How to Cope with a Co-Worker’s Death

When you apply for a job, you may not realize at first that your co-workers eventually become your extended family. Over time, office parties, get-togethers and even over-the-cubicle interactions bond employees. While these relationships may differ from our family and friends, they still build bonds of trust and intimacy. This is why a co-worker’s death can be difficult to handle, especially if you were close to that person.

You may experience feelings of anxiety and guilt if the death occurred in the workplace or if your last interaction with that person was unpleasant. Even if the co-worker’s death resulted from a long illness, you may experience shock and denial upon hearing the news.

When a co-worker leaves the workplace forever, you may experience both emotional and physical symptoms. These feelings will vary, depending upon how well you knew the co-worker, your personal beliefs about death and spirituality and the suddenness of the loss.

Emotionally, you may feel disoriented, distracted and sad or angry. These feelings can result in lack of focus on your work and mistakes in your performance. These reactions may become safety hazards, especially if you work in manufacturing or production with heavy equipment or machinery. These feelings may even affect your concentration as you drive to and from work.

Outside the possibility that you might create a dangerous environment for yourself and others, a sudden loss of a co-worker can impact your physical health. Sleep may seem elusive or you may feel constantly tired. You may lose your appetite or eat without thinking. Sleep and eating pattern changes can alter how you feel, and these changes are challenging for those individuals who already suffer from high-blood pressure, diabetes or other health problems.

Prolonged grief can lead to depression and/or inappropriate anger. Both feelings can affect your health as well, leading to heart disease, obesity or eating disorders and other diseases as your feelings begin to affect your immune system.

Losing yourself in your work is not an answer, as repressed feelings also affect your physical health. You can risk entering a state of physical and mental exhaustion that could cause neurological problems. Self-medication is a popular release from these feelings, but that plan of action may lead to drug or alcohol addiction.

What can you do to relieve these emotional and physical symptoms? First, realize that grieving takes time, and it helps to recognize the symptoms of the grieving process. You can reach out to other co-workers so that you all can share feelings. They may be experiencing the same symptoms as you, and mutual support can provide relief.

If it hasn’t been offered, inquire about Employee Assistance Programs. These programs often utilize counselors who can offer a supportive environment for the office. These same counselors often can help employees with gestures to the co-worker’s family in their time of grief. And, they can help arrange schedules so that employees can attend a visitation or funeral if the family allows, or plan a memorial for co-workers to attend if desired.

Finally, learn about H.A.L.T., a tool that many addicts adopt to avoid using again. When you never get too “Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired,” you can learn to cope with grief and loss with on much healthier emotion and physical terms.

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