The effects that grief has on you can be difficult to predict when you suffer a significant loss in your life. Many different types of grief exist and no two people will experience the same type of grief, even though they may suffer the same type of traumatic event. For some, it’s even possible to experience what’s known as absent grief--when you don’t feel anything at all as a response to grief.
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While some people can handle grief better than others, some can end up dealing with both grief and anxiety at the same time. These two emotional and psychological responses can complicate the grief process. Below you’ll find ways of managing both your grief and anxiety as you cope with your loss.
How Are Anxiety and Grief Related?
Anxiety and grief are both emotional reactions to death or loss occurring within the mind. They are related in that they’re both controlled largely by your thoughts.
Anxiety is known to be a complication of grief. In its most simplistic definition, anxiety is fear of something whether it’s real or imagined, and grief is the emotional reaction to loss that’s sometimes fueled by anxiety.
What is grief?
The most basic way of defining grief is that grief is the normal and natural emotional reaction to loss.
There are at least five different stages of grief that you may experience throughout your grief process. They are:
Some people won’t experience any significant grief after a loss or may find that they experience an absence of it altogether. Any type of emotional response to loss can be considered normal in the beginning stages of grief. After enough time has elapsed, about six to 12 months, some folks can see certain complications arise.
Prolonged periods of grief that exceed twelve months will start to show certain grief patterns emerge. These patterns give rise to different types of grief with varying degrees of complications.
Consider seeking online therapy or grief counseling to resolve any underlying grief-related issues if you’re experiencing prolonged periods of profound grieving.
What is anxiety?
Some people who experience grief will at some point also experience anxiety. Anxiety can be described as a sense of fear that’s sometimes experienced after a significant death or loss. It can feel as if you’re having a heart attack or that you’re dying. Some people who experience anxiety may also see it manifest in physical symptoms that turn into panic attacks (which, mixed with grief, are called grief attacks).
Below are just a few of the many symptoms and effects that can happen when you have anxiety. Keep in mind that even if you don’t experience any of these, it is recommended that you go to a doctor if you feel any anxiety impacting your day-to-day activities.
11 Tips for Managing Anxiety or Stress After a Death
The symptoms and effects of anxiety can have serious consequences if left untreated. Being in a prolonged state of anxiety can lead to other serious health complications that can affect both your psychological and emotional well-being.
The following tips will help you manage anxiety or stress after suffering the death of a loved one:
1. Understand the grief process
The fear that comes with the unknown can sometimes be easily corrected by getting some facts and information.
Learn as much as you can about how the grieving process works and why you’re experiencing certain uncomfortable or painful feelings and emotions. Several books on grief are available that specifically address managing your anxiety after suffering a significant loss in your life.
2. Know your triggers
When you’re feeling anxious, pay attention to what’s going on at that very moment. Take note of what triggered you to feel this way and why you’ve responded with feelings of stress or anxiety.
Once you’ve outlined your triggers, times, and reasons for feeling the way you do after a few days, a pattern may start to emerge. You can then go back to other times in your life when you’ve felt this way, and try to remember how you dealt with your emotions back then.
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3. Talk it out
Find a trusted friend or family member you can talk to about how your grief and anxiety have been affecting you.
When you’re able to vocalize your fears, they tend to lessen. Talking about it may also distract your mind from the overwhelming feelings of anxiety that often accompany stressful situations.
4. Go outdoors
Breathing in some fresh air and going out for a change of scenery may ease your feelings of anxiety.
Getting plenty of sunshine throughout the day also helps increase serotonin levels, which helps elevate your mood. Serotonin is the body’s natural mood-lifting chemical reaction that produces an anti-depressant effect in the brain.
5. Get proper rest, exercise, and nutrition
Getting the basic and proper rest, exercise, and nutrition throughout the day helps you to better function and manage stress.
Experts don’t always agree on what amounts you should be receiving, but if you trust the signals your body sends you, you’re likely to see an increase in your ability to function when performing tasks throughout the day.
6. Ask for help
Help is always just a phone call or text away. When you experience grief, it’s natural to withdraw from others to focus on your grieving process. Isolation can get the better of you at times when you’re needing to interact with others to help you through the rough spots of grieving.
If you already aren’t feeling your best, it’s understandable to not want to entertain someone at your home or over the telephone. As an alternative, consider engaging in a text message or chat session with one of your friends or family members until you begin to feel better.
7. Distract your mind
When anxiety strikes it can make you feel as if you’re dying. You can’t breathe, you start to feel dizzy, and a host of other physical and emotional reactions can occur.
A quick way for you to take hold of your anxiety is to distract your mind.
A simple way of relaxing your mind and distracting it from the fears that run through your head is to practice mindful meditation. This is a mental training practice that teaches you to:
- Slow down racing thoughts
- Let go of negativity
- Calm your mind and body
To practice mindful meditation, all you need is a quiet space where you can get comfortable and focus on your breath. The entire practice consists of taking in a few deep breaths and focusing on each time you inhale and exhale. This process of focusing on your breathing will take the attention away from the racing thoughts in your head.
9. Read about grief
Books on grief are great resources to help you understand what you’re going through. The more you learn about what grief is and about the grieving process, the better able you are to get a handle on your thoughts and emotions.
Fear is sometimes borne out of the unknown. You tend to fear the things you don’t understand. Anxiety is nothing more than a physical manifestation of that fear.
Pick up a few different books about grief so that you can explore some of the different ways that grief affects you. You’ll eventually be able to recognize what’s happening in your grief process and how your loss has affected you.
Some of those types of grief that you’ll learn about are:
- Anticipatory grief
- Normal grief
- Complicated grief
- Delayed grief
- Inhibited grief
- Disenfranchised grief
- Absent grief
- Exaggerated grief
10. Join an online group
Chatting with others online who are in similar situations and hearing about their coping strategies can help you in overcoming your fears and anxieties as they pertain to your grief. Online grief forums are a great way to meet others who share common ground with you when it comes to your loss.
Even though everyone will have a different experience with grief, it helps to exchange details of how each coped with their loss. You can hear about how others managed through difficult times or how they overcame their stress and fears.
11. Seek grief counseling
There’ll come a time when your grief may seem insurmountable. It doesn’t always happen to everyone, but when it does, it feels as if there is no end to your suffering. Getting through these difficult times alone can prove to be very lonely and detrimental to your emotional well-being.
A grief counselor can help you sort out any complications and can guide you through the stages of grief to get you on a path to healing.
Grief counseling can be especially beneficial to you after having tried other methods of coping that have failed. Your counselor will have a basis to formulate a plan specific to your individual needs. However, anyone at any time can seek and ask for the help they need.
How Grief and Anxiety Complicate Things
Grief and anxiety are two powerful forces that come together to stall your road to emotional well-being after suffering a significant loss. Anxiety adds a different dimension or layer to ordinary grief thus complicating it making it more difficult to cope with.
Some people dealing with anxiety after the death of a loved one may see a gradual lifting within a few weeks. For those who don’t, a trained grief counselor can help get you through the lowest points of your grief.