How to manage anxiety after a bereavement
When we experience a bereavement, the world we knew and planned for changes. The future can feel daunting, frightening or overwhelming, which can leave us with feelings of anxiety. Often, we compare how we feel after now to how we did before, when things felt more certain and secure, on solid ground.
It’s so easy to take that feeling of security for granted, which can make it all the more shocking when it’s no longer there. But there is hope, read on to find out more.
Safety & security
Anxiety is a term that is often misunderstood. Everyone experiences anxiety throughout their lives to one degree or another. It’s a natural emotion that we feel when we are uncertain or worried about something that may happen in the future. It’s often attached to the fear of the unknown.
For someone who is bereaved, there can be anxiety around what happens now? How will I be able to do x,y or z? What does my life look like going forward? Will I be able to cope? Or even, who am I?
Anxiety can vary significantly between people. For many people the feelings may be intense but will pass once a particular event has happened. Especially, if we are feeling anxious around particular dates, anniversaries, birthdays or religious festivals for example.
Whilst for some, anxiety can cause physical reactions, such as a faster heart rate or sweating, we can feel shaky or short of breath. It can cause our emotions to feel uncontrollable too. All of this can be utterly exhausting.
It’s human nature to want to avoid pain. It’s a natural response when we feel anxious too. We can start to avoid situations that cause these feelings. For example, meeting friends, dealing with finances, going on holiday or family gatherings, to name a few! Whilst it might make us feel better in the short term, it can leave us isolated, lonely or overwhelmed which in turn leads to more anxiety; quickly becoming a vicious circle which can feel impossible to break.
If you are reading this and thinking, that’s me. If it feels like anxiety has taken control of your life and it’s stopping you doing things. There is hope.
There are things that you can do to manage your anxiety after a bereavement. Here are five key areas to focus on.
Step 1: Look after you
And, yes, I get how hard this is when your motivation and energy levels are low.
But, by developing a routine of taking care of you, it can begin to reduce anxious feelings; anxiety really doesn’t like routine!
Eat well – try to eat a healthy, balanced diet with regular meals.
Get active – go for a walk, run, gym session, swim. Whatever you enjoy or can fit into your life right now, try to do a little bit. Even if it’s just a 15-minute walk round the block it can make a huge difference.
Sleep – get a good night’s sleep. If sleep is problematic at the moment, read my recent blog on sleep.
Relax – find an activity that relaxes you. If you’ve run out of ideas of how to relax or are just plain struggling to do it, my recent blog on self- care might give you some inspiration.
Step 2: set your thoughts free
When our thoughts stay in our minds, it’s very easy for them to grow and become out of proportion. By getting our thoughts out of our head, we stop feeding them! Which in turn makes them more manageable.
You could try:
Journalling – keep a journal or a diary. You could write, draw, doodle or even scribble! It doesn’t have to be perfect, in full sentences or make much sense!
Blog or Vlog – some people find it helpful to write a blog or video themselves for a vlog. You don’t have to publish it anywhere, unless of course you want to.
Talk – you might choose to talk to a friend, family member or a counsellor.
Step 3: Question your thoughts
Ask yourself “what am I scared of right now?” this can help us to understand what is behind the anxious feelings. Then ask yourself “what would I say to a friend if they were having the same thoughts or feelings?”.
The answers to these questions can help us see things we might be able to do to make a situation more bearable or even enjoyable. It can also help us to be a bit kinder to ourselves in the way that we talk to ourselves!
Step 4: Celebrate
Loosing someone can be a huge and sudden change in your life. Often, when we are grieving and feeling anxious, we can be really tough on ourselves. It’s so easy to lose sight of the things that we have managed to achieve.
Keep a progress journal and make a note of the things that you have done. You could write daily, every few days or weekly. If you have a bad day, revisit your progress journal and remind yourself what you have achieved.
It doesn’t have to be big things you write down either, it could be that you’ve managed to go shopping, cooked a meal, seen a friend or talked kindly to yourself.
Remind yourself that you are doing your best right now.
Step 5: Make friends with yourself
Make friends with who you are now. When someone close dies, it can leave us craving life as it was. Desperately seeking the person that we were before. It’s easy not to recognise yourself, if you are crying a lot or feeling angry or frightened, or just struggling to get out of the front door.
But putting pressure on ourselves to get back to ‘normal’ or how we used to be, can be exhausting. It adds to how we are already feeling.
Try to find a way to accept yourself as you are now. Allow yourself the space to find your way through the sadness, fear, anxiety or anger (and all sorts of other emotions too!) that you are experiencing right now.
This can really help us to feel calmer, stronger and in a better place to enjoy the good days and deal with the bad ones.
Accepting our emotions, isn’t about wallowing or giving in to self-pity. It’s being honest about where you are now.
Equally, if you are feeling relief or a sense of freedom as a result of your bereavement, that’s OK. But this can cause anxiety too. Perhaps it feels that you shouldn’t feel like this or that you mustn’t behave in a certain way. It’s easy to fear being judged by others, which in turn causes anxiety and can restrict us.
But here’s the thing, you are were you are. Your experience of grief, along with your relationship with the person who has died are unique to you. There is no right or wrong way to be or to feel, there is simply your way.
I hope the tips within this blog help you gain some control and understanding of your anxiety. If you are fed up with wrestling with anxiety and grief, feel stuck in a sad, lonely or angry place, or simply don’t recognise yourself, you are not alone, talking to a counsellor can really help.
I work with people just like you, so don’t struggle on your own, get in touch with me on 07305 621885 or email me firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for reading
About the Author
Sarah is a qualified Counsellor, based near Chorley, Lancashire. She works with adults, couples and young people (aged 10+) who want to gain clarity, find new direction, recognise themselves again and be less haunted by painful emotions. Sarah has a particular interest in working with people who have experienced life changes (such as redundancy, retirement or divorce), loss or bereavement.