Can Delayed Grief Cause Anxiety?

Meghan seemed to be moving on quite well after her divorce. She was doing great at work, had moved into an apartment she absolutely loved, started going on luxury holidays, and even started working out more. All of her friends were surprised by how quickly she seemed to have moved on from the divorce and seemed concerned about her not processing her grief. She refused to talk to anyone about her divorce and shut down if anyone brought it up. She would also avoid all the places she and her ex would go, and she didn’t want to be reminded of him. 

And they were right because a year later, all the unresolved feelings kept on the shelf hit her like a hurricane. Along with all the grief, she started getting anxious about her future and fears of ending up alone. She found herself to be restless and “on edge.” 

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Everyone experiences grief differently, but what happens if you aren’t moving through it? You never know how you may respond or deal with grief until you are in it. Mental health is crucial, and we should pay close attention to how we are processing grief, and no one should be alone through this journey.

Anxiety is extremely common among those experiencing grief and those who are putting off grieving. Many health professionals are beginning to believe that anxiety could be considered another stage of grief.

It is completely normal to experience anxiety following a loss. There are also many types of grief. It isn’t just about losing a loved one. You can experience grief due to a job loss, a marriage ending, moving, or anything that signifies a significant life change.

What Happens When We Don’t Grieve?

Just like Meghan’s friends and family members, it is natural for people in our inner circle to be concerned when we don’t seem to be grieving after a loss. Sometimes we aren’t able to see the signs that we need help, but our loved ones do pick up on them. 

Think of it like having something stuck in your teeth. Everyone else can see it before you do.  

Here are some common signs you may be experiencing unresolved grief:

  • Refusal to talk about your loss
  • Avoiding thinking about your loved one because it’s too painful
  • Avoiding places or events that remind you of your loss
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Aches and pains
  • Anxiousness
  • Mood Swings
  • Feeling numb

Understanding Grief

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People often associate the word ‘grief’ with a feeling of pain and heaviness. Our minds often picture people crying and not doing too well. However, that’s not what grief is all about. 

Psychologists argue that grief is the multi-faceted experience we have after a loss. When we think about grief, it may bring Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief to mind. The stages are:

Denial

When you’re in this stage, you are overpowered by the shock that you have just experienced, and life doesn’t seem to make sense. You can feel numb and try to take things one day at a time, just to be able to survive the emotional turmoil.  

Anger

You might start to feel anger bubble up as an emotion. It can be directed at the situation or a particular person–or even the cycle of life and death. Usually, you will find pain and vulnerability veiled under the anger. 

Bargaining

When we’re in this season of our grief, we start pleading with God to listen to our prayers and catch ourselves thinking things like, “I will stop smoking forever if you take cancer away.” We may even be thinking about the “what ifs” and “if only”.  

Depression

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In this season of grief, we often find ourselves closed off and feeling low. We might even feel inconsolable after our loss and stop finding pleasure in our lives. 

Acceptance

Acceptance happens when we start to come to terms with our loss and begin to live again without feeling like we’re betraying our loved ones or feeling like we’re cheating. 

It is essential to know that we all grieve differently. 

You can experience these stages in any order and can even move back through stages you’ve already experienced. Grief doesn’t feel like a process when you are in the thick of it. 

It can be all-consuming, and it’s essential to have a strong support system and to take good care of yourself.

Things to do While Grieving

If you are dealing with grief, please reach out for help. You should never move through challenging experiences like this all on your own. Here are some things that can help you during your grieving process:

  • Prioritize your health – do your best to eat healthy, balanced meals and get adequate rest.
  • Communicate with friends and family – don’t isolate yourself. It’s crucial to keep in touch with your people. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  • Spend some time with yourself to think and reflect – schedule time out for yourself to process and deal.
  • Find a support community – it is always highly beneficial to find people that relate to the things you are going through and allow you to feel more “normal” and never alone.
  • Seek help – if you feel that you need additional assistance, never be afraid to ask for it. Therapy, doctors, and numerous other professionals may be able to guide you through this difficult time.

What is Complicated Grief?

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While normal grief is colored with intrusive, confusing thoughts and turbulent emotions, you still are able to perform your day-to-day functions and are able to come to terms with the harsh reality after taking your time to adjust. 

On the other hand, complicated grief is when you feel like you are experiencing grief that is long-lasting and adversely affecting your daily life, you may be experiencing what is known as complicated grief. 

You may find yourself:

  • Thinking intrusive thoughts and imagery 
  • Feeling pangs of severe emotions
  • Unable to accept the implications of the loss
  • Indulging in self-destructive behaviours, such as excessive use of alcohol and drugs
  • Having intense episodes of irritation, anger, and rage

People who experience complicated grief may be more likely to develop an anxiety disorder. If you had a pre-existing anxiety disorder, you might be even more likely to experience complicated grief.

Understanding Anxiety

What do you mean by anxiety? 

Simply put, anxiety is our body’s natural reaction to any stress that we may be exposed to. When we actively grieve, our body sees this loss as a stressor and responds to it with anxiety. 

Hence, you tend to experience anxiety when you’re grieving. Experts believe that grief can sometimes also trigger Generalized Anxiety Disorder. If your anxiety symptoms do not disappear after moving through your grief, you may be dealing with an anxiety disorder. 

Take a look at some of the symptoms associated with anxiety disorders:

  • Excessive worrying
  • Racing thoughts
  • Easily fatigued
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Muscle tension
  • Racing heart
  • Specific phobias
  • Social anxiety

Some people also experience panic attacks which can be intense and scary. 

During a panic attack, people can feel short of breath, light-headed, nauseous, dizzy, chest pain, or fear of dying. It is crucial to talk to a professional if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. 

Treatment

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It’s okay to seek help if you have a tough time getting to terms with your grief. Keep in mind that you are doing extensive work, and it can be hard to work through on your own. 

Coming to terms with your loss can be challenging, and you might feel better with therapy, medication, or a combination of the two may be things that can help you navigate through this difficult stage.

Therapy will provide you with a safe space to talk about what is going on in your life, and you can gain some fantastic tools to help cope with stress and loss. Therapy can help you on several fronts, such as working on your mindset and how to reframe some negative thoughts you may be dealing with.

Tips for Dealing with Grief

Everyone deals with grief in their own unique way.

It can be hard to figure out ways to help you through your grief. It may take several different approaches to find things that help you through it. Here are some things to try:

Talk through it 

For some people, talking about their feelings in a safe space helps them process and resolve the myriad of emotions. You can choose to speak to your partner, friends, relatives or even a therapist. 

It is okay to seek help in such a tumultuous time in your life, and talking to someone about it doesn’t make you weak. 

Write down or journal your thoughts 

Some people prefer processing their loss by themselves. If you do not wish to confide in someone, you can choose to write your feelings down in a journal or diary. 

This helps put into words the several feelings that you’re experiencing while also helping you resolve them

Give yourself grace

It is crucial to allow yourself the time to heal from the pain that you’ve just experienced. As humans, we tend towards being harsh on ourselves and not allow ourselves the time to process our own emotions. We are often more impatient with ourselves than we would be with someone else. 

So, it is vital to extend the same warmth and courtesy to yourself as you would to a friend if they were experiencing grief. 

Turn to your spirituality

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We all have our own spiritual belief systems that we can fall back on when we experience the type of pain grief brings into our lives. You can find comfort in the fact that we are all connected to something bigger than us—like the ocean. 

Mindfulness is another excellent tool you can use to weather the storm that grief can bring along with it. 

Books

Self-help books can be an excellent tool to help you through the grieving process as they allow you to understand and put a name to the several emotions you’re feeling. 

They also help remind you that you are not alone in this journey and that everyone has to face grief at some point of time in their lives. 

Get help if you need it

It is wise to seek professional help if you feel that you may not handle the weight of your grief alone. A therapist can help provide you with a safe space to share everything you’re feeling and process the several emotions you may be feeling. 

In addition to that, they can also arm you with tools and coping skills to help you effectively deal with your grief.  

Tips for Dealing with Anxiety if it is Brought on by Grief

As we’ve mentioned before, it is common to experience anxiety while dealing with grief. 

It may just be a stage in your grieving process, but if it lasts longer than you think it should or if it significantly impacts your daily life, ask for help. Here are some things to help deal with anxiety:

  1. Talk to a professional 
  2. Meditation 
  3. Mindset work  
  4. Read books 
  5. Take care of yourself 

You, Will, Get Through This

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When we’re in the midst of a storm, it can feel like it’s never-ending. When you’re grieving and feeling the anxiety that it brings with it, you might feel like there is no escape, and this might be the “new normal”. Some people even submit to this new fate, feeling that the good days are forever behind them. 

It is essential to know that help is there when you need it. You can find it in the company of your loved ones, in your faith, or on the couch of a therapist. 

If you feel like you cannot come to terms with your loss, are experiencing more bad days than good, and think that this is causing a significant disruption to your day-to-day life, talking to a psychologist might be a good idea. 

Written by Kasia Ciszewski, LPC on

Kasia is a licensed professional counselor servicing the Charleston area. She helps individuals heal, better understand their emotions, energize & become more aware of their inner strength. She specializes in helping teens, adults and seniors and has been able to regularly achieve impressive results for her clients throughout South Carolina. Instagram - Facebook - Pinterest - Twitter - Linkedin

1 thought on “Can Delayed Grief Cause Anxiety?”

  1. I had anxiety right after my sister passed and the COVID. It wasn’t until last year (the 3-year anniversary) that I fully grieved. And I was improving. Now I’m in the midst of a move and the feelings, less intense, are resurfacing. I’m guessing I never knew grief before.

    Reply

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