Anxiety after loss
Fear and anxiety is one of the most common experiences among people who have been bereaved and, yet, it is one we tend to overlook when talking about what people might feel after the loss of a loved one.
Why might bereaved people feel anxious?
Before something traumatic like the loss of a loved one happens, it’s easy (and normal) to fall into the thinking that bad things tend to happen to other people, not to us. We’re aware bad things can happen, but generally don’t expect them to happen to us. When someone we love dies, it completely rocks this viewpoint. The world suddenly feels far less safe, after all – if this bad thing has happened to us, it must mean that other bad things can happen to us too.
The death of someone we loved also extinguishes the hopes and dreams we had for our future with them, it removes – or at least drastically alters – the goals that we’ve been working towards.
For a while, it can feel like we’ve lost our purpose in life.
The death of a loved one makes our whole world seem changed, even parts of our life that the person wasn’t involved with look different because both we and our outlook are different now. It can feel like being dropped into an unknown city. All the familiar elements that you recognise from our own city are there, but everything is set out differently and the whole place feels unusual. We are disorientated and it takes a while to get our bearings.
Depending on who has been lost and our personal situation, it’s possible that we find ourselves living on our own for the first time in many years or even for the first time ever. Forcing us to take on new roles and responsibilities which can be stressful to learn at the best of times, let alone when we’re in the midst of grief’s brain fog.
The house may feel less safe with just us in it, or we might worry about what we’ll do if something goes wrong, such as the boiler breaking. Things that normally we’d just handle with hardly a second thought because we had someone to voice our plans to and make decisions with, suddenly feel far bigger and more daunting.
We worry for our future. What will it look like now that person won’t be in it? Do I still want the same things as I did when they were alive? Do I even know what I want it to look like now? The death of our loved one, along with our imagined future, can throw up some big questions which will take a while for us to work out the answers to.
It can also be frightening to go through all the feelings of grief, especially in the first couple of years when the emotions tend to be most acute, and not be able to see how they will change. It’s hard to imagine ever feeling any better when you’re going through the worst of it, we can fear that this is ‘as good as it gets’ now and we’re in for a life of misery.
Firstly, it’s helpful to note that the grief won’t feel this painful and overwhelming forever. As we work through it over time, we’ll find the grief becomes more manageable for the most part, and that we do experience good days and happiness again. This isn’t to say we ever forget our loved one or cease to feel sad that they’ve died, of course, we’ll miss them forever, but we can function and live a fulfilling life despite our loss.
Talking to someone you can be completely honest with about your feelings can help you to make sense of it all, and come to terms with life as it now is. Someone that won’t try and minimize or ‘fix’ your problems, but will listen to where you are in the here and now and strive to understand your experience fully.
Finding help with the practical problems can help them feel less daunting. Are there any friends or family that can help? If you need to call in professionals such as plumbers, etc, it might feel safer to employ someone that’s been recommended by someone you know who has used them, or who is registered as a Trusted Trader.
When you feel ready, look down the list and assess each point. Is there anything you can physically do about this worry? If so – what do you need to be able to fix it? If not, simply cross it off as something for you to emotionally work through when you’re ready.
Once you’ve gone through the list, it might be helpful to relist the things you can do something about in order of priority. This is now a ‘to-do’ list which you can work on whenever you have the time and energy.
It may also be helpful to journal your feelings about the other items that were crossed off the original list. Journaling can help you express the heavy feelings – releasing some of the pressure and helping to keep it all manageable.
Some people find that meditation and mindfulness help when they’re struggling with anxious thoughts. They help to take your mind from worries about the past and future into focusing simply on what is happening in the here and now. There are many books on mindfulness out there to help and there are plenty of free guided meditations available on apps or online video platforms that can help you take anywhere from five to 30 minutes out to reset yourself from a rough day.
If you feel like you need a bit of extra support working through your feelings of anxiety, talking to a counsellor might help. They can help you pin down the root cause of your feelings and help you find ways to manage them.
It’s important to remember that your feelings are a natural reaction to drastic changes in your life. This is not weakness or failure to cope, it’s a completely normal way to respond.
Whilst this guidance does not necessarily fix all of the challenges, hopefully it does take some of the pressure off. Be gentle with yourself as you work through these feelings, and please do reach out for help if you need it.