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Anxiety, and Dealing With the Loss of a Beloved Co-Worker


The only thing worse than fearing loss and sickness on a daily basis is actually losing people around you – it can trigger your anxiety in ways so unpredictable that the anxiety in turn causes even more anxiety.

I was shocked by the sudden passing of a beloved co-worker a few months back, one who felt like the “mom” of our group and my first boss in my current occupation. The loss was jarring in so many ways that I still find myself thinking about it or experiencing memories of her at the most unexpected times. My co-worker was someone whom I greatly admired professionally, who kept her cool in situations where my anxiety was screaming at me that we needed to do something. She would always remind me: “We aren’t saving lives, we’re advising clients.” Her perspective can be applied to so many areas of anxiety and how easy it is to say but for someone with anxiety, how difficult it is to actually do.

The self-effacing anxious doubt that comes with this kind of loss was ever-present as well. I often found myself asking: “Will I ever be as good of a person as she was? How can I make sure I’m honoring her and living life to the best of my ability daily?” This might come up for any person struggling with the loss of someone who played a prominent part in their life, but for someone with anxiety, these thoughts are almost always swirling around, and when they come to the forefront, it’s uncomfortable.

Everyone is suddenly feeling just like you do, and that’s weird. Loss is even more pronounced when you have such a solid group of co-workers who I have been blessed to have for the last five years, a group that has become more of a family than simply those I work with day in and day out. And while it made me appreciate that “family,” it also brought up that anxious feeling of loss again, of losing family. Selfishness sets in too, that old familiar “beat yourself up about your anxiety” adage that comes up for me so often: those who were close to her, related to her, must be going through so much worse — and knowing this only made me feel worse.

So what can I as an anxious 32-year-old woman take away from this experience? Part of it is the knowledge that I’m going to be anxious – I will push myself to remember her as best I can and I will face the perhaps unpleasant side effects of that. I need to know I’m going to struggle through it, but I also need to be OK with that. If something like this puts my anxiety front and center, then I’ve got to understand it’s going to be that much harder to control for a certain period of time. I think one of the hardest things for an anxious person is acceptance — acceptance that this is who you are, that you are going to react to something and you know it, and that there may be nothing you can do about it. But a small comfort, if any, is that can you accept it and know it’s coming.

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At this point it’s been quite a few months since I originally wrote this post and I do, in fact, still remember my co-worker when I pass by my old office or something comes up at work that she would find funny. But I’ve taken the good with me, and the anxiety around the situation has faded, as it always does. So I take comfort in that, too.

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Thinkstock photo by jacoblund