Grieving and anxiety may go hand in hand for some people, particularly during early stages of grief or from unresolved emotions.
Grief is a reaction to loss. It’s individual and intimate and may look different from person to person.
Anxiety is connected to thoughts of fear, and it’s a natural reaction to anticipating or facing a threat.
Is it possible, then, to experience anxiety when grieving?
Grief isn’t a formal mental health condition, so there are no specific symptoms. There are, however, some models that identify common emotions most people go through when grieving.
In general, however, grief is associated with five emotional stages. Anxiety could develop in some of these stages.
The five stages of grief are:
- Denial. You may experience shock and disbelief that the loss has occurred. Confronting the reality may lead to some symptoms of anxiety.
- Anger. You may feel angry about the loss or not having control over the changes it causes. Anger could make you feel guilty or fearful, resulting in anxiety.
- Bargaining. You may try to regain a feeling of control or internally negotiate your way through your loss. Realizing some of the “what ifs” you present yourself may not reverse the loss, making you feel anxious and irritable.
- Depression. You could experience times of intense sadness and despair that could make you feel fearful of what’s to come after this loss. This fear can cause moments of anxiety.
- Acceptance. You may accept the reality of the loss and start turning your attention to the next steps. Realizing you’re facing a new experience may also make you feel nervous and anxious.
Not everyone experiences these stages of grief in the same way, order, or intensity.
You may also experience other emotions, including those associated with anxiety, depending on your unique experience.
If you’re facing disenfranchised grief, you may face particular challenges that can cause you anxiety.
Disenfranchised grief is linked to a loss that may not be recognized as significant in your culture, or that isn’t always validated by others. The loss of a pet or the sale of your childhood home are two examples of what could lead to disenfranchised grief.
In some instances, you could start grieving before experiencing the loss. Anxiety often accompanies this anticipatory grief.
For example, anticipatory grief may be related to a terminal illness you or someone you love are facing.
The thought of the loss may make you feel fearful, which could lead to symptoms of anxiety.
Experiencing panic attacks is also possible. Being confronted by an inevitable loss may lead you to feel impending doom, often linked to panic attacks.
You might feel your heart racing or feel dizzy and lightheaded. Maybe it’s shortness of breath or an episode of nausea.
Intense grief or anxiety can cause these symptoms.
Your body can experience grief as well. Some of the physical effects of grief include:
- muscular tension
- stomach upset
- racing heart
- chest tightening
- nausea and vomiting
- shortness of breath
- weakness and lethargy
- difficulty sleeping
- tunnel vision
These effects are similar to the outcomes that anxiety has on your body.
Grief-related stress can also impact overall health. It can lead to increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This is also possible when experiencing anxiety.
Grief can involve the waxing and waning of emotions. Most of the time, these emotions diminish with time, and you can learn to live with the loss.
You could experience:
- acute griefduring the period following the loss. You may experience tearfulness, sadness, and insomnia.
- integrated grief as you process the emotional pain and start facing the permanency of the loss. You could regret the loss but start having space for other emotions and experiences.
- prolonged grief disorder when sorrow and painful emotions last for more than a year, and you can’t reach acceptance.
Prolonged grief is unresolved grief and may lead to symptoms of an anxiety disorder.
A 2017 study involving 151 adults with prolonged grief disorder revealed that 68.9% of them also experienced symptoms of separation anxiety disorder.
Study participants who had previously received anxiety disorder diagnoses had a 12% increased chance of developing symptoms of prolonged grief, compared to 0.65% in people without anxiety.
Anxiety can make grieving more challenging, but there are ways you can cope and manage anxiety and grieving.
1. Try to practice self-care
When grieving, consider prioritizing your own needs.
Self-care can help you feel better. It could also decrease the chance of experiencing anxiety symptoms, including panic attacks.
Some self-care tips include:
- getting at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night
- focusing on nutrient-dense diets
- engaging in 30 minutes of daily physical activity
- practicing relaxation techniques
2. Consider reaching out
It’s natural to want some time alone when you’re grieving. But social isolation may affect your mood further and lead to some anxiety symptoms.
Consider connecting with trusted loved ones from time to time, even if virtually. Expressing how you feel may help you release emotional energy that otherwise might manifest in your thoughts and body.
3. Try to learn more about anxiety management
If you’re experiencing anxiety while grieving, you may benefit from learning more about anxiety management.
Grounding techniques could help in the moment when you feel anxiety rising.
Learning specific techniques to calm down quickly may also help manage grief and anxiety.
4. Consider therapy sessions
Therapy is an effective tool to manage grief and anxiety.
Therapy can offer you a space to safely express how you feel while learning to develop coping skills to help you manage your emotions.
It’s natural to experience anxiety when you’re grieving. Anxiety can be a reaction to the fear you may experience at the loss and your changing circumstances. Not feeling you’re in control may also lead to signs of anxiety.
When you have difficulty processing grief, you may develop prolonged grief disorder. This condition is often related to anxiety as well.
Focusing on self-care, reaching out for support, and getting a therapist could help you manage anxiety and grief.
Are you currently in crisis?
If you feel like you’re having a mental health emergency, you can:
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 for English and 888-628-9454 for Spanish
- Chat with professionals at Lifeline Chat
- Text “HOME” to the Crisis Text Line at 741741
- Check out Befrienders Worldwide or Suicide Stop if you’re not in the United States and need to find your country’s crisis hotline
If you decide to call an emergency number like 911, ask the operator to send someone trained in mental health, like Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) officers.