Anxiety: The missing stage of grief

Published: 28/6/2023
Anxiety: The missing stage of grief
Anxiety: The missing stage of grief

Grief is a complex and multi-faceted emotion that people experience when they lose someone or something important to them. It is often described as a series of stages, including denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. There is one stage often missing from this list, anxiety.  

Anxiety can be a significant part of the grieving process, particularly in the early stages. For some people, anxiety may be the dominant emotion that they experience in response to loss. It can present as fear, worry or nervousness about the future and what life will look like without the person or thing that has been lost.  

Anxiety is a normal response to loss, but it can quickly become overwhelming and interfere with daily activities. People who experience anxiety during grief may struggle with excessive worry, nervousness, or panic attacks. These symptoms can be physically and emotionally draining, making it difficult to move forward and heal.  

There are many reasons why anxiety can be a part of grief,  it is a natural response to uncertainty. When we experience loss, we are faced with a future that is uncertain and unknown. This can trigger feelings of anxiety as we try to navigate the unknown and figure out what comes next.  

Grief can be a stressful experience, both emotionally and physically. This stress can exacerbate symptoms of anxiety, leading to a vicious cycle of worry and fear. Anxiety can make it difficult to process the emotions associated with grief, such as sadness or anger, which can make the grieving process even more difficult.  

It is important to acknowledge and address anxiety as a part of the grieving process. This can involve 

  • Seeking support from friends and family
  • Talking to a mental health professional
  • Cognitive-behavioural therapy
  • Mindfulness-based practices

Understanding that anxiety during grief is not uncommon, it can be managed with the right tools and support.  

Here are a few ways to cope with anxiety as a part of the grieving process:

Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness helps individuals stay present in the moment and reduce stress and anxiety. This can include activities like meditation, deep breathing, or yoga. Practising mindfulness can help bring a sense of calm to an anxious mind and help individuals focus on the present moment, instead of worrying about the future.

Connect with others

Sharing your feelings with friends, family members, or a support group can be incredibly helpful. Talking about your grief and your experience with others can help reduce feelings of isolation and provide comfort and understanding.

Anxiety: The missing stage of grief
Anxiety: The missing stage of grief

Exercise regularly

Regular physical activity can help reduce symptoms of anxiety by releasing endorphins, which are chemicals in the brain that help regulate mood. Exercise can also help individuals feel more energised and positive, even when they are grieving.

Get adequate sleep

Grief can make it difficult to sleep, but it is essential to prioritise good sleep hygiene. Try to maintain a consistent sleep schedule, avoid screens before bed, and create a relaxing bedtime routine. Getting enough sleep can help reduce feelings of anxiety and improve overall mood and energy levels.

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Seek Professional help

If anxiety becomes overwhelming and interferes with daily activities, it may be helpful to seek professional help. A therapist or counsellor can help individuals develop coping strategies and provide support during this difficult time.   

Anxiety is a common and often neglected stage of grief that can make the grieving process even more challenging. It's essential to be patient with yourself and understand that grief is a unique experience for everyone. Some people may find that their anxiety dissipates over time, while others may need to seek ongoing support. It's important to prioritise self-care, seek support when needed, and know that healing takes time. By recognising its presence individuals can work through their anxiety and find peace in the wake of loss. Be kind to yourself, and know that healing is a journey, not a destination.  

"Don't be ashamed to weep; 'tis right to grieve. Tears are only water, and flowers, trees, and fruit cannot grow without water. But there must be sunlight also. A wounded heart will heal in time, and when it does, the memory and love of our lost ones are sealed inside to comfort us." - Brian Jacques

To find support:  

Beyond Blue provides Australians with information and support to improve their mental health. Call 1300 22 46 36 or visit beyondblue.org.au for more information.  

Lifeline Australia provides Australians experiencing a personal crisis with access to 24-hour crisis support. Call 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au for more information.  

GriefLine listens, cares and supports people experiencing loss and grief, at any stage in life. Call 1300 845 6am to midnight AEST, 7 days a week.  

MensLine Australia is a professional telephone and online support and information service for Australian men. Call 1300 78 99 78, 24 hours / 7 days a week.  

Kids Helpline is a free 24/7, confidential and private counselling service Australia wide specifically for children and young people aged 5 to 25 years. Call 1800 55 1800.  

Life Supports Counselling provides Australians with experienced counsellors & psychologists in their local area Australia-wide. Call 1300 735

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