Managing Anxiety Associated with Grief

Managing Anxiety Associated with Grief

Five ways to reduce symptoms of anxiety following a loss

There is a distinct difference between grief and anxiety. Says Dr. Julie Bindeman, “Grief is a normal response to loss. Anxiety is when the body’s normal response to a fearful situation has been ‘hijacked’ and the same response occurs when danger is only imagined vs. real.” This is likely to play out following loss—especially when a loss is one that is out of order (death of a young person, a child, etc.). The world can feel especially sad and dangerous as a result.

Managing these symptoms as a Solo Mom is especially challenging.

When I was able to make space to effectively grieve the loss of my son, I felt cleansed, as though I was, in some way, honoring his brief life. There, I would give in to grief. Sometimes I cried a lot. Other times I just sort of sat with him in my mind and in my heart. This felt right and hard, but it also felt correct and important.

The symptoms of anxiety were far harder for me to manage. They literally stole my breath. I remember reminding myself over and over again to breathe. I lost my appetite almost completely in those moments. The mere thought of eating anything was repulsive. Sleep became elusive. I had a pressing fear of things disappearing. I tested reality a lot.

Those symptoms, among others, were the ones I had to beat back in order to be an effective parent. I had to try to draw a line between processing grief and coping with the symptoms of anxiety. Again, grief was cleansing. Symptoms of anxiety were only alarming and jangling. They reminded me of nausea. I had to learn to ride them to the other side—back to grief—and then back to the joy in my living child. I did not want to contaminate him with my fear of the world, all that I loved, as too perilous to believe in.

When you are beset by anxiety, try these five strategies:

Strategy 1: Use social networks

Using social networks—your own and also your extended networks to solve a specific problem. Reach out online to identify solutions for a specific problem. For example, if you are thinking about life insurance and creating college funds for children, go ahead and ask for help. Post about your circumstances indicating your Solo-Mom status, and I am betting that someone knows someone. In grief, people often want to help—they just don’t always know how. Ask a specific question. For example, “As many of you know, my husband recently died. I am considering life insurance and establishing college funds for my kids, but I don’t know where to begin. Does anyone know any organizations that can help? Any individuals? Thanks for your help.”

Strategy 2: Talk to a friend

In talking to a friend, you are making a healthy effort not to isolate yourself. If you feel overwhelmed, text a friend and see if she has a few minutes. Isolation breeds anxiety more than almost any other feeling or experience. Try this and see if you don’t breathe a little easier for the effort.

Strategy 3: Exercise

Go to a class where you can sweat. Join a gym, as many gyms have exercise classes included in a nominal membership fee. Some insurance plans will cover the cost of a gym membership. As much as this seems like a luxury when there is so much to be done, exercise really does mitigate the effects of anxiety. The reminders to breathe, the sweat equity—these all pay in spades.

Strategy 4: Meditate

If you (like me) hold some skepticism about how effective meditation is, set that judgment aside and try it. You may not be a lifelong convert, but you may be surprised at how meditation can stave off anxiety in the near term. And that is what we are talking about here: leapfrogging through grief and anxiety while solo parenting.

Strategy 5: Seek counseling

Grief is a normal response to loss. Seek therapy if you feel you would benefit. Many insurance plans will cover therapy in circumstances where a loss has occurred. For tips about how to get your insurance to cover therapy, see “Will Insurance Cover Grief Counseling?” by Bindeman.

Your goal here is to care simultaneously for your kids, yourself, and the day-to-day management of a household. This task is Herculean. Knowing that anxiety is completely normal in these circumstances will help you understand that asking for help is the right thing to do.

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Tara Shafer is the cofounder of Reconceiving Loss, an online resource center for families coping with pregnancy and infant loss. She is a contributing blogger to the Huffington Post, Psychology Today, and BabyCenter. Her work has appeared in the New York Times and on National Public Radio. You can follow her on Twitter at @reconceivinglos.

Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.

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