What Is Grief-Induced Anxiety and How Can You Cope?

Most people understand the depression, anger, or guilt that emerges after a loss. These are some of the hallmark symptoms characterized by grief. But there are fewer conversations about the anxiety that sometimes arises within this vulnerable process.

Grief-induced anxiety can be heavy and complicated, and it’s often misunderstood. It can take the form of physical symptoms like insomnia, panic attacks, or muscle tightness, but it also manifests in emotional symptoms like intrusive thoughts or restlessness.

Both anxiety and grief are normal parts of life, but grief-induced anxiety often feels like a strange and isolating experience. Let’s get into what you need to know.

What Is Grief-Induced Anxiety?

Grief-induced anxiety refers to the onset of fear or worry that happens after experiencing a loss. This anxiety can take many different forms, and it can coexist with other types of anxiety as well. Here are some of the ways this type of anxiety presents itself:

Excessive worry about a loved one’s well-being: After enduring a loss, you may notice yourself feeling anxious about losing other loved ones. As you move through your day-to-day life, you might panic about something happening to them. This can result in trouble sleeping, feeling distracted, or trying to control situations beyond your realm of control.

Worry about your own mortality: The loss of a loved one often makes us acutely aware of our own mortality, and that can be frightening. Of course, it’s normal to feel anxious about the thought of dying. But with grief-related anxiety, you may examine your own health with intense scrutiny and panic if new physical symptoms emerge.

Existential dread: Anxiety and grief sometimes pair with existential dread. There can be this eerie sense that nothing matters or that life is meaningless. You may start feeling detached from your everyday routine or find it impossible to stay in the present moment.

Anxiety about the grieving process: It’s certainly possible to feel overwhelmed about grieving. This can take the form of being worried that you will never recover or that you will always feel like your world has been completely shattered. You may also resist facing certain emotions like sadness or anger because you want to try to move on as quickly as you can.

Increase in escape-based behaviors: People sometimes turn to numbing strategies to cope with their anxiety. While escaping can work in the short term, it often leads to more problems and can trigger a more complicated grief process.

Somatic issues: Stomach pains, headaches, muscle spasms, and digestive issues can all coexist with anxiety. The mind and body are intimately connected, and if you’re feeling anxious in your grief process, you might notice physical sensations that weren’t previously there.

Specific phobias: Some people develop phobia symptoms after a certain loss. This risk may be amplified after a sudden death. For example, if a loved one died in a traumatic car accident, you might face immense anxiety about anything related to driving. Even if you know your fear might be irrational, you may avoid cars at all costs.

Desire to hyper-control: To cope with grief, some people respond by becoming perfectionistic or overly controlling in their daily actions. These actions aim to neutralize some of the fears associated with loss. They reinforce a fallacy that having enough control can prevent future bad things from happening.

How Can You Cope When You Feel Anxious After a Loss?

There’s no doubt that your mental health can feel quite tender after enduring a significant loss. In the face of grief, life often seems unstable and blurry, and it can seem like nothing makes sense. It’s an incredibly hard time, but there are some strategies you can use to better understand and cope with your emotions.

Acknowledge and Validate Your Anxiety

Your brain is wired to detect threats and prepare for dangerous situations. It’s rooted in our survival to experience anxiety after a distressing moment, like a loved one’s death.

Validating anxiety simply means accepting your feelings for what they are. Trying to suppress or avoid them doesn’t work. It only makes you feel more disconnected from yourself.

Permit yourself to be with the emotions. They will ebb and flow through the course of time, and there’s nothing wrong with how you feel.

Focus On What You Can Control

Sometimes grief acts as an essential wake-up call for how you choose to live your life. You can’t control what happens outside of you, but you can focus on your daily actions.

Being aware of the possibility of death, for example, might remind you to finally get around to making that will or trust to protect your family. Recognizing the risk of terminal illness may motivate you to start making better lifestyle habits.

Honor Self-Care and Self-Compassion

Managing grief and anxiety concurrently requires that you treat yourself kindly. This may seem like generic advice, but people with anxiety disorders often struggle with negative self-talk and can be incredibly hard on themselves. This cynicism often stunts the healing process and can cause you to feel guilty even when you’ve done nothing wrong.

Even if you dread the idea of coping skills right now, they’re more important than ever before. Try to spend time doing things that feel meaningful or enjoyable. It’s okay to start small, and it’s okay if you don’t feel all that happy doing them. The point is that you’re showing up for yourself compassionately.

Stay Connected to Support

Grief can be lonely, but that loneliness often becomes intensified when you’re isolated away from others. Anxiety can happen when you don’t quite know what to do with your feelings.

Prioritize reaching out to support, whether that’s through other grieving people in support groups or with close friends and family. Keep in mind that you may need different forms of support from various people, and it’s okay to ask people for what you need directly.

Aim to Practice More Mindfulness

Anxiety lives in the future, as it’s rooted in worrying about a future outcome. Distressing thoughts about what could happen undoubtedly affect mental health and compromise your emotional well-being.

That’s not to say your fears are irrational. What makes anxiety challenging is that most anxious thoughts hold some degree of potential truth. But the more you stay in this frantic state, the more you reinforce your excessive worry.

If you can, try to implement more mindfulness. Take up deep breathing or try a meditation practice. When you notice your thoughts wandering, gently notice them and bring yourself back to the present moment. This may feel strange or forced at first, but the more you bring yourself to your here and now, the less intense your anxiety may feel.

Gently Challenge or Explore Your Anxiety and Grief

Anything can cause anxiety. But when grief is the leading contributor, getting curious about that role (rather than judgmental) can offer valuable insights into your emotional needs.

You might consider asking yourself:

  • How can facing my own mortality help me become more present in everyday life?
  • What do I want to learn from my grieving process?
  • How do my grief and anxiety aim to protect me?
  • When I have anxiety related to death or loss, how can I comfort myself?
  • How can I still make meaning in my life despite these circumstances?

Remember that the goal isn’t to change or eliminate certain feelings. The goal is to kindly familiarize yourself with your emotional states and move through grief without perpetuating a greater sense of internal suffering.

Therapy for Grief-Related Anxiety

Anxiety is a normal reaction to loss, but excessive worry can interfere with your well-being and disrupt your overall functioning. Many people find that seeking support from a mental health professional helps them better understand and cope with this anxious abyss.

Moving through grief rarely feels like a linear process, but having guidance can offer you comfort and relief. I am here for you during this time.

Contact me today to learn more about my grief therapy services.

4601 Spicewood Springs Road Building 3, Suite 200
Austin, TX 78759

(512) 988-3363

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