is a topic I have wanted to tackle for quite some time, but it's not my zone of genius and the universe and all her infinite wisdom must have known this was on my mind because then Krista came into my world. So today we're going to be talking about tackling productivity through grief, which is a heavy and hard topic, but one that is really life changing and I think important to have. So, Krista, I'd love it if you would introduce yourself and then we'll go ahead and get chatting.
You bet. Yeah. My name is Krista St. Germaine, as you said, and I'm a master certified life coach and a widow. And I host a podcast called the widowed mom podcast.
Obviously, I'm a mom as well. I have two kids. They're 19 and 15 now. And I really never intended to be a grief coach or even a life coach, to be honest. I just found myself in a point where I was 40, my husband died, killed in a car accident trying to change the tire on my car.
We were coming back from a trip and I had a flat tire and I pulled over and he had driven separately. He pulled up behind me and kind of gave me one of those, oh, I don't, you know, don't want to call Triple A, I don't want to wait, let's just get the tire changed, let's just get it done. And so I was standing on the side of the road texting my daughter, who was twelve at the time, she's 19 now, and I was telling her that we were going to be late. And a driver, and it was daylight, it was like 530 on a Sunday, but daylight. Driver did not see our hazard lights, did not break, nothing.
Just crashed right into the back of Hugo's car and he got trapped between his car and my car. And we later found out the driver had meth and alcohol in his system. So it wasn't really about our hazard lights, but I went from just a huge high, like really truly believing my life was exactly how it was supposed to be. And my best days were in front of me. He was my second marriage and so it was just kind of like the redemption story that amazing relationships are possible after the first one went down in flames, and then just instantly it was just ripped from me.
Right? It was like ripped. And at 40, when you look around for resources about being a widow, you don't really find much, or at least I didn't at that time for that. Age group, I'm sure. Oh my gosh, no, everybody.
And what you find online is like, I'm ten years out and I'm still crying every day and I just didn't want that to be me. But I also didn't know exactly what to do. And I just kind of happened to stumble into a life coaching program and it wasn't even grief specific, but it was someone whose podcast I had followed and she launched this program and I decided to join it. And I joined it right at that point where I was back to functioning. I call it a grief plateau now, where I'd gone to therapy, great therapist, got back to the place where everybody was telling me how strong I looked and how great I was doing.
I understand why they said that, but on the inside I did not feel strong or great. I felt empty and hollow and really kind of worried that it was possibly true that my best days were behind me and that I should just be grateful for what I had and it was never really going to be good again. And so, fortunately, the right person came to me at the right time and helped me learn how to relate differently to my thinking and relate differently to my emotions and really change things for myself and create something that I genuinely wanted in the future instead of kind of resigning myself to what I thought was this, like, new, normal widow experience. And so when I figured that out, I decided, okay, other people need to know this. I don't want other women to have the same frustrating Google search that I had.
And so I decided to become a coach and then a master coach. And here we are, right? So six years later, and it's such. An important service because I think outside of looking to a therapist or counselor, it's kind of like, well, what else after that other than a support group? Or that, because then what do I do when I'm alone with my thoughts?
At that point, if you don't know how to change your thoughts and you don't know, you're separate from your thoughts, which it took me a while to figure out. Then when you're alone with your thoughts, all you're really doing is recycling the same old thoughts that are creating the same old experience and not really moving the needle in the direction that you want to move it. So, yeah. I'm so glad that somebody taught me how to actually think differently about myself and my life. Now, I know you say that there are two things, right, that we're avoiding, basically, when we're in that state of grief, can you share what those are?
Yeah. I mean, we don't know that we're doing it, but I think for the most part, we're avoiding feelings. Right. We're avoiding we're humans. We're driven by emotion.
We weren't taught how to allow feelings. We were socialized to believe their problems. Most of us had role models. Not that our parents intended to do us any harm, but who told us, if you're going to cry, I'll give you something to cry about. Right.
We were told to kind of hide our emotions or fake them. And so it's no wonder that we avoid them. We avoid allowing them because we don't really have the skills to do that. Right. And then, of course, knowing that thoughts cause feelings.
By avoiding our emotions, we're also avoiding looking at our thinking, which is the source of how we're feeling. Right? If you're feeling terrible, who wants to look at the thoughts that feel so terrible? Especially when you don't know that they're optional. I didn't want to acknowledge it took me so long to even acknowledge out loud that I had the thought my best days were probably behind me.
I didn't even want to look at it because it was like, if I look at it, it's going to be true and I can't look at it. But really, only when you look at it, can you get some leverage over it and can you decide you're not going to listen to that anymore. Right.
So for folks that have gone through or are currently going through a stage, I think when you have a true profound grief with a level of a loss like what you experienced. Obviously the conversation here today isn't the very next day. You should just pick yourself up. I mean, good grief noise. I just want to kind of level set that.
I don't want out there thinking like, hang on, we need time, right? But there is a point at which at least I know for me in my life, it's kind of the, okay, time has passed. I need to start trying to get into whatever my new normal is or getting back to doing the things that I put off while I was having that initial grieving. And it is so hard. No kidding.
So what are those things that we can do as we are working through real grief to start to re enter the world, to re enter life and to I almost hate to use the word productivity because I feel like it's being bastardized all over the place. But to get back to doing the things that either need to or want to get done. Yeah. So I think if we can kind of normalize what is common in grief first, that helps because we unfortunately do live in a culture that doesn't really talk about grief very much. And there are a lot of grief myths that are prevalent that kind of can really challenge our experience.
So something as simple as the five stages of grief, right? Most people are familiar with the five stages of grief, but that's the only grief theory they've ever heard of, right? Can you name any other ones? No. Okay.
Nobody can. Very few people can, unless you're weird like me and are fascinated by grief. But there are just as many grief theories as there are about productivity, right? There are lots of grief theories and the five stages of grief is just one that caught on. So if we can roll back a little bit and go, wait a minute, something like the five stages, what I think I know about grief might not be what's actually grief, then I can stop trying to force a square peg into a round hole.
Right? Because this is what I see a lot of times where because we don't know that all emotions are okay in grief. Because we don't know that it's not linear, right. Because we think that it has an end point that we're supposed to reach or a process that if we follow it, we will get to the end of it. All of these things, because we don't know them, set us down the wrong path.
So all emotions really are okay. Grief is as unique as your fingerprint. Your grief experience will be so different than mine, and your grief experience with one person will be so different from your grief experience with another person or a non death loss. It's not just death that we're talking about. We're talking about grief, right?
So if we can just acknowledge that it isn't supposed to be a particular way. However it is is okay. However we feel is okay. We aren't supposed to be angry or a certain amount of angry. We don't even have to be angry, right?
We can actually have joy when we're grieving. That's not wrong either. But how many times do I see women shame themselves feeling happy right when their spouse died? And there's no timeline. There's nowhere you're supposed to be if you thought, well, I'm supposed to give it a certain amount of time, or there's a certain I'm not supposed to make any big decisions, or at one year something magical is going to happen and all I have to do is survive the first year.
None of that is useful. So it's however you feel is okay. We don't have anywhere we're trying to get our job is just to support ourselves as we feel the way that we feel. And the other thing I think, that is so unknown and I don't want to dive into it a ton here, but is what's happening in the brain when we're grieving. There really is.
It's not that time in and of itself heals, but time really does need to pass so that the brain can do what it needs to do, right? So that the brain can gather new data and adjust to what has happened. It's very normal in grief to kind of question your sanity, to have moments where you know that that person died or that that thing happened intellectually, but yet you're responding as though they're on a business trip or you can pick up the phone and text them, right? The garage door opens and you think it's them, but you know it's not. You can start to feel a little bit crazy if you don't know that that's normal.
That's the dissonant state that your brain is in. It needs to relearn. It needs to have enough exposures to understand that in the middle of the night, when you go for the pillow, they're not there. Right? Because your brain has all that historical data that it's pulling from.
So you need to have a good time to have new data come in. Yes. And also, though, we also don't want to just kind of grip our way through and wait for time to pass and let that be all that we do. I think it can be a nice I love the dual process theory of grief. I'll tell you about that one just real quick.
So the dual process theory of grief is the idea that there are kind of two containers of activities while you're grieving. One is intentionally thinking about the loss. It's grief related activities. So it's allowing feelings. It's thinking about the loss.
It's loss related stuff, loss oriented activities. The other container of activities would be called restorative restoration activities, activities unrelated to the grief. And sometimes people fall into the trap of thinking, well, I either need to be in one camp fully or the other containers. I either need to think about my grief all the time and if I'm not I'm doing something wrong or I need to completely distract myself from my grief and then somehow magically just be better. But really dual process theory teaches that it's the oscillation back and forth from container to container that is ultimately valuable.
So when you're thinking about productivity, it's actually really valuable to kind of distract yourself intentionally with things that take your mind off of the loss. Now, they might not be productive things, they might be hobbies, they might be just you relaxing and doing something that you love. It doesn't have to these things intentionally be things that we are thinking about as things that bring us joy or just any distraction category. Honestly, any distraction counts. Like we could go on a Netflix binge and that would count but we want to do it intentionally joy.
Right, exactly. But there doesn't have to be necessarily this idea that we have to produce a deliverable for it to count. It can just be something that moves you away from thinking about the loss. Okay? Yeah.
And then we kind of allow ourselves to dip back into thinking about the loss and it's just that intentional oscillation. So I don't think that it has to be black or white. It's not one container or the other. It's only productive or only grief. It is letting ourselves ebb and flow back and forth.
Got it. Now, you do talk about this and the reason why I was asking that question, you do talk about intentionally like one of the steps to kind of help you back on whatever it is for you that intentional prioritizing of activities that do bring you joy as opposed to the mindless time fillers that aren't. So when do we bring those in and how does that play into it. In my mind and this is how I try to plan my life, grief or not. Because we're not socialized to prioritize joy like we're socialized to priority for ourselves or ourselves, right?
We're socialized to prioritize producing and delivering and other people. And so I think it is wise, grief or not, to as you plan your week, put the joy first, right? Put the downtime first. Because if you don't, then what I notice, at least for me and for the women that I've worked with, is that the voice that shows up in the back of your head when you're doing something that brings you joy or is unrelated to your grief if you didn't plan it that way. When you're doing it, the voice that shows up says you should be doing something else.
Right? You're not where you're supposed to be. And if we've planned it intentionally that way, then we have an answer to that voice, which is I hear you, but actually this is where I am right now. This is my priority. And I think that ties into it's.
One of the things I know I mentioned a lot with the importance of operating from a weekly plan instead of a daily task list. Particularly when you have a lot to do. Right. Because if you're doing one thing, then the voice in the back is like but you have this. But you have this.
But you have this. But when you have a plan, then you can quiet and say, I know and am doing that tomorrow afternoon. So leave me alone because I want to be present in this right now. Because this is what I planned to spend my time on in the moment. Totally.
Yeah. And grief is the exact same way. Right. I think it is the human way. I don't know if you have found this to be true, but it's what I have found to be true.
It's the human way that whatever we're doing, our brain is going to tell us we're not supposed to be doing it, we're supposed to be doing something else. If we have made a conscious his choice with the higher thinking part of our brain in advance and we have laid out the plan, then we have a response. Any suggestions for when you really are in the depths of grief? For what that first step of prioritizing something joyful might look like, when it seems like maybe there really is no possibility for joy again. Yeah.
It doesn't have to be big. I think the littlest things we want to count. So it sounds so strange to say this, but if you've been there, you'll relate. Sometimes the biggest thing we're celebrating is like a shower. Just that I ate some food today, I took care of myself today with a shower, I brushed my teeth.
Those little things. It doesn't have to be I planned a European vacation.
It's the little teeniest tiniest act of self love and self care that we need to celebrate the heck out of and make an effort toward in the beginning. Because sometimes that is the I mean, for me, that was for sure true. I didn't want to do anything early on. Yeah. How do you talk to women who are in that place of they're sitting in a place of grief.
And let's face it, there are things that need to be getting done that aren't right. Like, we all have it in our life of getting to be in a place where you can let go of that and say it's okay that that's not happening right now. Again, I'm intentionally choosing not to because I'm not in a place where I'm ready to handle some of. I might let my house just not be clean for a while. Just those kinds of things that I think then the guilt piles up of now not only am I grieving, but now this isn't getting done as well.
How we can give ourselves the grace to let go of some things for a while and be okay with it until we're ready to come back. I love that question. Or change it. It may not even come back. Right.
It might look different on the other end. Yeah. Okay. So two things are coming to mind. First, and I think the most powerful is that what we're worried about when we stop doing things or do them differently.
What we're really worried about is the main thing we're going to say to ourselves when we don't do the thing. Not doing the thing is not what causes the guilt. Interesting. Yeah. It's how we feel about ourselves.
Right. We tell ourselves and how we talk to ourselves after we don't do the thing. So we don't need to believe and say mean things to ourselves. We don't need to guilt ourselves or shame ourselves or make ourselves feel bad for what we did or didn't do, ever. So that's number one.
Number two is we can actually ask for help and give people the opportunity. I'm so glad you said that. Let's repeat that, ladies. We can ask for help. And I think people actually want to help.
Most people, if they really love you, they don't like to see you in pain. It is stressful for them to see you struggle. And they feel helpless and powerless and they want to do something. And when we keep playing the I'm fine game, it's fine, I'm fine, everything's fine. I've got it.
Right. Because we don't want to put them out and I use that in air quotes or burden them or risk the rejection that they might say no, we actually rob them of the opportunity to help us and rob them of the opportunity to feel good about helping us. I'm so grateful for the help I got early on after Hugo died. I can't even tell you. I even think about whenever people I don't want to ask for help.
I'm like, how do you feel when someone you care about asks you for help? I love it. Then why would you deprive others of that same 100%? And further on, we can pay for help. It doesn't have to be in a favor, right.
Some of it can be a favor and some of it can be paid. I'm telling you, just paying someone to mow my lawn huge. So good little things. I know I was thinking back before our call of it's been almost two years now since we lost my niece. And I remember well, very vaguely remember that first week, it's just a blur.
But then I had a huge event I planned for work the week after and it was the debate of do I cancel this? Do I not? And two things happened that I'm very thankful for. One, I reached out to at that time, my very small team, and said, this is help. And oh, my goodness, everyone showed up.
Just open arms jumped in, handled all this stuff. But then secondly, when I was reading all of your info and talking about that internalizing those activities that bring you joy, I made the decision to keep the event the following week for that reason. Those little events, it was 30 minutes a day, were what really light me up, and I kicked it off by being very honest with all the women at the event saying, this has just happened, but I want to be here and I'm going to show up as I am, and that's okay. But I feel like those two things that asking for help and then just having that little drop of joy every day made a big difference early on. And I mean, it's still a journey, and I wish I'd known you back then.
I think there would have been an opportunity to have learned things a little bit sooner than I had. But I also let a lot of things go for a while, like a while, and it was okay. Yeah. And the way that I think about it is that it's not that there are things we should or shouldn't do. It's what is the emotional intention behind the reason we are or are not doing them?
If it feels like love to do the thing right, self love, especially to show up at that thing that you really wanted and valued, if it feels like love to carry on with the same schedule that you had or to cut back, it really isn't about what you decide to do. It's about the emotion that fuels the why. Oh, I think that's such a beautiful way of looking at it, because it's going to look different for everybody, right. Someone's life might look like it hasn't changed, someone else is different, but it's because of again, when I'm looking back at all the things I let go of, they were things that in that space would have felt heavy and hard. And I held on to the things that brought me joy and felt like I was loving myself and others.
Oh, that's such a great differentiator crystal. Where is the best place for people to be able to connect with you, work with you, et cetera? Yeah. So I assume everyone loves podcasts so they wouldn't be hearing us. Absolutely.
The Widowed mom podcast is my podcast. Obviously it's a little specific, but I hear from people all the time that it's really valuable, even if they aren't a widow or a mom. If you want to learn more about grief, if you want to learn more about post traumatic growth, maybe you want to support someone who is grieving, then the podcast is a great place to do that at. And then coaching with Krista is where people can find all the other stuff, right. All the social.
Yeah. And we'll have links in the show notes, and it is Krista with a K. So just make sure everybody knows that as well. Oh, and I do have a quiz if anybody would like to take it, because there are a lot of episodes of the podcasts that exist and it can be a little overwhelming. So coachingwithKrista.
Comgriefsupport will take you to a podcast quiz. If you got grief right now in your life, right, you can take that quiz and then you'll get an email that gives you the episodes that would be most beneficial for you to start. Oh, that's fantastic. We'll make sure that we link that as well so folks can go find that. I know we have some listeners already that I can think of near and dear to my heart that I know will get a lot of value out of that.
So thank you again for your time today. It's been a pleasure. Pleasure having you here. Thanks so much, Megan.
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