When Grief Meets Anxiety

What's Your Grief Podcast / What's Your Grief Podcast : Eleanor Haley

For further articles on these topics:

The What's Your Grief Podcast: grief support for those who like to listen.

In this grief podcast, Eleanor Haley, MS and Litsa Williams, MA, LCSW-C, the mental health professionals behind the website and book 'What's Your Grief', leave no stone unturned in demystifying the complicated and messy world of living life after loss. One digestible topic at a time, Haley and Williams distill topics ranging from grief theory to coping. Grief is sad and confusing, but your grief support doesn't have to be. You can listen here by using the player above or listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Below we have provided a transcript of the episode.

Episode Transcript

Hey! Welcome back to another episode of the What's Your Grief Podcast. I'm Eleanor and as always I'm joined by Litsa. How are you Litsa?

I am doing really well today. Beautiful weather and yeah just enjoy enjoying the day.

You know what's funny, I said to myself I'm not gonna bring up the weather. Always talk about the weather. But seeing as you brought it up, I was actually wanting to, because I did as we head into spring like we notoriously hate winter around here. If you followed us for the last like couple weeks or any other winter, you probably know that we think the winter is just the worst. And it's been so nice here the weather's, it's like that perfect weather where it's like not too hot not too cold. And I just like felt like such a weight was lifted. And I'm not saying that good weather is the cure for what ails do necessarily, but I am kind of wanting to say how much (I) I remembered, I was reminded that sometimes we can be impacted by things in ways that we're not even like, fully realizing. You know what I mean? Like of course (I) I was acknowledging that the weather was a bummer but I guess I just didn't even realize how like weighed down I was feeling until it was gone. And then I was like oh that was really really affecting me.

Well, I feel like it's sort of like when you have not been getting good sleep for a stretch and then you get like a really good night's sleep and you're like oh my gosh I knew that that bad sleep wasn't great for me but I forgot how good a really good night's sleep feels and how much difference it makes for just like my Baseline functioning.

Yes, that is such a good example of this. You do, you're like I'm fine I'm fine. You have no willingness to connect the fact that you're like deprived of sleep or maybe you've worked up a sleep debt and then when you finally get that sleep you're like oh yeah right. It's like it's I think about my kids all the time like they'll be hungry and they're so cranky and I'm like you're just hungry I know you're just hungry but you cannot tell them that, and the minute they have something to eat it's like oh everything is better, and so anyways this is just to say like I do think in grief and in life and in coping and (in) in whatever you're going through, we do have a tendency to discount some of these things. Not everybody, a lot of people are very tuned into like well-being and wellness and things like that but a lot of people do have a tendency to discount the importance of these things. And I do think that when you tend to them they're not going to fix everything but they do put you in, maybe, a better position to deal with what you have to deal with.

Yeah, I think it's completely true. And I do feel like often, like there's that hole in substance abuse, they talk about it a lot, and in DBT, the like halts the hungry angry lonely tired. And (I) I do feel like the weather should somehow be added into that for us. I feel like, we like, we can't control the weather the way we can control hungry angry lonely tired. But I really do feel like it is one of the things that can just increase my self-destructive behavior.

Hundred percent agree with that. So before we get into our topic for today, one of the things we wanted to kind of update you all on is, last episode we talked about how we're not sure about what the audience for our podcast, in particular, really resonates with, really wants to hear feels helped by, et cetera, et cetera. And so we said we were going to put it out to you all and create a survey. And so Litsa, (what) what exactly, what options did we give people in this survey to (endorse) endorse.

So we basically asked people if they would like Grief Education and Coping Tips. So kind of the really concrete psycho-education stuff. Our general like musings and ramblings and meta reflections which, you know, we really lean into around here sometimes. And then the option for guests and we said specifically this wouldn't be like interviewing guests per se. It would more just be kind of bringing people in to have a conversation, just to join in the conversation with us. And then the other thing was kind of more like media pop culture, like things that are maybe relevant, what's going on, what shows we're watching that are grief related, what books we're reading, you know, over the years we've done things like that where we have kind of talked about some of those things. So those were the four main topics. And obviously then we invited you to share any suggestions and questions and as I understand it the results were mixed.

The results were like almost exactly, equally split between all of those four topics. So, you know, we learned that our audience has very diverse reasons for listening to us. Probably because, like we do, we don't have, like, a very clear format so I don't feel like I should be surprised that some people like certain episodes and some people like others. But it was pretty funny to open up the results and it gives you this option to like show it in a graph form and it showed a pie chart with basically like four almost exactly equally divided segments based on interest.

But you guys, this happens to us all the time whenever we put things out to our readers, to our communities, to say like what do you find helpful in grief and in your grief support we always have this happen where we have 50-50 people saying (I want) I want to go talk to somebody or the other half saying I don't want to talk to anyone at all. And when we talk about what types of things you look are helpful from, like, a friend perspective, (like how does) how does like the grief support offered by your friends and family, how do you find that what do you prefer, what do you not like, one person will say I loved it when somebody would just show up at my door and the other person would say don't ever show up at my door unannounced. And so this is how it is with grief support. Because guess what, we are all so different and so unique and have different lives and different preferences and different personalities. It just makes sense that it's not going to be one size fits all. And we should have known this.

Yeah. We (we) should have. So I think you know moral of the story, we're gonna kind of keep doing a combination of these things. And maybe eventually, one of these days, we are going to invite a guest on to kind of come hang out and chat with us on an episode or two and we'll see how that goes and maybe incorporate that a little more. Since now we know that at least some people are interested in us occasionally having someone else in the conversation.


Thanks to everybody who did that. We did do our drawing and have emailed the winner so if you haven't checked your email lately please do. And we're just really grateful for everybody who took the time to actually give us some suggestions and we definitely have kept a list of some of the questions like specific topics that you would like us to potentially talk about. And today's topic actually comes out of a suggestion that one of you sent to us so very appreciative for that.

So on that note, I guess we will just get into it.


So there were a couple of suggestions that we received but one of them was about just as asking for us to talk a little bit about anxiety. Specifically how grief can either create new anxiety or exacerbate existing anxiety. Because as we know, anxiety is not something that is specific to any one person or to somebody experiencing loss and grief. Anxiety is just something all humans experience. So going through life we have developed our own ways to understand it and respond to it. And then grief comes along and might totally change how you feel it, how you respond to it. It really changes kind of your relationship with anxiety. It might, not (not) guaranteed, but it might. So we wanted to talk a little bit about how anxiety can manifest in the context of somebody who's experienced loss and is going through grief.

Yeah. And I feel like every time (I) we talk about, not we, every time anxiety comes up in the world, I like, feel this need or want to give a disclaimer that (I) I feel, like, in recent years anxiety has gotten, like, a really bad wrap. (Like) We just think about all the worst things about anxiety, like anxiety disorders and panic attacks. And like we think of anxiety as a bad word and like a bad thing. And I do think it's really helpful, like, with so many other things we experience, to remember that, like, anxiety in its basic form is actually really healthy and adaptive. (Like) It's really important to how we exist as humans. And you know there are so many things in our lives that we use anxiety to help us to do. Like when you wake up in the morning every day and you're, like, maybe not that excited to go to work or to go to school, like, it's your healthy anxiety that helps to motivate you to say oh wait it would feel really good right now to stay in bed a little bit longer but it's not going to feel really good when my boss is really upset I didn't go to work and so my anxiety about that is what helps me get out of bed and go to (go to) work today. And so I think, you know, when we talk about this with grief, there are so many things that can be real challenges with anxiety and many times our anxiety does go outside of that normal healthy helpful range for a lot of different reasons. But I do think, if you're somebody who experiences anxiety, sometimes it's helpful to remember anxiety is not our enemy. (Like) We have it for a very good reason. It is what helped to protect us from predators when we were hunter-gatherers, like (it) it exists in us for a really good reason. And I think that can sometimes help us to go into the conversation thinking of anxiety as like a friend we just need to learn how to manage and not an enemy.

I do appreciate you saying that. I agree. I think that while it's really important that we've had a lot more focus on anxiety disorders and how to help people experiencing them and how to treat those things, that's very important (but) but I do think that we don't enough time, say what you just said, is that anxiety is a very normal human experience and it's not always a problem. It's sometimes, it's just something that exists or something that may even like you said motivate us a little bit. I think because we have labeled it or talked about it only in the problematic context, we've gotten to this place where when people feel uncomfortable, anxiety, many times, they say oh no I can't feel that, I don't want to feel that either because it's wrong to feel any of it or oh no this is the first step towards me feeling that like ton of anxiety that I felt that time last year when I was going through that breakup or whatever it was. So I do think that we have created a situation it reminds me a lot of grief, we've created a situation where we feel like experiencing it is (is) wrong or bad. And what we really need to do is examine our relationship with it. And it reminds me of grief because we have this conversation about grief a lot, where people who are going through grief think that the objective is to get rid of it eventually with time and working through it. And what we know is that once you've experienced loss grief, grief becomes part of that range of very normal human experiences that you're gonna kind of have alongside you. And the objective isn't to get rid of it. It's to integrate it and find healthy ways to respond to it, and to change your perspective on it, and to learn to manage it knowing that it's not always going to stay as intense and as terrible as it is in those first few weeks and months.

Yeah. Absolutely. And (I) I think that in so many ways, is what can actually sort of contribute to this vicious cycle that we can get into with anxiety. Which is, if we think sometimes that the goal is to not feel anxiety then (we ca and) we fear our anxiety and we think our anxiety is the problem, then when new anxiety comes up in grief, one of the things that can happen is, we just try to do everything in our power to avoid the feeling completely. And so suddenly we start doing things to make our world smaller and smaller in order to avoid situations that would create any anxiety for us, or would give us any of these feelings that we feel like are the enemy. And what of course is then the vicious cycle that we can get into, is if we don't expose ourselves to those situations that maybe do create a little bit of discomfort and anxiety, we don't learn new skills and tools that we need, maybe now in our grief anxiety, and this new form of anxiety we're feeling for the first time, or that we don't have the skills to deal with yet, we don't build those skills, we don't kind of find the ways to be able to manage that anxiety. And so it can become this vicious cycle where then we feel like, well, I don't have the skills or now I'm just going to avoid it more and now in my mind I'm just feeling like avoidance is my only option and I never actually learn how to manage my anxiety.

Yeah. We talk about avoidance so often in grief because a couple things are true about avoidance and grief. One is that, sometimes avoidance feels very necessary and adaptive. There are times when using temporary avoidance can really help you to manage whatever's going on in your life, what's ever going on in that moment. An example of that might be, if you had pictures all over your desk at work and you're just coming back to work and you know that if you start to get emotional it'll take you a really long time to recover you don't want for people stopping by your desk like having these conversations with you because you seem emotional so you decide for now while I'm (while I'm) feeling this way I'm gonna put those photos away and then later on when I'm feeling a little bit more capable of having those photos out without becoming emotional at work I'll bring them back out. So sometimes, a little temporary avoidance is really helpful in grief. Also sometimes it's just helpful to get a break from your grief altogether, right. But one thing we also know, is that avoidance can often be chronic, like you were just describing Litsa. And we also know that avoidance lies at the heart of most anxiety disorders is that coping through avoidance and a tendency to consistently choose the avoidance as (as) that coping skill. And like you just said, once you get caught in that cycle you end up having to go around and around avoid more and avoid more. And it doesn't even really help us. Like, there's this thing called the Ironic Process Theory. And the best way to describe it is like, what do you think about when I tell you not to think about a white bear? What's the first thing you think of it's the white bear, right. And so the idea is like, ironically, the more you try not to, the more you do tend to sometimes think about things, or think about all the things you have to do to avoid that thing. (And) And not only do you get caught in this cycle, where you never learn how to cope and tolerate certain things, you ultimately cut yourself off from experiences that can be very beneficial in your coping. You cut yourself off, maybe from places that bring you comfort, you cut yourself off from people who could be there for you, you cut yourself off from positive memories out of fear that the painful memories are going to be too difficult, you might even cut yourself off from being able to have a continued bond (in) in at certain times with your loved one, because you don't want to go there. So, I do think avoidance is such a big piece. And so if you know that avoidance has just been your coping style or has come up a lot more for you in grief, we do encourage you to look at that a little bit. Something, you know, there's a lot of things I guess, we could do our own podcast on how to address avoidance. But you know sometimes we talk about we have journaling exercises. People could do it is something you could always talk to a therapist or counselor about so if that's something you're concerned with you can always email us and we can put you in the right direction

And maybe we'll, maybe we'll do another topic, another podcast on the topic one day. But it, it does, it becomes really important to address the avoidance as well because then it proves to us that we can. And that's one of the things that also gets in our way if we just keep avoiding, if I imagine, say for instance, I have a lot of anxiety about seeing some old friends who I haven't seen since the loss happened or since my divorce or you know since whatever, it whatever it is that I'm going through, and I'm anxious about whether it's going to be awkward and I'm worrying about that and I'm saying oh my gosh I'm not gonna be able to handle it or I'm gonna break down or whatever story I've made up that I'm feeling anxious about. If I don't go, if I don't see them, then my mind just essentially is able to reinforce that that worst case scenario is probably what would have happened, right. Because I didn't go. And so I didn't get any evidence to show anything otherwise. I didn't get any evidence to say like yep, there were awkward moments but there were actually great moments and it was so good to see them and yes I was really anxious but it turns out I can do things even when I'm anxious. Which sometimes we feel like we have to get rid of the anxiety before we can do the thing, when what our brain really needs is sometimes to be reminded said oh wait I can do the thing even when I'm anxious about it. So it really is one of those things where avoidance, (if, if you're) if you're struggling with that, I think we can't say enough about how important it is to find some spaces to cope with that.

Yeah. And that goes along, we wrote about this (in our) in our book What's Your Grief, List to help you get through any loss and that goes along, what you just said, goes along with one of the (one of the) things we included on our list about causes of grief related anxiety, and it's that idea that you just fear the intensity of (of) grief emotions, and I'm going to just read quickly from here, if a person interprets their grief responses as dangerous threatening or indicative of a larger mental or physical problem they are more likely to experience fear. Those who fear grief responses and grief related emotions will likely experience increased anxiety when emotion feels unpredictable and easily triggered. I think that in grief, we for the first time, sometimes feel new emotions that we don't recognize, that feel like they just feel very foreign to us. Maybe they're very surprising because they weren't the ones we were expecting to feel and, or were experiencing emotions at an intensity level that we have never experienced before, like a new intensity that we didn't know existed. And that, for many people who don't have a lot of comfort with that level of emotion, or type of emotion can cause people to feel like they might be spinning out of control, can cause people to fear that something's wrong with them. And like you said, if we're not teaching ourselves that we can actually sit in the midst of a grief storm of emotion and wait for it to pass over us, we never learned that. We never learned that that is something that happens. We never learn that it recedes. We never learn that we have the coping skills to deal. Because I think that's another thing, a lot of times people will assess the stressor, right, they'll assess the thing that's in front of them and they'll say do I or do I not have the resources to cope with this? And because grief is so much all at once, I think a lot of people say I do not have the resources to cope with this.

Yeah I think that's exactly what happens for a lot of people is that fear of our own ability. And you know, a lot of times people will say I realized that my self-confidence was really shaken in grief. And oftentimes the reason is because they said they'll say things, like I always, you used to view myself as really strong, you know, whatever they define strong as or someone who was able to manage my emotions. And this is the first time that, that felt shaky for me. And then suddenly once that self-confidence or that confidence waivers, then suddenly we can really start to more and more fear these emotions, because we don't fear, because we fear our our inability. I fear we, we fear that we don't have the ability to cope. I actually, this is like such a small ridiculous example, but it's certainly not related to grief, but I had this experience just the other day, that was a very like anxiety panic, like a panic focused experience, where I really felt like I had to channel skills that I would, you know, that I know from this sort of work or this sort of training and thinking about anxiety. I was with my partner and he was going in somewhere in a store and I was waiting in the car. And he has a new car, that or new to him not a new car. But a new car, car that I'm not like familiar with and he went inside, and he locked, he walked away with the keys to the car and he locked it and went inside. And about five minutes later the car alarm started going off in the car, but what I hadn't realized until that moment is you can't unlock the doors of the car from inside the car, so I was essentially like locked in the car with the alarm going off. And I do have some tendencies to be a little claustrophobic, and I know that about myself, but I had, like I was overwhelmed with panic, like I just had this like unbelievably claustrophobic like panicked feeling, and I literally, in that moment was just like, okay I am just going to like let all of this panic come. I was like where do I feel this panic? Like I was trying to do grounding things of like what does it feel like, where is it in my body, like, what can I do right now to just be able to kind of say like this feeling is here, I know it's gonna pass if I can just sit with it for a couple of minutes and kind of ground myself through it, which I did. And I was able to, like, get to a place where my brain was a little clearer, to be, like, okay you can manage this. It's all right, it's not an actual threat. But I do feel like I had to do a lot of that work of saying to myself like your feelings can't hurt you, like my, my anxiety can't hurt me, my panic can't actually hurt me and to kind of roll through it but it really does, in those moments, when it's happening, whether it's an acute thing, like that or of panic or more general anxiety it's really hard to kind of lean in to just sitting with it.

Well, I, though that might not have been a grief related example, I do think that it has kind of an important segue to another part of this topic. Another thing that we talk about as causing briefly related anxiety is just that there are elements to life after loss that can trigger your acute stress response, right.

Absolutely. That is totally, I think one of the things that was so real about this example is, like, I could feel the physiological stuff happening where I you know our bodies, and again for me, where I remind myself about what anxiety is there for, right. It's there because it's trying to protect us. And in a moment, claustrophobia is a great example, like, if we feel trapped and confined if there's a very loud alarm noise going off like it's sending all of these messages to your, to my body, that like I'm unsafe. This could be a threatening situation that I don't have control over, whatever it is. And our body is designed to react in ways where we have these stress hormones that get released. And where we feel anxiety, because theoretically, it's supposed to be priming us to be able to respond and to be able to kind of do the things that we need to do in that moment. Of course so many of the situations that we're in, that are creating an acute stress response, are not the things that our body was designed for. We're not actually like fleeing from a tiger or some of the things that physiologically were happening, but in grief when a loved one has died that is one of the most primal things that tells us that either we're unsafe, we weren't able to protect someone who we love who've died. It reminds us of kind of that in that instability of our safety and security in the world. And what our bodies are primed to do in those moments are to be able to kind of get us ready to protect ourselves and the people that we love. And that can feel, it can come up in all sorts of unsettling physiological ways where our heart is pounding and our breath is changing and we're our stomach is like going crazy and we can feel all of these things happening in our bodies that we feel like we don't have any control over or we don't understand. There's maybe a fight-flight-or-freeze response. We feel like we should be able to move and we can't and so all of that can really increase our feeling of anxiety because we're both feeling stressed and sometimes we don't understand or we feel like the things that we're feeling are out of control and we can't manage them.

And it's, (I) I do, it's those physiological responses (that I) that can spiral into that panic so easily. Because it's like, it's not just your thoughts (your thoughts) and your physical responses. They all get kind of mixed together and create this really scary cycle where you kind of end up in that panic mode. But (I) I think for anybody experiencing this, it is kind of something they might want to really take a look at. I think also what people may not realize beforehand is when you experience something as potentially traumatic as loss, there are things that on like a very subconscious level that get paired together with these extreme acute responses, so, especially if it was something really sudden and unexpected, you know. It might be that your loved one died and you got a call at 4am and you had that acute stress response at that time and now anytime the phone rings in the morning you get that trigger, you get that acute stress response triggered. And it might be a lot of little things that got paired together on a very subconscious level. This is not really something you can control. All you can control is what Litsa was just describing, how you respond in the moment to that acute stress response. But this is something that happens to a lot of people especially those who go through something that feels very traumatic. And so if it is something that you're feeling is happening a lot for you on a regular basis, and that's going on for, you know, a month or so, we really would recommend talking to somebody, talking to a mental health counselor, maybe somebody who specializes in trauma, because that's something that they can really help you find some tools to deal with. Like Litsa, the tools you were describing were very sophisticated.

I feel. Yeah. I mean I think (that) that is part of it, right. When we start to have different types of anxiety and stress responses we need to learn different types of tools to be able to cope with them. And if you haven't had to manage the type of anxiety you're feeling now or the type of stress response that you're feeling now because it didn't exist before for your grief, that's part of the reason it's so important and useful to reach out and get the support to find new tools. Because sometimes we can feel like we're failing at managing these emotions and we get into that cycle of questioning our ourselves and it hurts our self-confidence when really it's just we haven't had to deal with it before so we haven't had to learn. But with a little bit of support we can learn some of the tools. And (I) I think you make a really good point about the timing of this. Like acute stress, we know that it's gonna, it's always gonna exist for people in those days immediately following a loss, even with anticipated losses, we know there's still going to be some level of of stress response that we're having there. But over the long term, I mean, this ties in the the acute stress response and how it maintains over the long term, can be connected to another piece of anxiety that's really present in grief, which is often what's happened is that we have realized for the first time that really bad things can happen to us. And our sense of safety and security in the world is deeply destabilized. And so in that moment, we have now, had maybe an acute stress response. But over the long term, we may have lots of things out in the world around us that now feels scary to us that didn't feel scary before. We now might start to feel like if my, this person in my life got this disease, anybody in my life might end up with this disease. If I've found out that somebody I, you know, loved and care about betrayed me now I might start worrying that anybody in my life could potentially betray me. And so, sometimes we start to see that that anxiety that is there to protect us. That stress response, that's there to protect us. We might be experiencing it in overdrive over the long term because now we know that the world isn't maybe as safe as we once believed.

Yeah. I think that that is something that a lot of people can probably relate to. That idea that the world is not as safe and comforting and bright as it was before. When you realize the types of bad things that (that) could happen. And depending on your experience and depending on your loss, there are so many different areas of our lives and just of our really basic assumptions about the world that can be compromised. Like you said, like our assumptions about other people and whether other people are safe or to be trusted. Our assumptions about how capable we are as to take care of ourselves, or to take care of our families, take care of the people we care about, or just like what this world even is, you know, like what even is the rhyme or reason to things. And all of a sudden when it feels like that's gone, like the idea that anything could happen at any time and maybe that there's not a purpose or a meaning to it, like, I'm not saying that that's necessarily true in (in) everybody's understanding, but many people do come to that place where they're like, if things can happen out of nowhere, then like that does mean things are totally random. That's a very very destabilizing feeling.

Oh, it's so destabilizing. And if we've never had to cope with that feeling before because we hadn't faced that reality, again we often don't have the the skills and tools (to) to figure out how to sit with that anxiety, how to find ways to be able to manage it. And so it does take this extra work and effort for us to say wow my world view has changed and now some of the work I have to do is figure out how to live in this changed world.

And I do want to say like it is a very common experience for our assumptions about the world to be shattered. Ronnie Janoff-Bulman notably wrote a whole book and put forth a theory called the Shattered Assumptions Theory and it's very normal for our framework for understanding things to be destroyed after a significant loss and that it will take time to build it in a way that feels okay again. So even though the world may feel very dark right now, I do think that with some (some) sort of processing and perspective, and experiences, and reframing, and I'm not gonna lie it takes a lot of time and it takes a lot of hard work I want to say, like maybe it's not hard work, it's (it's) just a lot of stuff that goes on in your head, like, it, when you look back on it you're like wow! that was (that was) kind of a lot that it took for me to get to this place but I do think we can get to that place where things feel more secure, more settled and more, I want to say hopeful.

Yeah. Yeah. I definitely think that we can. I do think it just, it does, it takes that time and it (it) takes sometimes a recognition or a reminder that we've always been living in this world. We often just didn't see certain things about it. And that is one of the things that is really tricky. I just, a couple of weeks ago, did a training for some folks who had loved ones who or family members who have addictions or who had died of substance related causes and we had a big conversation about their change in perspective about the criminal justice system, that had come through some of the things that had happened to their loved ones. And there were a number of people who just really talked about how they had always put so much faith in that system. And now that they had seen that system sort of fail people, that their anxiety about that system was so dramatically increased and we had this discussion that I thought you know it was really insightful what one of the people there said was, you know she's like, I just keep reminding myself the system's not any different than it has ever been my whole life, it's just that I'm seeing things now that I never saw before. And she's like, it's this reminder that like, I just need to learn how to kind of manage pieces of this. And in her case, she was doing advocacy work to try to change the system and to raise awareness. And you know, that was part of how she was rebuilding her relationship with that system. But it was in part to manage her anxiety. And one of the things she said is now I feel more well equipped that if any of my family members were to end up in the criminal justice system, or I were, I actually now know that I'm much better positioned to help them, to have a better outcome than I would have been before this happened but yet my anxiety is more because I've seen these fractures you know that I that I didn't see before and so I think it's a real it's such a nuanced complicated topic but that rebuilding it can happen and we can get a sense of stability again.

It just takes time and evolution and this is something that we are always doing. Like, because what that really highlights to me is that our assumptions, they aren't exactly accurate. They are, because of our experiences and every new experience allows us to adjust and change. The problem is when we experience a loss, it challenges our assumptions so drastically that we can't make that like incremental adjustment or change, (it) it just changes things so much that it feels like everything is broken and we don't know which way is up. And so, I do, the first time we're having to really accommodate new information at a rate that feels really overwhelming to us or in a way that feels really overwhelming and we learn a lot of new truths all at the same time, and so I think that's what makes these experiences feel so difficult to really navigate.

Well, that's one of the factors that makes this.

And I think it ties really in to one of the last, you know, kind of broad things we wanted to talk about about anxiety which is really just uncertainty, right. Like the world becomes uncertain we realize that we can be caught off guard by things that maybe we didn't see the loss coming when it came. Or maybe we didn't know how hard grief was going to be. Maybe we real we thought we were going to be able to cope with it and we were caught off guard by the fact that we can't, and you know all of these things happen where the world feels unsafe and uncertain and unfamiliar. And so one of the things that our anxiety sometimes does, is suddenly now that we've seen that these things can be unsafe, we are now trying to imagine every possible worst case scenario. We never want to be caught off guard again, right. We want to catastrophize everything because we think I never want to be in this position again where I don't see that someone in my life could be sick, or that you know the criminal justice system could fail me, or whatever it is that is coming up. And that can get us into a really unhealthy cycle with our anxiety where we're constantly looking for the worst to try to protect ourselves from being caught off guard.

Yeah. There's (a there's) a theory that I think makes a lot of sense basically. That was put out in 2011 by, I have their names here, Michelle Newman and Sandra Llera and their model is called The Contrast Avoidance Model of Anxiety. And so basically, what they theorize is that we keep our anxiety, (our in) our worry, chronically high to avoid that (that) contrast that comes when something bad happens when you least expect it. And so we're basically a hundred percent of the time trying to brace ourselves and prepare ourselves for the worst and I do think that that makes sense. It would have a lot of ties to intolerance of uncertainty because we don't like the idea that things could happen that we weren't anticipating. We don't like the idea that we might take risks that we don't want to take. And so I (I) think that makes a lot of sense in tolerance of uncertainty, another one of those things that lies at the heart of most anxiety disorders. So (I) I do think that that's one that once you have experienced that worst case scenario you then just want to stay prepared stay vigilant and but it can lead to a life of, I just want to like tense my body up when I talk about it, like constant just tension.

Yeah. Yeah. And constant, you know going back to the beginning, constant avoidance sometimes, right. Because then we think if certain situations could be unsafe we catastrophize the worst case scenario of it and we think about the worst and then we start avoiding things that we wouldn't have avoided before. So you know it can be a really huge cycle and (and) I think you know the other piece that is (is) different but still related to uncertainty is just that many times one of the things that helps to ease anxiety for people is familiarity. It's routine, it's being able to feel like we have a certain way of doing things through our day that feels familiar and part of it is that it protects us from the unexpected, you know. We like those things for those reasons. And when we look at what grief does, it often, it changes all of those familiar routines, you know. (It) Depending on the loss, it can feel like the whole plan you had for your life, which was what you were holding on to, as the thing that was giving you stability, was looking at this life plan that involved maybe the person who died or things looking a certain way, that's gone. And so we're often in those moments when we feel like we don't have the routine anymore or the structure or the same goals or the same life plan and all of that is destabilized we feel really unmoored and that can be a recipe for more anxiety, of feeling like I don't have anything to hold on to, to try to assure myself that the rest of the day is going to be okay, much less that the future is going to be okay. I can't picture what my future is going to look like anymore, after I've spent so much time, you know, imagining that things would fall into place in a certain way, that, you know, my family would look a certain way, that my career would look a certain way. When that image in our minds disappears, we can feel really anxious when we can't quite fill it with a new plan or a new picture. And so some of that work that we need to do if you're feeling that sort of anxiety, maybe that just diffuse anxiety, that (that) life feels unclear and foggy and unstructured and it's creating a lot of anxiety, is to work with a mental health professional or with somebody who can really help you a little bit with that intolerance of uncertainty. Start to figure out what can you still ground yourself in, though it can feel like everything is gone there are often things that we do still have, that we can start to reconnect ourselves to and rebuild on. But like everything we've been talking about today it takes a little bit of work or a lot of work.

I mean no matter what your relationship was with anxiety, before experiencing loss, it just makes common sense that this experience would potentially really impact that and change it and magnify it and intensify it. It just makes sense. There are a lot of reasons why that's true and I think the good news is that they're, like you said there are a lot of Mental Health Counselors out there who can be helpful, there are a lot of tools and approaches to coping with anxiety, and they don't all involve they don't all necessarily involve medication. There are a lot of different therapeutic approaches that can be really helpful for anxiety. And so (what) whatever your comfort level is with that, those types of things, like there's a lot of options, so we do really recommend and, you know, I think when you're grieving you feel like you're supposed to reach out to a grief counselor and that can be really really helpful, but if anxiety is really causing you a lot of stress and worry and getting in the way of your daily functioning and so on, we do encourage you (to) to look for a therapist who also really has a lot of experience working with anxiety disorders. And it might be that you first work with that person, before then talking to, maybe, a grief counselor, because this is something that, you know, can make it a lot harder to be able to get to the grief stuff in order to really process it and cope with it. So, we do recommend, (if) if you're feeling like you need a little extra help, there's no threshold (we) we say people need to hit to call somebody, to call a therapist, call a mental health professional. If you feel, like, you need a little extra resources and help, it never hurts to reach out.

Yeah. And we really encourage you to consider that even if you're somebody who hasn't thought, you know, therapy is not for me but for people who, you know, you're not quite there yet, there are definitely tools that you can use on your own. There's some really great anxiety workbooks and things that we can link to in the show notes that we're familiar with and have known people to have good success with. Again we never want that to be the only thing that people rely on when working with a therapist, you know, can be so helpful (but) but it can be a good place to start and dip your toe in the water if either you just can't find a therapist or you're just not ready to take that step.

Absolutely. Many people experience anxiety but they don't feel like they want to talk to a therapist or need to talk to a therapist and they're, you know, I think like you said there's a lot of great books, a lot of great tools, a lot of great resources out there where you can just learn more about coping tools and about what you're experiencing.

Yeah. Absolutely. And for a lot of people like you're (you're) on that anxiety spectrum and it's not, (you) you know, it's higher than you'd like it to be, it's higher than it used to be, but it's not maybe in that full.. Yeah.

...problem place and so these resources and tools might be exactly what you need just to kind of move things back into a range that you feel like you're managing a little better.

All right. Well with that we want to thank everybody for joining us for another episode and you can always email us at whatsyourgrief@gmail.com if you have any topic suggestions or you know just want to say hi.

We wrote a book!

After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief
for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible,
real-life book!

After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible, real-life book!

What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss is for people experiencing any type of loss. This book discusses some of the most common grief experiences and breaks down psychological concepts to help you understand your thoughts and emotions. It also shares useful coping tools, and helps the reader reflect on their unique relationship with grief and loss.

You can find What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss wherever you buy books:

Let’s be grief friends.

We post a new article to What’s Your Grief about once a week. Subscribe to stay up to date on all our posts.

Related Blog Posts

Related Blog Posts

See More

Leave a Comment

YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS WILL NOT BE PUBLISHED. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.