TEDx Memphis- “Be a Daydream Believer”

by Peggy Reisser

You might not expect a department chair at an academic health science center to give a talk about daydreaming, but that’s exactly the topic Anne Zachry, Ph.D., OTR/L, chair of the Occupational Therapy Department at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, chose when she spoke at the latest TEDx Memphis.

Dr. Anne Zachry

She said the idea for the talk came from research for her books — “Retro Baby,” a back-to-basics guide to parenting published in 2013 by the American Academy of Pediatrics, and “Retro Toddler,” which is in the works.

“I kept running across content or studies that said children‘s creativity is limited,” Dr. Zachry said. “Children who have been born in the digital age have less creativity than those who were born earlier.”

She explained the hypothesis is that because there’s so much media use, children don’t have down time, and they don’t have time to daydream. “With daydreaming, they use part of their brain, the default mode network, which is also associated with creativity,” she said.

Dr. Zachry was invited to submit a proposal for the TEDx event after leaders from the College of Health Professions at UTHSC began investigating the possibility of hosting a TEDx event on campus in the future. She told the organizers she had an idea for a talk, and to let her know if they ever needed a speaker.

A few weeks later, she was on stage giving a 9-minute talk titled, “Be a Daydream Believer.

“I was so nervous, but halfway through it, the audience was listening, and by the end, I didn’t even realize I was in front of that many people,” she said. Roughly 300 packed the Rose Theatre at the University of Memphis.

Dr. Zachry said she hopes the message of her talk resonates with her students. “We need our students to be creative and spend time thinking about what life really means to you and what kind of difference you want to make in this world,” she said. “You will become more creative, because you are taking time to reflect.”

Peggy Reisser Contact
UT Heath Science Center

Peggy Reisser is a media relations and communications specialist in the Communications and Marketing Department at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC). She joined UTHSC in July 2013, after more than 25 years as a reporter, editor and department head at The Commercial Appeal in Memphis. Her reporting has ranged from business news; to general assignment, lifestyles and feature stories; to coverage of crime, law enforcement and state and federal courts. She served as an assistant features editor, and directed and managed the paper’s Lifestyles Department. She began her career at the Nashville Banner, where she was a political reporter, covering state government and the state Senate, and served as an assistant metro editor.

A graduate of the School of Journalism at the University of Mississippi, she is a board member of the Memphis Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America.

Supporting your spouse with dementia starts with caring for yourself!

By Karen Rose

According to the Alzheimer’s Association 2016 Facts & Figures, every 66 seconds someone in the U.S. develops this disease. The hidden heroes are the family members who support their loved ones with dementia in maintaining their independence and dignity, too often at the expense of their own health.  Below, I offer my insights for supporting a spouse with dementia—although these tips apply to supporting anyone with dementia.

  • Take care of yourself! Supporting a loved one with dementia is a hard job.  Family caregivers are known to forego their own health needs as manifested by skipping medical check-ups and failing to maintain routine self-care activities.  This likely plays a role in poor health outcomes for many family caregivers.  Make and keep the appointments you need with your healthcare provider to maintain your own health.
  • Stay connected with your social networks. Your loved one with dementia is a person who benefits from being around others to maintain their own dignity and self-worth. It may be that your loved one no longer enjoys being in big, noisy crowds—but, that doesn’t mean that smaller, more intimate social activities surrounded by loving family and friends need to be relinquished.  You need to stay connected with your friends and your loved one does, too.
  • Stay active! Regular physical exercise is good for you and for your loved one with dementia. Being outdoors, weather permitting, can have a calming effect for your loved one as the sights and sounds of nature are known to be soothing. And, there are health benefits from regular aerobic and strength-training exercises for persons with dementia, so it’s a good thing to do for everyone.
  • Get adequate rest and sleep. You cannot support your loved one if you are operating from a glass that is “half full.”  Maintaining adequate rest and sleep help support your ability to be at the top of your game.  Avoid too much caffeine and strive to maintain a regular schedule for when you go to bed and when you rise in the morning.  A routine for you and your loved one with dementia helps everyone feel well rested.
  • Ask for help. Family and friends want to help support family caregivers and aren’t always sure how to do so. Make specific requests for assistance, like picking up a prescription or going grocery shopping, as you will find that people are eager to help.  People want to help—it makes them feel good and it helps you to continue to provide support for your loved one.
  • Reexamine holiday traditions. Are you able to pare back some of the activities of your holiday traditions while still maintaining what’s important to you and your family? You may notice that your loved one with dementia becomes anxious or seems agitated when many people are around, even if the people are family members. In this case, reexamining family traditions and reframing these in ways that will not overwhelm your loved one may allow you to continue to honor family traditions in a different way.
  • Plan for the future. Now may be a good time to have meaningful conversations with your loved one with dementia and your family so that you can make plans for your future.  Working with your attorney and financial advisor will provide you with comfort in knowing your wishes for the future are carried out in the ways in which you and your loved ones want them to be.

In short, taking care of yourself is the best way to support your loved one with dementia.  There are many community resources that are available to support family caregivers and persons with dementia.  A great place to start is by contacting your local Area Agency on Aging.  Additional resources are available through the Alzheimer’s Association and through the Family Caregiver Alliance.





rose_karenKaren Rose Contact
UT Knoxville

Karen Rose is the McMahan-McKinley Professor of Gerontology in the College of Nursing at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Virginia in gerontological nursing. Dr. Rose’s program of research is focused on supporting family caregivers for persons with dementia and in addressing and ameliorating neuropsychiatric behaviors in dementia. Karen enjoys traveling, hiking, doing almost anything outdoors, and spending time with her family and friends.

The Beauty of a Tennessee Autumn

By Britton Sharp

Autumn in Tennessee is one of my favorite things. Perhaps it is because much of what we have become so accustomed to seeing around us begins to display a new brilliance. Paths we walk to our office or class begin to change, life visually is entering a new phase. Things become more vibrant and we know that a change is coming. (Even if it is still 84 degrees!)

As the seasons change, it reminds me of changes in my life. It is my belief that our lives have seasons as well- periods of new beginnings, seasons of fruitfulness, times of transition and moments of internal development.

A few years ago while I was working in Sweden, I had the opportunity to speak with one of their top botanist. We were discussing the beauty of the season of Spring in her country. She began to explain that the external beauty of Spring is only made possible due to the internal development that occurs during Winter.

The same has proven true in the many areas of my life (professionally, personally, emotionally, physically and spiritually). I have struggled when I have compared myself to those around me. However, as I look back, I see that many times I was comparing my Winter to their Spring. When we compare ourselves to others it can so often rob us of the depths of our current season. Just because my growth in an area isn’t visible, doesn’t mean it isn’t occurring. We do have the responsibility to cultivate environments of growth, but we have to realize that much like nature around us, we cannot rush it. You can yell at an apple tree all you want, but you will still have to wait for an apple.

As the season visibly changes around us, my hope is that we would be reminded of the process of growth and the seasons in our own lives, that we strive to cultivate healthy environments in all areas of our lives, but also be patient to see those areas bear fruit.

May you enjoy the beauty of a Tennessee autumn.

Britton Shaimg_0446rp Contact
UT Knoxville

Britton is an artist, writer, gardener, husband and father. When he isn’t chasing toddlers with his wife, Brooks, you can find Britton writing in a coffee shop or watercolor painting downtown. He is a regular contributor to the blogs: https://collegiateabbey.com/ and http://www.flightnetwork.com/

As vice president of the Campus Ministers Council and director of Collegiate Abbey, he works to provide self-care resources to UT Knoxville faculty and staff.

Still My Hero

By Susan Robertson

As it is with most little girls, my dad was my first hero. I am the third of four children, and I always tell people I was my dad’s son before my brother was born. He taught me to throw a baseball, punt a football and even taught me to sew a dress for my Barbie doll.

My dad passed away in September 2012, but because of his diagnosis with Alzheimer’s disease in 2001, we gradually said goodbye to him over the course of 11 years. I lived out of state during that time but visited my parents at least monthly. And watching my father succumb to this horrible disease was one of the most difficult things I’ve experienced.

Most often Alzheimer’s is associated with the loss of memory. I never think it is funny when someone forgets something and then jokes, “I must have Alzheimer’s.” There is nothing funny about that disease. It truly robs sufferers of everything—from memory to the ability to speak to dignity. My father’s Alzheimer’s started with paranoia—thinking people were coming into the house and changing the times on the clocks or moving things from one location to the next. That was followed by the loss of his ability to process information and although he still remembered us, he often talked about going to see his mom and dad (who had both passed years earlier).

As with most Alzheimer’s patients, my dad started to wander. He would pace endlessly around the house all day and much of the night. One night he even climbed out his bedroom window and walked more than a mile to a nearby recreation area. Thankfully, some neighbors who had gone to the area to walk the next morning spotted him and brought him home. It was after that incident that my mother had all of the windows nailed closed from the inside. She also added alarms to each entry door so dad couldn’t go outside without her knowing it; and added baby locks on the cabinets after dad ate a dishwashing tablet thinking it was candy.

Alzheimer’s caused my dad to become very childlike. He liked playing with and holding toy cars. On one visit, I was in the backyard walking around with him when he picked up an acorn and threw it at me. When I turned around, he just grinned impishly. I was crying inside, but I just had to smile because that is something my dad would have done before the disease. While dad was very different and needed around-the-clock care, he was still very much my dad.

The disease also took a toll on my mother who was dad’s caregiver. Not only was it emotional to deal with the fact that your husband of 50-plus years was no longer the same, it wore on her to have to make sure she knew where he was 24/7. One of the things I say to anybody who is a caregiver is you have to take care of yourself! Stress plays havoc with our overall health. Mom finally agreed to have a home health worker visit three days a week, and one of my sisters moved in with my parents to help care for dad. My other siblings and I gave my mom and sister breaks on the weekend so they could be away from the house while we would watch dad. It only made sense that the weekends I was visiting, I would toss the ball with dad. It was just like old times—sort of.

I wish that no one would have to deal with this disease—no individual and no family. But the truth is that today, 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s; the disease is now the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S.; and every 66 seconds someone in the U.S. is diagnosed with the disease, all according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

My paternal grandfather and my father both had Alzheimer’s, so I’ve read a lot of research about how to prevent the disease. Unfortunately, no one can pinpoint the exact cause. Researchers have identified many things such as environment, diet, etc., but currently there is no cure.

It was about 10 months before my dad passed, Christmas of 2011, when I realized for the first time he didn’t know who I was. That was extremely tough to accept, but it was not about me. My dad was very different from the man I knew as my first hero, but in my heart he was still my dad.

Susan RoberstonSusan Robertson  Contact
UT Institute for Public Service

Susan handles communications for the UT Institute for Public Service. She enjoys spending time outdoors—hiking and documenting the natural beauty of East Tennessee through photography. Susan loves watching all sports, reading, cooking and fulfilling the needs of her demanding miniature dachshund, Wrigley.

Protect Your Mental Real Estate

By Stefani Mundy

My close friend is trying to lose weight and has begun an exercise and nutrition plan. She recently referred to herself as “fat” and followed with, “And don’t say it’s not true because it is.”

With respect and love I responded, “Just because something is true, does not mean we give it power over us. Is it true you created a plan, are exercising and have lost some weight? Would you say you’re facing toward weight loss and away from former habits?”

She smiled and agreed.

“Calling yourself fat is a negative investment for you,” I continued. “Close the account on that thought. No more investing! Every time you think that negative thought, replace it with a positive truth. The positive truths are investments in the goal instead of the problem.”

Consider the mind as your most valuable asset. Stimuli are constantly fighting for precious space in your consciousness, including internal thoughts and externally spoken messages.

Thoughts as a Stock Exchange
The scrolling ticker screen at the New York Stock Exchange is a great analogy for the mind. Constantly scrolling during trading hours, human choices determine which stocks thrive and grow in our mental space. Likewise, our brains are always on, and we have the power to invest in thoughts that provide positive returns. Humans can fall prey to judgmental thinking and have what I call negative investment thoughts that create barriers to goals, relationships and life effectiveness.

Thoughts and Relationship Bankruptcy
The positive or negative thoughts we hold about others can build large accounts or cause relationship bankruptcy.

Our thinking itself can decrease the trust and intimacy with a friend, colleague or family member. Judging, making assumptions, holding grudges and replaying past wrongs are just a few examples of negative investment thinking.

Positive investment thinking in relationships includes withholding judgement, listening to understand, forgiving and offering a “tabula rasa” or blank slate. Offering a blank slate is approaching each interpersonal interaction with the mind new, unmarked or uninfluenced by past interactions or knowledge.

7-7-7 Challenge
Experts regularly suggest that building a habit takes at least 21 days. Join this 7-7-7 Challenge for 3 weeks (28 days total) by observing your internal and external dialogues.

  • Week One: Observe your “scrolling ticker screen” of thoughts for seven days. What do you think and say about yourself? Are your thoughts negative or positive investments? Try to capture thoughts and label them as negative, positive or neutral.
  • Week Two: Repeat the activity again, but this time only observe your thoughts about others.
  • Week Three: Observe your thoughts about yourself and others for seven days. Practice replacing a negative thought with a neutral or positive thought that is true. This process could be uncomfortable at first but gradually becomes a simple method to maximize the valuable real estate in your mind.

Stefani MundyStefani Mundy Contact
UT Institute for Public Service

Stefani is a UT graduate and currently works in the UT IPS Naifeh Center for Effective Leadership as a training specialist. When she’s not planning leadership training, you can find her planting flowers or brainstorming creative ideas to improve lives.

Do You Know a Veteran in Need of Help?

By Amy Wilson Hardy, MSSW, BS

Returning home from deployment is never easy and there is a saying in the military that “no one returns unchanged.”

For some veterans, these changes take the shape of physical injuries. For others, there are invisible injuries that require mental health treatment.

Most frequently, veterans’ mental health symptoms include reintegration stressors, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). If these are not addressed, they can lead to substance abuse and suicide.

The mental health of veterans is an issue nationwide—and a critical one in Tennessee. Almost 502,000 veterans live in the state, and some of them need mental health services. More specifically, in 2012 the National Council on Behavioral Health stated that of the 52,943 Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom Veterans living in Tennessee, roughly 30 percent had been diagnosed with a mental health disorder.

Unfortunately, many veterans in Tennessee have difficulty accessing services. There are several reasons for this. The first reason is stigma. Even though attitudes are changing within the military, many veterans still fear being seen as weak or unfit while combat veterans still on active duty worry about being demoted. Another reason that veterans don’t access services is because they are unaware of how to access services.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is working in a variety of ways to help fight the stigma and help veterans understand how to access available services. An example of such efforts is a program called Make the Connection[1]. At the program’s website, veterans and their loved ones can explore information privately, find information about mental health issues and learn about treatment options.

Make the Connection also provides true stories of veterans who faced challenges, reached out for help and are finding ways to overcome their challenges. Through Make the Connection, the VA hopes to diminish stigma and help veterans and their families access resources.

Geography also can be a barrier to accessing mental health services in Tennessee. Veterans in more rural areas are often underserved because of the distance to available resources, lack of transportation or other logistical issues. To overcome this barrier, some private outpatient mental health care facilities are attempting to address these issues through online support groups and telephone services.

In recent years, Tennessee’s VA outpatient clinics have begun to utilize telehealth and video-to-home technologies so veterans can receive care from VA providers without leaving home. Utilizing the VA’s Veterans Crisis Line is another way geographic barriers can be overcome.

This confidential, toll-free hotline provides veterans in crisis and their families and friends with qualified Department of Veterans Affairs responders.

If there is a crisis situation, veterans and their loved ones can contact the crisis line by calling 800-273-8255 and pressing 1, chatting online or sending a text to 838255. The hotline provides support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

In Tennessee, there are mental health providers who are trained to work with the general population, but few in the state have received specialized training to work with veterans. This is changing, however, as more education and training is made available.

UT’s College of Social Work is involved in this effort in two ways. The first is by offering a series of eight free, online workshops related to military social work.

Additionally, the College of Social Work is providing specialized training to master’s level social work students through its graduate certificate program in trauma-focused treatment. This program provides students with the knowledge and skills needed to provide trauma-specific interventions and create trauma-informed programming and policy development. Those completing the certificate program have the knowledge and skills necessary to provide effective treatment to those affected by many different types of trauma, including combat trauma.

For those interested in working with veterans specifically, there is coursework in military social work that provides specialized knowledge and understanding of the military and its culture. For more information about the UT College of Social Work Graduate Certificate Program in Trauma-focused treatment visit http://www.csw.utk.edu/certificates/trauma.htm.

[1] Department of Veterans Affairs. (2012). Guide to VA Mental Health Services for Veterans and Families. http://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/docs/MHG_English.pdf

Amy Wilson Hardy Amy Wilson Hardy Contact
UT Knoxville

Amy Wilson Hardy is a social worker and has worked as a research associate for the UT College of Social Work Office of Research and Public Service (UT SWORPS) since 2005. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Mary Washington and master’s degree in social work from UT Knoxville.

4 Tips for Taking the Bumps in Stride

By Jonathan Ruth

Someone pulls out in front of you on your way to work, despite the fact there’s not a car behind you for a quarter mile.

You’re in a hurry to pick up those last-minute items for the party, and the person in front of you in the express lane is 12 items over the limit. You know because you counted!

You have 30 minutes to get the weed-eating done, and 10 minutes in, you run out of spooled line.

You get the picture. We face so many frustrations in our fast-paced lives. Sometimes, before we know it, the tiniest thing turns into the proverbial straw, the camel’s back breaks and your pent-up frustration results in a nuclear meltdown on some unsuspecting soul who gets caught in the fallout!

It’s a fact that we’ll face major struggles in life, and the ability to walk through those situations successfully is a topic for another time. But what about the pesky little problems that we encounter numerous times every day? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could improve our ability to handle these situations?

Focusing on what you can change rather than on what you can’t change is a sign of strong mental health.

With that in mind, here’s a look at some tips for taking the bumps in stride.

Slow down! Most of us are too busy and too impatient! These appendages we call cell phones have changed us. We expect instant news, instant text replies, instant streaming videos, etc. No wonder standing in the checkout line five more minutes seems unbearable. All this instant gratification creates unreasonable expectations in our minds. It’s a problem. If you don’t believe me, search for “cell phone disorders” sometime. Here are some ideas for slowing down your life:

  • Block 30 minutes to take a walk. Don’t run…don’t power-walk…just walk.
  • Take 10 minutes and intentionally sit still. Clear your mind. Focus on your breathing rhythm. Aim for deep, relaxed breaths.
  • Meditate on an image, a phrase or a passage of Scripture.
  • Finally—if you’re feeling really brave—turn your phone off for a few hours!

Choose personal power. There is dynamic empowerment in choice. Whoever said it first was right, “Your response is your responsibility.” Regardless of what life throws at you, you get to choose how you respond. That is an incredible gift! When you choose your response, you refuse to play the victim and wrestle back your power. The next time something upsets you, decide to own your response and choose to act positively. It will feel good—I promise—and the more you do it, the easier it will become.

Give yourself time to fume…then let it go. Create a private space and make a bargain with yourself. You can be upset about it for five minutes, but when the clock runs out, it’s over. Be upset, but learn to let it go. If it floats through your mind again, that’s OK. Just choose—there’s that choice thing again—not to dwell on it. As Martin Luther said, “You cannot keep the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.”

Laugh! Grab your spouse, children, family or friends and go do something fun. Text a joke to a friend. Whatever it takes! Getting angry takes energy. So does laughing. Why not choose the one that makes you feel better when it’s over?

I hope you find these ideas helpful and wonder if you have any other tools for dealing with life’s little frustrations. If so, post them in the comments so we can help each other.

Jonathan RuthJonathan Ruth   Contact   Website
UT System Administration

Jonathan is a two-time UT graduate and currently works in the IRIS Administrative Support department. He’s also a life coach and has a passion for helping others. He loves spending time with family and friends and is certain he played on the PGA Tour in another life.

The Gift of Gardening

By Melissa Powell

Early in my career as a dietitian, it became apparent that I knew a lot about the science of food but not much about where it came from.

I began to feel like an astrophysicist who forgot to take astronomy or a neurosurgeon who never took anatomy. I felt like a piece of the puzzle was missing, so I decided to befriend farmers and take up gardening.

I spent a summer volunteering at Crabtree Farms in Chattanooga. I worked in the fields and listened to the farmers throughout the growing season.

At home, my husband and I prepared a small raised bed and planted a handful of vegetables and herbs. I started reading Joel Salatin, Wendall Berry and the Grumpy Gardener. But come August, I had a wealth of knowledge and no harvest.

In our eagerness to plant, we miscalculated the foliage growth from the canopy of trees that resulted in little to no sunlight over the garden.

The following year, we were in a new city and a rental house, so I purchased two containers and two tomato plants. We ate plump, juicy sliced tomatoes, BLTs and tomato pie through September! The next two springs were spent growing a family, so I took a break from gardening.

Since returning to Chattanooga last summer, I’ve rekindled my friendship with wonderful local farmers, prepared a bed in our front yard—where there are no trees and eight hours of full sun—and enjoyed lettuce, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, peppers and eggplant. We had marigolds in vases throughout the house, and I’ve even learned to make pesto and pickles.


This year, I added okra and mint, bought my 5-year-old son a garden set for Easter and joined a meat buying club to receive our pork, chicken and eggs from a local farmer.

Melissa's son, Craig, learning to garden.
Melissa’s son, Craig, learning to garden.

I’ve extended my farming friendships to a 100-mile radius and already sent a down payment for our Thanksgiving turkey. It’s being raised on a beautiful farm in Mentone, Alabama, by four loving farmers and their dog, Petra.

I have to admit that my squash did die. But an older, wiser farmer from Ohatchee, Alabama, encouraged me to press on and sent me home with some helpful tips and plenty of blueberries and squash from his own crop.

Gardening has been holy ground for me. It’s reminded me of the seasons of life. That growth often happens despite my failings. And that the Earth and her people are gifts to be cherished.

These lessons have made me a better mother and dietitian, and I hope to pass them down to my son and students.

Melissa Powell and FamilyMelissa Powell Contact
UT Chattanooga

Melissa is a registered dietitian and dietetics lecturer in the Health and Human Performance Department at UT Chattanooga.  She and her husband, Chris, are the proud parents of a playful son, Craig. She enjoys time with her church family, taming her lab mutts–Mabel and Moses—wine with neighbors and traveling south for a beach vacation or visit with her nieces. Her favorite subjects are faith, food, farming, family, friends and football. She earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Samford University and a master’s degree in health education from UT Chattanooga.

Managing Workplace Stress

By John Lacey

Stress in the workplace happens every day to just about everyone. It might result from a project with a tight deadline. It could come from a colleague with an irritating manner. It might travel with you from a sleepless night. Whatever the cause, stress has a big impact in the workplace.

So what is one to do? To answer that question, interviews were conducted with employees in high-stress jobs at each UT campus and institute to find out how they cope with and manage stress and to share their stories as a resource for helping others.

The Emergency Responder

Donnie RossDonnie Ross
Police Lieutenant, UT Knoxville

“While working an event, one of the patrons experienced a heart attack. Changing from a security mindset to a life-saving one, a group of us responded to the unconscious patron.

“Our CPR training took over, and we did everything step-by-step. I remember the stressors I felt—like rapid heart rate, fast breathing and an adrenaline kick.

“We managed to get the patron to a stretcher and applied the defibrillator, which delivered a shock like I’d never seen before. We continued CPR until we got him to an ambulance, but he later died at the hospital.

“I remember the family member thanking us for our effort, even though she was in the middle of this experience. I had this helpless feeling for her and wished I could do more. The situation was difficult for us. We got together and talked about it afterwards, which I think helped some of us deal with the stress of responding to the emergency.”

The Public and Media Liaison

Doug EdlundDoug Edlund
Assistant Director for Operations, Office of Marketing and Communications, UT Institute of Agriculture

“I was in an interim director role, and the institute was gearing up for a big research initiative. We had an open house for the public and media scheduled to visit the research site. Then, suddenly and tragically, our department director and my supervisor passed away.

“I had a staff in shock and an event to handle where I really didn’t know if the public’s reception would be hostile or welcoming. Then, a few days later, we received a massive open records request, which is when someone requests to see public documents, including emails. And I’d never overseen one before.

“I was thrust into situations where I didn’t have a lot of experience, and we were dealing with some misinformation and needed to stay ahead of the noise. I didn’t want to let anyone down.

“I would go home at night mentally exhausted and in some physical pain, like back aches. But when I would go home, I would try to draw that line and say, okay, now I’m home, and I’m not going to worry about it. I tried to leave the stress at the office and just focus on my family when I was home.”

The Political Strategist

Carey WhitworthCarey Whitworth
Associate Director for Advocacy, Office of Government Relations and Advocacy, UT System Administration

“During this past legislative session, our office worked through countless issues largely driven by a student event, Sex Week. After almost three months of working on the issue, it reached a boiling point.

“We knew we needed to call our grassroots network to action to let legislators know how UT’s advocacy base felt, but we weren’t entirely sure it would be enough to turn the tables in our favor.

“In the end, we had an overwhelmingly positive and effective response—and no legislation that impacted UT passed. However, the anticipation of the outcome—and unpredictability of it all—was enormously stressful.

“I make it a point to break down situations into elements that can be tackled piece-by-piece. Overall, it makes almost every project, speech, meeting or whatever the situation may be, more manageable. It’s a trick my father taught me.”

John LaceyJohn Lacey  Contact
UT System Administration

John is a UT graduate and currently works in the UT System Office of Communications and Marketing as a project manager. When he is not enjoying time with his wife and two children, you can find him riding his bike or dreaming up big ideas.

What to Say (and Do) When You Don’t Have the Right Words

By Erica Jenkins

Advice on handling grief and loss in the workplace from UT Knoxville faculty members Laura Wheat and Laura Miller

Someone Experiencing Loss

Set Communication Expectations
Let your supervisor and co-workers know your preferences about discussing your loss.

Ask for What You Need
Someone who hasn’t experienced your type of loss may not understand the adjustments your loss requires. Talk honestly about your needs.

Give Yourself Space
Grief doesn’t happen in linear stages. It occurs in roller coaster cycles that vary in intensity over time. If you need to step away for a minute to process feelings of grief, give yourself that latitude.

Don’t Avoid Your Grief
When we process grief, we can overindulge in coping mechanisms including food and substances to avoid the intensity of those feelings. While painful, it’s in your best interest long-term to experience and process your grief.


Acknowledge the Loss
Let employees know that you understand they are experiencing a life-changing loss. This can be a powerful way to open the door for additional conversations.

Take Initiative
Ask how you and the office can support them and talk about what accommodations, if needed, are possible within UT policy.

Check In
Grief is a process, and it’s important to check in with employees occasionally to understand where they are and if their needs have changed.

Follow the Leader
Your employees may view work as a safe place to escape from grief. Have a conversation where you ask about their preferences.

Keep Your Door Open
Depending on the type of loss, the grief may take a long time to work through. Make it clear that your door is open for conversations if employees need to discuss situations with you.

Offer Flexibility Within UT Policies
Loss may require employees to work out new routines. If you can, be flexible if employees need to leave early or come in late.

Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late
Don’t wait until employees have accumulated fireable offenses to address performance issues. Monitor behaviors, and if patterns emerge, open conversations so that there are opportunities to discuss issues.

Address Performance Empathetically
Don’t start performance conversations with grieving employees with evaluation statements such as, “I’ve noticed that performance is noticeably suffering.” Start with open-ended questions and give employees opportunities to address issues first.


Recognize That Loss Comes in All Forms
It’s not unusual for people to associate loss with a death. However, loss can come in many forms, such as divorce, loss of a pet and a child going to college. Each form of loss can result in grief.

Acknowledge the Loss
It’s important to be supportive by recognizing when something significant happens.

Open the Door for Conversations
If you’re comfortable with your co-workers, let them know that you’re a safe place to talk.

Offer Distractions
There will come a time when it may be nice for people in grief to get away from the office. Don’t be afraid to invite them to lunch or give them something else to focus on.

Pay Attention
If you notice changes in your co-workers’ behavior, don’t be shy about asking if there’s anything you can do to help.

This is Part 4 of 4 from our first series of stories about grief and loss. Read parts 1, 2, and 3.

Erica Jenkins HeadshotErica Jenkins  Contact
UT System Administration

Erica joined the UT System Office of Communications and Marketing in 2011 and currently serves as public relations associate, specializing in measurement and analytics and managing communication planning for government relations and advocacy initiatives. When she’s not involved in community and campus organizations, Erica enjoys deep sea fishing with her family and working on music.