Grieving is the natural response to the loss of someone or something dear to us. It is as individual as the person experiencing it and there is no set timetable for how long it will last. It is a challenge like no other. Each of us has to find our own way through the grieving process, but understanding the nature of grief and some of the physical and emotional responses that may be manifested throughout the process can help us cope with feelings and behaviors that can seem so alien to who we normally are.
“Grief is not a disease or pathology to be cured. Grief is the tangible evidence that we’ve cared and loved someone.”
This year marks the 50th anniversary of On Death and Dying by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, in which Ross coined the now-famous five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance), inspired by her work with terminally ill patients and their families. Missing from her stages is anxiety – and yet, grief and anxiety are inextricably linked. When we experience the loss of a loved one, it forces us into a vulnerable place where we are obliged to confront our own mortality and come face to face with life’s unpredictability and our inability to have control over it. Recognizing the symptoms of anxiety and understanding that it is a common response to grief is crucial to taking steps to confront it and seeking help if it becomes overwhelming, debilitating and/or continues over a protracted period of time.
Anxiety is a feeling of overwhelming apprehension, worry or fear. Often is seems to come out of nowhere and feels like an inordinate reaction to the situation at hand. The symptoms of anxiety vary greatly between individuals and may change over time. Some common symptoms of an anxiety attack include:
• Dizziness or feeling faint
• Shortness of breath
• Dry mouth
• Chills or hot flashes
• Apprehension and worry
• Restlessness or jitteriness
• Numbness or tingling
• Irrational anger or irritability
It’s important not to put a timetable on the grieving process, but if your feelings of anxiety persist or increase in intensity after six months following your loss, you may be suffering from anxiety disorder. Help and support are available that can provide guidance as you work to regain your sense of control, manage symptoms, and calm anxious thinking. Practicing self-care, receiving counseling and sometimes drug therapies are methods of addressing and treating anxiety.
Begin with the basics – Grief and anxiety can make it difficult to take care of your daily needs. You can begin to manage your anxiety after a loss by concentrating on the basics and practicing good self-care. Get enough sleep, eat a healthy diet, and get regular exercise. Spend time with family and friends. Make an effort to participate in activities you enjoy, even if you don’t feel like it. As daily tasks begin to feel more manageable, your anxiety may begin to dissipate.
Seek support – No one should have to go through the grieving process alone. Grief support groups sponsored by local community centers, schools, hospitals, or places of worship can provide a place where you share your thoughts with others who can relate to what you are going through and provide insights.
Ask for help – Working through grief and anxiety can make even simple tasks seem insurmountable. After a loss, if you are having difficulty managing daily tasks (such as household chores, childcare, shopping or other routine activities), don’t hesitate to ask family and friends to step in and lend a hand. Talking with a counselor about the loss and gaining tools to manage symptoms can also help prevent your developing an anxiety disorder or complicated grief. Check in with your doctor to make sure that physical health issues aren’t also contributing to your level of anxiety.
With the right self-care and support, you can gain back your sense of control after a loss. Life may not feel manageable now, but with time and the right tools, you can begin to regain your sense of balance and wellbeing.
Kübler-Ross wrote, “You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.”