For some reason, we all have embedded in our minds that once Thanksgiving arrives, it is time to increase the level of stress we place on ourselves. No matter what type of planning we do for the holiday season, we all tend to let the gift-giving and the changes in daily schedule and family dynamics affect our holiday season. Couple that with grieving the loss of a loved one, and it is enough to push even the strongest person over their threshold. Now add the workplace stress, and there seems to be no hope for survival through the tough, lonely times of the holidays.

Regardless of the time of year, it is very difficult to avoid the emptiness of grief, especially when it appears that everyone around you is joyful and happy. However, the first thing to remember is that many people can fool you with their happiness. What appears on the outside is not necessarily what is happening on the inside. Try not to think of yourself as being the only one in the world who is suffering. It helps to know you are in the company of others.

So that you are not too hard on yourself during this period, the best approach is to plan in advance for the holiday season and attack it with all your strength. Make it a positive time for new traditions, and change the meaning of giving. Remember, you are the most important person in your world, so make the outside world work within your world. Start by setting boundaries for yourself in work and home. Try not to over commit to work projects, social events and other obligations. Focus on yourself.

Many companies have an office holiday party. The type of party will help you decide if it is appropriate for you to attend. Before I lost my husband, I would have suggested rising above any discomfort to go. Now that I have joined the permanent grief world, I believe you have to do what is best for you and graciously relay that to the appropriate people.

If the party is an office potluck lunch, that should be relatively harmless. If the party is a “couple” situation and you are no longer a couple, and it is inappropriate to bring along a friend or sibling, declining the invitation is more than acceptable. If the party includes children and you are grieving the loss of the child, plan something else for that evening. Remember, you are trying to alleviate stress, and you need to decide what is right for you.

While not always directly related to the workplace, there are many ways to help yourself or a coworker through the season. Keeping your emotions in tact may help you relax and even enjoy the people and festivities of the season. Whether in the workplace or at home, you can rally the people around you to support your ideas. Here are a few:

  • Adopt a less fortunate family and make their holiday season bright and cheery. You can have your coworkers support you by contributing to a gift or meal. Use positive energy to help others, and you will feel better about yourself. Deliver the items to the family and let their smiles help you through the season.
  • There are many volunteer opportunities during the holidays you can get your company involved in that will help others. Wrap gifts for a toy drive, collect food and deliver it to the food bank or visit people who are in the hospital. This is a great way to bond with your coworkers and give to those in need. This is not designed to diminish your pain but to help you feel good about yourself during the season.
  • Be sure not to overload yourself with extra projects, tight deadlines or unreasonable quotas. You do want to keep yourself busy through the season, but you also want to manage the stress level by feeling good about your accomplishments.
  • Take vacation time. Maybe December is your month to take a break from life. Use your vacation time for days when you think you need a break. Curl up on the couch with a good novel, pamper yourself at a spa or with a new haircut, call a long lost friend and spend the day reminiscing over old times, attend a matinee movie, bake cookies and make your house smell great, take your kids on an outing, sit on Santa’s lap or sit in your kitchen and watch the snow fall. It’s your time for you!
  • Attend a support group. Even if it has been a while since you attended a group, it might be worth your time to get reacquainted. As mentioned earlier, knowing you are not alone often helps the loneliness; you might even meet someone who could use a new friend during the holidays.

Most importantly, put yourself first, keep your chin up and try to smile. Build new holiday memories and traditions to help you rebuild the season and carry you into the new year. We all can make it through December, and try to start the New Year with invigorating goals.

Rachel Kodanaz 2011


Rachel Kodanaz

The idea of writing and speaking on all aspects of loss was part of Rachel’s journey following the unexpected loss of her husband when she was 31 years old. At the time, Rachel was a member of management in a large corporation and a mother of a two-year-old. Having worked in management for Fortune 500 companies, she learned quickly the see-saw created when personal and professional trajectories collide allowing her to providing invaluable insight to Human Resources departments. She created a program providing guidance to co-workers, managers and HR personnel in support of a colleague returning to work after a loss. Rachel speaks nationally to organizations, at conferences and in support of all aspects of loss. She has published numerous articles, books and blogs and has appeared on Good Morning America. Her books, best-seller Living with Loss One Day at a Time, Grief in the Workplace: A Comprehensive Guide for Being Prepared and her latest Finding Peace, One Piece at a Time: What to do with your or a loved one’s personal possessions have received international acclaim. Rachel lives an active healthy lifestyle in Colorado with her husband running, biking and hiking. She is an avid athlete including a Hawaiian Ironman Finisher.

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