Anyone who has been through a bereavement or loss of a loved one will at some point learn about the five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These stages are not linear and experienced at the same points by each person. Anxiety isn’t one of the five stages, but many mental health practitioners believe that it should be.
Grief affects everyone differently. Going through the loss of a loved one (human or animal) can lead to people feeling as though they have lost control and no longer feel safe. Bereavement can also lead to panic or excessive worrying about losing something or someone else in the future. Some people feel paralysed by their loss, others choose to throw themselves into work or another distraction to cope, some start to experience insomnia or difficulty around self-care, all of which can lead to more anxiety.
It’s common to feel anxious as part of the grieving process. However if are still experiencing anxiety symptoms over six months after your bereavement that interfere with daily life, you may be suffering from a complicated grief associated with an anxiety disorder. People who have a pre-existing anxiety disorder can be at higher risk for complicated grief if they lose someone.
Grief and anxiety associated with it doesn’t just come about after losing a loved one. Divorce, moving house, illness or job loss can lead to excessive worry and anxiety. Losing someone close to you may also affect you financially which can lead to more worry.
Symptoms that your grief may have turned into an anxiety disorder:
• sleep disturbance/insomnia
• social anxiety
• trouble focussing
• excessive worrying
• muscle tension
• becoming tired easily
• specific phobia
• panic attacks (chest pain, nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath)
Dealing with grief and anxiety
There is so much help and support out there to help you to reduce your anxiety, manage symptoms, and calm anxious thoughts. Medication or having sessions with a therapist experienced in grief counselling, or a combination of the two can help to treat anxiety. A therapist can teach you how to reframe negative thoughts and learn coping skills, and provide a safe space for you discuss the loss in a neutral environment.
- Go back to basics – Self-care can end up taking a back seat when you’re dealing with grief and anxiety. If you’re suffering from anxiety after a loss, go back the basics. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, exercising and eating well. Spend time around supportive, positive people. Arrange to do some fun things to avoid falling into a pit of grief.
- Find a support group – You don’t have to go through the grieving process alone. Find a local grief/bereavement support group where you can express yourself and be around others who can relate and provide insight. If it’s difficult to find a group nearby, consider joining online groups where you can connect with people experiencing similar losses.
- Ask for help – Don’t try to cope with everything on your own. There will probably be a lot of financial and practical things that need to be sorted out which you might not be able to face doing. Don’t hesitate to ask family and friends to step in and lend a hand. Having sessions with a therapist can help you to develop the tools to manage symptoms, and can also help prevent complicated grief or the development of an anxiety disorder. Speak to your GP if you feel like your grief is impacting your physical and mental health.
With the right self-care and support, it is possible to feel in control and yourself again after a loss. Life might feel unmanageable right now, but with time and the right tools, you can begin to create the life you want and start to live again. What steps can you take today to help manage your anxiety and grief?
If you are currently struggling with grief and anxiety I’m here to help you through it. I use a combination of effective therapies tailored to your specific situation to help you to take back control and start to enjoy life again. Please contact me here to find out more or to book a session.