Anxiety isn’t one of the five stages of grief, but many mental health professionals suggest that it should be.1 When you suffer a loss, the effects can feel paralyzing. Grieving people often feel that they have lost their sense of safety and control in life, and they find themselves panicking or worrying excessively about what or whom else they could lose in the future. They also may have trouble sleeping or taking care of themselves, which can put them at higher risk for anxiety.

There are many different kinds of grief in addition to losing a loved one that can trigger anxiety. Losing a job, moving, or ending a marriage can lead to excessive worry. Poor physical health or facing your own mortality can also be challenging losses that elicit symptoms of anxiety. In addition to death, the secondary losses, such as losing financial or emotional support, can also affect mental health.

Anxiety is a common and even expected part of the grieving process, but people with a syndrome known as complicated grief are at higher risk for developing an anxiety disorder. People who experience intense grief symptoms that interfere with daily life and occur more than 6 months after a loss may have complicated grief, which is frequently associated with an anxiety disorder. This relationship is bidirectional, as people with a pre-existing anxiety disorder may be at higher risk for complicated grief when they lose a loved one.2

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Symptoms

If symptoms of initial anxiety after a loss do not dissipate, you may be experiencing an anxiety disorder. Symptoms of an anxiety disorder include:3

  • excessive worry
  • restlessness
  • being easily fatigued
  • trouble concentrating
  • irritability
  • sleep disturbance
  • muscle tension
  • specific phobias
  • social anxiety

People experiencing anxiety after a loss are also may also have panic attacks. Let your doctor know if you experience shortness of breath, chest pain, a sensation of choking, nausea, dizziness, chill or heat sensations, and fear of dying.

Treatment Options

While it’s important not to put a timetable on the grieving process, there is help and support available to help you gain back your sense of control, manage symptoms, and calm anxious thinking. Medication, counseling, or a combination of the two can help treat anxiety. Counseling can introduce coping skills for anxiety symptoms and teach you to reframe negative thoughts and interrupt harmful behaviors. Counselors can also provide grief support by allowing a person to discuss the loss in a safe and non-judging environment.

Action Steps

Go back to basics – Grief and anxiety can make it difficult to take care of your daily needs. So if you’re not sure where to start in managing anxiety after a loss, go back the basics. Take steps to improve sleep, eat healthy, and exercise your body. Spend time with family and friends who give you energy and support. Engage in your favorite activities and put things on the calendar you know you’ll enjoy. When daily tasks begin to feel more manageable, your anxiety has a greater chance of receding.

Find a support community – No one should ever feel alone in the grieving process. Grief support groups at your local community center, school, hospital, or place of worship are wonderful communities to help you share your thoughts and surround yourself with others who can relate and provide insight. Your employer also may provide employee assistance services that can help connect you to local grief support groups or to counseling. If you cannot find anything in your own community, consider how online groups can connect you to people experiencing similar losses.

Ask for help – Working through grief and anxiety should never have to be a solo endeavor. If you have financial tasks or other life tasks that need to be addressed after a loss, don’t hesitate to ask family and friends to step in and lend aid. Talking with a counselor about the loss and gaining tools to manage symptoms can also help prevent complicated grief or the development of an anxiety disorder. Also, make sure that you 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 sculpt the life you want for yourself and care for your mind and body. What steps can you take today to help manage your anxiety and navigate grief?

If you think you or someone you care about may be suffering from Anixety, Grief, or any mental health condition, PsyCom.net strongly recommends that you seek help from a mental health professional in order to receive a proper diagnosis and support. For those in crisis, we have compiled a list of resources (some even offer free or low-cost support) where you may be able to find additional help at: https://www.psycom.net/get-help-mental-health.

If you think you or someone you care about may be suffering from complicated grief or any other mental health condition, PsyCom strongly recommends that you seek help from a mental health professional in order to receive a proper diagnosis and support. We have compiled a list of resources (some even offer free or low-cost support) where you may be able to find additional help at https://www.psycom.net/get-help-mental-health.

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Last Updated: Dec 4, 2017