There are many common facets of grief, such as sadness, the desire to create memorials that honor the loved one who passed, and anxiety. Many people experience anxiety for the first time after a loss. Anxiety is common in grief, even if it’s not discussed frequently. Losing a loved one is a jarring reminder of our lack of control in life, and anxiety is a sensible response to this fact. If you’re dealing with grief-related anxiety, know that you aren’t alone and that there are many effective tools for handling anxiety and loss.
What’s the Link Between Grief and Anxiety?
Loss reveals our lack of control over life, which can be terrifying. While it’s true all of the time that we have little control over our world, a significant loss shines a spotlight on this often uncomfortable truth. The circumstances of your loss can contribute to grief-related anxiety. If your loved one was sick before they passed, then the extra care added stress. Conversely, if your loss was a shock, then that can also contribute to anxiety.
And let us remember that a loss adds additional stress to grief. There are all the mundanities like planning a memorial service, talking to the funeral director or crematorium, etc. And then, there are secondary losses, such as a loss of financial stability or emotional support, that also degrade mental health. Once you think about it, anxiety is a very rational response to loss.
Signs of Anxiety-Related Grief
There are emotional and physical symptoms of anxiety. It is common for people who have experienced a loss to go to the hospital thinking they’re having a heart attack when it’s an anxiety or panic attack. Anxiety is irritatingly physical; it’s perfectly normal to feel or think you’re dying during an anxiety attack.
Here are some signs you’re experiencing anxiety:
- Feeling a sense of pervasive dread.
- Constantly feeling tense or on edge.
- Having a hard time focusing.
- Feeling irritable or restless.
- Shortness of breath
- Exhaustion or fatigue
- Nausea, abdominal cramps, or digestive upset
- Feeling shaky, actually trembling
- Trouble sleeping, such as taking a long time to fall asleep or waking up frequently
- Dry mouth
- Excessive sweating
Tips for Dealing with Grief and Anxiety
- Talk about it
Anxiety can build and cause internal pressure. Expressing yourself can help you release that anxious feeling and acts like a release valve. Many people talk to close friends, trusted family members, or professionals like therapists or counselors. And a lot of people talk to all of those. Talking to someone safe helps your mind and body remember that you are connected. This can counter some of the loneliness that inevitably comes with grief.
Journaling is a tried and true technique for coping with anxiety and grief. Like talking to someone, by expressing ourselves in a journal (or computer document), we release pressure, the pressure that’s made up of pent-up thoughts and feelings. Journaling has the added advantage of being very safe; it can be easier to say certain things in a journal than to a therapist or friend, no matter how non-judgmental and accepting they are. That said, secure your journal by keeping it somewhere safe and consider a password on computer documents.
Using breath to regulate anxiety is a common technique. Breathing can calm your nervous system and bring you out of the fight or flight response associated with anxiety. Here are a few breathing techniques to try the next time you feel anxious. (Or you can practice regularly to reduce anxiety in general) A few of these breaths will help, and they are also very effective when practiced for longer periods of time, like ten minutes.
- Square breath: Inhale for a count of four, hold for four, exhale for four, and pause before inhaling for four.
- 4-8-8 breath: Inhale for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of eight and exhale, using your abdomen for a count of eight. If a four count inhale is too long, try two or three to start and then simply double to know how long to hold and exhale. (E.g., inhale two, hold four, exhale four)
- Herbs like holy basil (tulsi), passion flower, hops, licorice root, oat straw, chamomile, and valerian root can all be helpful tools for anxiety. Licorice root and chamomile are also excellent when anxiety affects your digestive system. There are many herbal remedies available; look at your local health food store or try high-quality herbal vendors like Mountain Rose Herbs for herbal teas, capsules, or tinctures. Herbal tea brands Traditional Medicinals and Celestial Seasonings will be widely available and have calming, stress, or sleep blends.
This is a classic grounding exercise for anxiety and panic. It uses your senses to ground down into your body and escape anxiety.
Notice five things you can see.
Feel four things.
Listen for three sounds.
Detect two smells.
- Taste one thing (like the inside of your mouth or a sip of water)
Grief is difficult enough without the addition of anxiety. If you’re experiencing grief-related anxiety, please know that you aren’t alone; it is a normal and common experience. Try one thing from our list, or research more ways to help your anxiety. If you’re still struggling with grief-related anxiety after six months, it might be a good idea to talk to your doctor.
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