If you’ve ever experienced anxiety, you know exactly how crippling it can be. It’s the most common mental disorder and affects 40 million adults in the U.S. each year, as stated by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, or ADAA. Anxiety can cause huge interferences in your life.
Those who experience grief often face anxiety as a side effect. Meanwhile, overcoming your feelings of anxiety can seem like a monumental task, like having to climb a mountain that towers into the sky before you. For some people, it’s simply too overbearing to try and overcome.
That’s why in this article, we’re going to dive into some of the best ways to overcome anxiety. We’ll talk about what anxiety is, how it relates to grief, and the common symptoms of this mental issue which are caused by stress from grief. We’ll also discuss the situations that can trigger anxiety symptoms, and how you can help someone you know who may suffer from anxiety as well.
What Is Anxiety?
Firstly, let’s talk about what it is. General anxiety is a natural response by the body to stress or unease. Essentially, it’s a feeling of nervousness or fear of an upcoming event, or even sometimes feeling overwhelmed and afraid of the present situation someone is in.
However, according to Healthline, “if your feelings of anxiety are extreme, last for longer than six months, and are interfering with your life, you may have an anxiety disorder.”
There are many events in one’s life where experiencing anxiety is normal. For example, starting a new job, going on a first date, or taking a test may give you the jitters. In these short-term, normal situations, feeling anxious or nervous can actually motivate you to do better or work harder.
Chronic feelings of anxiety that get in the way of enjoying every day circumstances can instead become quite problematic.
How Does Anxiety Relate To Grief?
Anxiety is a common side effect of grief, as it turns out. Losing someone close to you can cause excessive worrying, panicking, and loss of a sense of control over your life. Anxiety can also pop up where other versions of grief are experienced, such as the loss of a friend, a marriage, a job, or a house due to financial problems.
On the other hand, facing the possibility of your own death, like finding out you’re sick, can also bring about anxiety symptoms.
Psycom states that “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.”
Complicated grief is also more likely to result from a pre-existing anxiety disorder, so they go hand in hand, unfortunately.
What Are Some Symptoms Of Anxiety Caused By Grief?
A great way to start out with the journey to overcoming anxiety is to narrow down your symptoms. There are specific side effects of anxiety which are telltale signs you likely suffer from this frustrating disorder. Take a look at the symptoms we’ve listed below to find out whether this is the culprit you’re dealing with.
These attacks consist of sudden and intense anxiety, and usually are accompanied by physical symptoms as well. These symptoms include shaking, rapid, irregular heartbeats, nausea, dry mouth, breathlessness, sweating and dizziness, and feeling disoriented.
FEAR OR DREAD
Feeling fearful or dreading something is a big part of anxiety. The sufferer may also have an impending danger, or doom. In reality, the situation giving them anxiety may be completely harmless, but it affects them this way nonetheless.
This is a common physical side effect of anxiety, since anxiety is a high-energy feeling. It’s similar to nervousness or excitement in that way—although the feeling is much less positive than excitement—so it can cause the sufferer to move around a lot. They may also find themselves shaking or having a tremor in their voice.
FEELING WEAK OR TIRED
Alternatively, some people may feel tired and weak as a result of their anxious feelings.
Having a specific phobia of something can be a telltale sign of anxiety. If your anxiety symptoms seem to be triggered when you get into a small, confined space, see a spider, or when you’re at a great height, for example, it might be in response to a specific phobia you have.
HAVING STOMACH ISSUES
The nervousness some people feel when they are having anxiety can cause stomach ache. It makes sense because our brains are literally connected to our stomachs. Our brains tell us when we’re feeling something, which can affect digestion; our stomachs can tell our brains when we’re hungry, etc.
This symptom is quite common with anxiety. It’s usually a major part of what comes with an anxiety attack—feeling overly worried about some event or situation when it feels out of a person’s control.
Everyone may not know about this particular symptom, but anxiety can cause a person to feel on edge and irritable. They may be easily set off by minor things as a defensive response to the fear they’re experiencing.
It’s no secret that anxiety can make sleeping a real challenge. Anxious, racing thoughts are certainly known for keeping people up at night.
When your brain is overcome with anxious thought patterns, it can make focusing pretty difficult. If you notice that you struggle to concentrate on work that needs to be done, it could be due to anxiety.
The most important thing to note on the above symptoms list is that having one or two of these does not necessarily mean you suffer from anxiety. Make sure to check with your doctor to find out if you suffer from anxiety disorder.
How Would I Be Tested & Diagnosed With Anxiety?
There isn’t one test to diagnose anxiety, but instead, many different tests that may be performed. These include physical tests like a physical exam that might include blood and urine tests, in order to rule out anything else that could be causing anxiety as a side effect.
Your doctor will also likely do a mental health evaluation as well as a psychological questionnaire. Alternatively, they might refer you to a trusted psychologist or therapist to get checked out. A mental health professional will better be able to explain common treatments for anxiety, a very likely one being CBT, or Cognitive Behavior Therapy. This is essentially a type of therapy which works to adapt the way you relate to your own thoughts in order to promote healthier thought patterns.
Who Can Be Affected By Anxiety?
Unfortunately, pretty much anyone can be affected by anxiety disorder. Many people believe it’s only something that adults suffer from, but children can also show symptoms of anxiety. Some may also be surprised to find out the many situations that can cause someone anxiety. It isn’t always as obvious as the person who lost their parent or child—it may affect someone supporting someone else going through a loss, someone dealing with financial issues, and much more.
As is generally known, adults can suffer from anxiety from a variety of situations. The average lifespan includes more time being an adult than being a child, so it makes sense that there is a higher possibility of adults experiencing anxiety than children. According to Single Care, “The age group most likely affected by anxiety is those from 30 to 44 years of age.”
However, children do get anxiety, too. The most common type of anxiety they experience is separation anxiety, as they learn to deal with spending time away from their parents. The CDC states that “7.1% of children aged 3-17 years (approximately 4.4 million) have diagnosed anxiety.”
Parents of children may also suffer from anxiety when separating from their children. It’s normal to worry for the safety of your child, but some people experience more intense worrying and panic, eventually becoming actual anxiety. This can pose trouble for the child as well.
Parenting for Brain explains that “Overprotective parents may overparent their child because of their own bias towards threats, increased the perception of danger, and elevated sensitivity to their child's distress. The parents' constantly high stress levels remind their children of danger and cause anxiety in them.”
Grandparents who were overprotective as parents may also carry those habits into caring for their grandchildren, which can manifest into anxious habits.
CLOSE PERSONAL FRIENDS OF THE DECEASED
It’s very common to experience anxiety alongside other grief symptoms. If you know someone who has lost a close friend, it’s very possible that they could be suffering from common anxiety symptoms as they move through the five stages, and even beyond the grieving process.
THOSE AFFECTED BY COVID
The Coronavirus Pandemic has caused elevated rates of stress and anxiety in people worldwide, but that isn’t just because of fear of getting sick. People are struggling with anxiety symptoms due to having been in lockdown for prolonged periods of time, as well. The year of the pandemic has understandably impacted the mental health of many people who have been affected.
THOSE WITH FINANCIAL STRUGGLES
Struggling with finances is always a stressful part of life. Being unable to afford things that promote mental wellness and vitality can bring you down, but it can also make you anxious. Something as simple as joining friends for a lunch out, being able to buy new clothes, or going on a family trip can be great mood-boosters. Constantly worrying about how much you can afford week to week can certainly take a toll on one’s mental health.
SOMEONE WITH CHILDHOOD TRAUMA
People who adopted anxious personality traits or habits during childhood may have done so through some kind of trauma or abuse. Neglect, overprotective and anxious parents, or any other form of parental abuse can make someone carry their anxiety with them into adulthood.
ANYONE SUFFERING FROM SOCIAL ANXIETY
Social anxiety actually has its own acronym—(SAD), which can affect anyone. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, or NIMH, “It is an intense, persistent fear of being watched and judged by others. This fear can affect work, school, and your other day-to-day activities.”
What Can Trigger This Anxiety?
There are special dates, interactions with situations and even certain sights and smells that can trigger anxiety. Being aware of these triggers can not only help you prepare for the anxiety but also help a loved one that may be suffering from anxiety.
The anniversary of someone’s death day, wedding, or even the day a tragic event occurred can trigger anxiety symptoms. It can make the sufferer almost “feel” the event all over again, causing any anxious backlash to ramp up in full gear.
Birthdays can also be the cause of anxiety symptoms being triggered again. This would especially be true if someone has anxiety about the direction of their life, their own morality, or any other struggles they are dealing with. Somehow, birthdays tend to put our lives into perspective. Even though they’re supposed to days of celebration and gratefulness, they can end up adding pressure to our situations by making it easier to pick out what is wrong with our lives on our birthday.
Holidays can also be the cause of anxiety symptoms popping up. This is very common for those who have lost someone close to them and who might be feeling lonely during the holidays. Like birthdays, there’s an invisible pressure to be with people and have a great time on such special days. This can make a loss or being a lone feel much worse, causing anxiety and sadness.
Dealing with emotional trauma can certainly bring anxiety into the picture. Trauma takes a toll on our physical and mental health, and it can leave us filled with fear that this will happen again.
FACING A PHOBIA
Phobia situations may bring anxiety symptoms to the surface quite easily. If someone who suffers from a phobia finds themselves right in front of their worst fear, they will likely experience panic and anxiety symptoms.
NOISES, SMELLS, ETC.
It might be surprising to hear, but anything sensory such as smells and noises can trigger anxiety symptoms as well. Our brains are powerful enough to be able to recreate a stressful event based on sensory reminders—and enough so to bring up those unpleasant thoughts and feelings.
FAMILIAR STRESSFUL EVENTS
Being in a familiar place or situation can also bring up feelings of anxiety. For example, if someone got into a traumatic car crash, they might get feelings of anxiety bubbling up if they end up in a near-miss, where they almost wreck again.
RELATIONSHIPS WHERE ABUSE REOCCURS
Someone who has been in an abusive relationship might be sensitive to any similar behavior that can feel like a “red flag”. It can make them feel as though the same situation will happen to them again. This will likely result in anxiety symptoms as well.
FEELING A LOSS OF CONTROL
Someone with any version of anxiety might feel their anxious symptoms rising up when they feel a general lack of control in their lives. They might be out of their usual environment, or feel vulnerable in a new relationship, as a few examples.
What Are Some Ways To Overcome Anxiety Caused By Grief
There are several ways that can help those that are suffering from anxiety. Whether you choose an individual approach such as meditation or utilize outside resources such as pet therapy, there is help and assistance out there.
While this is not the only way you can overcome anxiety, it’s a great help to many of those who deal with the mental disorder. Upon a visit to your doctor, you will likely be prescribed with antidepressants such as SSRI’s or SNRI’s.
Talking with a counselor is another great way to get help with overcoming anxiety. There are lots of therapists and counselors who specialize in anxiety related grief. Check out some of the best resources where you can find a counselor that will work for your specific needs below.
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF
Taking care of yourself is probably the best way you can consistently help yourself through this. Eating healthy foods, exercising regularly, and maintaining good hygiene habits will do wonders for your mental health. Although it’s important to note that this alone will not “fix” an anxiety disorder, it can be a very meaningful step toward recovery.
Read the below ways to practice taking care of yourself on a daily basis.
- Make sure to consistently get enough sleep
- Exercise regularly—even if it’s just going for a walk for fifteen minutes. It’s always better than nothing.
- Try to eat healthy every day. Get your five servings of fruit and veggies, and drink six to eight glasses of water.
- Practice good hygiene. When you’re feeling down or anxious, it’s easy to slip into a careless mode. Powering through that and keeping up with hygiene habits will help you to feel better.
FIND A SUPPORT GROUP
Support is always helpful when you’re going through a difficult time in life. Joining a support group is a good way of surrounding yourself with others who experience the same or very similar things that you do.
Your mental health will get a nice boost just from being around others who can relate to you because you’ll likely be able to feel a sense of connection. They’re usually very low pressure—you can talk if you’d like to, or just listen and observe.
You might even make a friend from the experience. It can also feel good to have a sense of routine each week or month. Check out a few resources below where you can find a support group near you:
Healthline’s “8 Best Anxiety Support Groups of 2021”
“The 7 Best Online Grief Support Groups of 2021” by Very Well Mind
WRITE IN A JOURNAL
Journaling serves as a wonderful method of releasing and processing difficult emotions for many people. Sometimes, it’s easier to write things out than it is to talk about it.
Yoga is a great way to release stress, including potentially stress from grief, and ease tension in your body. Did you know we hold much of our stresses and emotional baggage in our bodies? Much of the reason people suffer from chronic back, hip, neck, or leg pain is because of every day life encounters which make us feel burdened.
Yoga helps to begin undoing that, and also raises one’s awareness. Becoming more aware leads to mindfulness of thoughts and habits we allow to dictate our lives. It also helps us to refrain from tensing up our bodies in stressful situations. Read the below ways you can begin a yoga practice:
Watch a YouTube channel to learn a beginner’s yoga sequence. You can even search for sequences that are specifically aimed to help with anxiety, and almost anything else you can think of.
Find a studio near you that does beginner’s yoga classes. Try out a few of their classes and instructors to find one that fits you and your needs the most.
You can also join online classes nowadays. Simply search online, and look for sample videos so you can get an idea for an instructor’s style. Make sure to also read up on their specific aims that they suggest their students will achieve while in class with them. For example, this could be strength-focused, heart-opening, de-stressing, and more.
GET SUPPORT FROM FRIENDS & LOVED ONES
Support is hugely important throughout life, but especially when things get tough. Coping with anxiety symptoms can be much more difficult when you’re having to navigate it all alone. Therefore, don’t hesitate to accept help and support from your friends and loved ones.
If you are the friend or family member of someone who needs help coping with anxiety and grief, there are a few different ways you can try to be a strong support system for them:
Gift Them A Keepsake
Have a special keepsake pendant like fingerprint jewelry made in honor of your loved one. This can help them feel supported, loved, and comforted through difficult times. You can choose from a variety of keepsake jewelry for coping with anxiety. See some examples below:
Cremation jewelry for ashes has become a popular way of memorializing loved ones. If your friend or family member needs help coping with anxiety from grief, gifting them with this type of keepsake jewelry would be a very sweet way to help them through it.
For example, this Cross Cremation Pendant would also be perfect for someone who values their faith, reminding them of yet another source of support they have in their life while they mourn their loved one.
This is yet another trending way to memorialize someone—ash jewelry is a combination of art and remembrance. You can give someone this beautiful gift to help them deal with their grieving and anxiety. For example, this desert sand necklace is both unique and meaningful.
Learn more about jewelry made from ashes here.
Say It With Pictures
Make a scrapbook of your favorite photos and memories in honor of your loved one. Sometimes people simply need to be reminded that they’re loved and that they matter to people around them. It won’t fix everything magically, but it will be helpful for their mental and emotional wellbeing.
Meditation tends to be an amazing addition to your yoga practice. You’ll very likely participate in some meditation during a class you attend. However, meditation can be highly beneficial on its own, too.
It promotes a practice of managing negative or unhealthy thoughts, and keeping a healthy perspective on life and your existence. It also aids with sleep problems. This can all be incredibly helpful for those suffering from anxiety.
You can seek guidance through meditation practice with apps like Headspace and Calm, on YouTube meditation videos, or simply starting your journey alone. You can also play meditative music while you are feeling anxious, or when you’re struggling to sleep. Simply search playlists for it on YouTube or Spotify.
A pet can be a soothing addition to your family, and a great source of comfort and happiness. According to Help Guide, “Pets, especially dogs and cats, can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, ease loneliness, encourage exercise and playfulness, and even improve your cardiovascular health.” See? It makes sense now why it feels so good to cuddle up with a dog every once in a while.
However, if you don’t have a pet and you aren’t looking to adopt one anytime soon, you can always seek out a friend who has a pet to reap the benefits without the serious commitment. You could also volunteer at an animal shelter, offering to help exercise and socialize the dogs and cats there. You can also pet-sit for local people on apps like Rover, Care, Fetch, and more.
START A HEALTHY HOBBY
Besides yoga and meditation, you could also look into joining other healthy hobbies that can keep you in a routine of sorts, while also keeping your mind off your anxiety. This could be anything from a running or hiking club (or joining your nearby 5k races) to art class like sculpting or painting, to simply learning something like guitar or knitting from online videos. You’d be surprised how much you can learn for free from YouTube!
Practicing different breathing techniques can be much more helpful to coping with anxiety and grief than people realize. Our breath is so incredibly important, and adjusting the way we breathe can have seriously positive effects on our day-to-day lives.
Listed below are a few places you can find breathing techniques to follow in order to improve your anxiety symptoms:
- Search for breathing techniques for anxiety on YouTube.
- Take a look at this Healthline article’s list of various breathing techniques you can try for anxiety symptoms. A lot of what is listed there is also found in yogic breathing practices.
- Explore yogic breathing practices during your yoga sessions, which is called pranayama. It is actually its own branch within yoga, which many people who practice western yoga are unaware of. When searching for yoga classes near you, be sure to find those that include pranayama within the class.
FACE THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM
Something that is often the most difficult route to take with trying to overcome anxiety is putting one’s self right into the ‘middle of the storm’. This isn’t necessarily the best approach for everyone, but it is a good idea to lessen the power that you may inadvertently give to your anxiety when you avoid stressors and triggers.
This can mean putting yourself into a social situation in the mindset that you will come out stronger and better on the other side; facing a phobia head-on; challenging yourself to lessen your sense of control on the areas of your life your worry about, etc.
It might sound scary, but facing the underlying cause of your anxiety can help take its power away, while giving yourself some power back. It’s notable that using this tactic might be best done under the guidance of a licensed therapist or counselor who specializes in bereavement anxiety.
How Can I Help Someone That Has Anxiety Caused By Grief?
Careful thought and compassion can help family and friends that want to help those that have anxiety caused by grief. Here are a few suggestions.
UNDERSTAND THE SIGNS OF ANXIETY
You can try and understand the signs your loved one is dealing with anxiety by researching signs and symptoms, and by paying attention to their reactions to their surroundings.
PROVIDE SUPPORT BY LISTENING
The best thing to do is to simply offer a listening ear to your friend or family member. It’s best to refrain from using forceful tactics to try to make them calm down. Instead, let them have space and time to relax and feel safe again. If they would like help facing their fears instead of avoiding them, gently and compassionately help them to do so.
ENCOURAGE THEM TO SEEK HELP
If they are struggling with their anxiety symptoms, always encourage them to seek professional help. They can help them with the many tools and knowledge at their disposal.
MAKE A PLAN
Once you have recognized what seems to help them the most, you can work with them to make a plan to deal with the situation if it happens again.
UNDERSTAND WHAT IS NOT HELPFUL
Just as important as knowing what is helpful is understanding what is not. Certain things can make anxiety worse which are also counterproductive to their recovery, and those things will be best avoided.
KNOW THEIR TRIGGERS
Talk with them about what their triggers might be so you can be ready when they occur. It’s not always ideal or helpful to completely avoid triggers of anxiety, but it helps to know what they are so you can be supportive for your friend or family member in their time of need.
Overcoming Anxiety Frequently Asked Questions
Can the death of a friend or family member cause anxiety?
Yes. Loss and the resulting grief symptoms that people experience can come with anxiety as an unfortunate side effect. Whether it lasts only during, or beyond the typical grieving time can be a sign of whether it turns into a chronic anxiety disorder.
How do you regain control of anxiety?
It often takes time, patience, and self-love. Regaining control of anxiety usually works best—and more efficiently—when you find the recovery methods that work for you. Talking to a mental health professional is usually a great way to go. Getting support from loved ones is important as well.
Can children experience anxiety caused by grief?
Yes, they can. They might become anxious about the concept of death. They might worry someone else close to them will die, or that they will. It’s important to discuss their feelings openly and patiently to give them time to process things.
What medications should I be on to help with anxiety caused by grief?
You will typically be diagnosed with an SSRI or SNRI, which are antidepressant medications.
Is anxiety caused by grief a mental illness?
Yes. Technically, anxiety is a mental disorder if it interferes with your life and seems to be consistent, especially over a six-month period. Feeling anxious from time to time before or during events like taking an important test, going on a first date, or moving away, etc., is normal and not a part of the mental disorder known as anxiety.
What type of therapist should I see if I have anxiety caused by grief?
Working with a therapist who has experience with patients with both anxiety and grief might be the best way to go. They go hand in hand, but they are also each a separate topic. For example, in Psychology Today, you can search for therapists based on the topics they have experience working with. You can also search for bereavement anxiety counselors.
What are some myths about anxiety?
Myth—If a panic attack gets too intense, you can faint.
Fact—You faint when your blood pressure gets too low. When having a panic attack, your blood pressure actually gets higher than usual, so passing out is very unlikely.
Myth—It’s important to avoid stress and any triggering situation with anxiety disorders.
Fact—Treating yourself as a fragile person can lead to a feeling of demoralization. Avoiding triggers to anxiety tends to actually reinforce it.
Myth—Anxiety medications are addictive. They should be avoided at all costs.
Fact—SSRI’s and SNRI’s are typically used to treat anxiety. They’re antidepressants, which are not addictive.
Is social anxiety different to Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?
Social anxiety is its own anxiety disorder. There are six major groups: Social Anxiety Disorder, Separation Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Phobias, Generalized Anxiety, and OCD/PTSD. Social Anxiety happens when someone is extremely nervous around others for fear or judgment or rejection. Generalized Anxiety
“Both GAD and SAD are characterized by persistent anxiety that is excessive or disproportionate to an actual threat,” according to Very Well Mind. However, there are a few differences. Social stresses can definitely happen in those with GAD, but their main worry is usually about ongoing relationships rather than fear of short-term judgment. Those with Social Anxiety focus more on the possibility of negative evaluation and rejection.
Moving Forward: Finding The Best Strategy For Dealing With Anxiety
Anxiety can be a debilitating mental disorder. It affects millions of people each year in the United States alone, and often gets in the way of the enjoyment of everyday life if it’s left untreated. It’s also a common side effect of loss and stress from grief, and becomes more pronounced with cases of complicated grief which last beyond six months.
If you suffer from anxiety disorder, you understand how frustrating and impossible it can feel to overcome it. However, with all the different ways there are to overcome anxiety, you can absolutely beat it and get back to that normal, carefree version of yourself.
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May 21, 2021 by Jeri K. Augustus