Have you found yourself wondering lately why you are still so anxious? With the pandemic subsiding some, do you worry about why you don’t feel better yet?
Have you felt some of these symptoms below recently?
- A sense of panic
- Heart racing/palpitating
- Obsessive worry
- Nausea/Unsettled stomach
This is what grief looks like for those of us thriving and surviving in the midst of so much worldwide! YES, grief mimics anxiety when we are dealing with trauma~
A quick glance at this list and you may recognize yourself or someone you know. Further look may lead you to the thought that this list has become more common for many of us over the past two plus years. As a child and adult therapist in Washington, DC, I can’t help but notice the increasing reports of persistent anxiety-like experiences across ages. As a person experiencing my own life in the midst of the era of an overreaching global pandemic, national political unrest, brewing war overseas, & awareness of countless trauma experiences occurring for fellow human beings, it makes perfect sense why this sense of anxiety seems to be difficult to escape. From moment to moment, while we may not see it or hear it, we sense it there.
This is a two part blog series in which I will share about the close connection between anxiety and grief, how the anxiety-grief connection relates to the pandemic, and what strategies traditionally used in grief work can support us all in finding a healing path forward amidst our pandemic related collective grief.
In 1969, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross introduced the theory that grief had five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These five stages pervade our culture. There have been additional notable theories about grief since then by others such as Thomas Attig and Dr. J. William Worden, each holding much validity and invaluable use.
The book, Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief, by Claire Bidwell Smith, recently made me stop and reconsider grief. The title alone seemed to make perfect sense based on professional and personal experiences. In her book, Bidwell Smith talks about grief as a “series of emotions that we feel when we lose someone we love”, among them anxiety. Of course we would experience anxiety following a significant loss, as it is a shock to our system to face the moment when a loved one is gone from earth, and then all the moments thereafter. In addition to the physiological and chemical shifts that occur in the body, we are facing agonizing loss, feeling afraid of the pain, and left wondering what is to come. This experience of uncertainty is often anxiety. Bidwell Smith talks about anxiety coming in all different forms, including panic attacks, social phobias, concerns about your health, worry for the people around you/other loved ones, or general anxiety. These are all a normal part of the response to a significant loss. However, if we push grief away, the result can be a mounting sense of anxiety.
While reading this book, I began to make parallels between the collective grief that our world is experiencing in light of the pandemic. From time to time it strikes me that while everyone knows that we are experiencing a global pandemic, we keep moving forward as if things should function as they always have—We try to feel the way we have always felt and do whatever we have always done. As we approach the two year anniversary for the initial COVID 19 related shut down in the U.S., I reflect on the number of days that have passed by compared to the amount of time spent processing the loss that has occurred in each of our lives. The numbers are not comparable. I wonder what the impact will be on our health and wellness if we do not take seriously the task of grieving life before COVID. But how do we take charge of this task in a meaningful way?
Bidwell Smith explains that “the way to alleviate your anxiety is by honoring your grief process…Letting yourself move through all the emotions…and all the phases and seeking to create a nurturing environment for yourself while you do so…”
So here we are…the survivors. We are the ones here willing to get curious and engage with our emotional realm in the midst of a new normal. Our willingness is rooted in resilience.
In my next entry, I will talk about the resilient grieving model as a potential method for honoring your grief process, taking active steps toward greater ease, and tools for coping with the anxiety that comes with grief, even in the midst of loss and pain.