- Breathe deeply – When we are stressed, our breathing becomes more shallow, which increases tension in the body. By focusing on breathing slowly and deeply from the belly, the body will naturally start to calm down.
- Reframe Discouraging Thoughts – Pay attention to what you say to yourself. Challenge discouraging thoughts and replace them with statements that are meant to calm, sooth and encourage you. Repeat these statements over and over again when worries start to surface.
- Learn to let go of control – Even the most carefully planned events in life can take unexpected turns. Sometimes the cure for anxiety caused by these things is to simply accept that you cannot control everything and don’t have to for things to work out. Instead of focusing on what could go wrong, focus on and accept what you can do to improve the situation, and trust that somehow everything will work out – it just might not be how you planned it!
- Be optimistic – A famous psychologist, Alfred Adler, used to tell people to act “AS IF” they had what they wanted or were able to make everything work out. Even though they were “just pretending” to be confident, they reported later that they actually felt more confident and that events they were fearful of worked out. The lesson here is that attitude and perspective are everything. Everyone faces overwhelming challenges from time to time but not everyone is crippled by their anxiety. If you can focus your energy on being optimistic and solution oriented rather than pessimistic and problem oriented, you will feel better able to cope and manage a stressor.
- Focus on something else – Sometimes when worries get too big you need to redirect your energy to calm yourself down. Focusing on a task that you can control the outcome of, and engaging in an activity that will release energy, like exercising, can help to reframe your thinking, gain perspective and release tension, which will allow you to calm down. Then you can return to the original issue in a less anxious state of mind.
- Let the past go – If you’re feeling bad about things that have already happened, take a moment to realize that there’s nothing you can do to change these things now. Take steps to accept that at the time, with the knowledge you had then, you did the best you could and take the energy being used on regret to do something that will be useful to you in the present and future.
Grief and Anxiety
“No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness…”
C.S. Lewis, 1961, after the death of his wife
Few people are aware that increased anxiety, which can be experienced as panic attacks, specific fears or generalized worry, is very common when acutely grieving.
Here are some explanations for increased anxiety/strategies to help you cope:
- Increased Perceived Uncertainty: Anxiety naturally increases whenever people are faced with the unknown and/or the unfamiliar. In the case of grief, the unknown is this new world without your loved one’s physical presence and the unfamiliar are the new challenges of having to manage all the consequential changes and losses.
- How to help you cope: Grief is a time of transition. You need time to adjust to this new world and all the changes in your life. You need time to figure out a new future. Give yourself permission to not have all the answers and sit with “I don’t know”. Just take it one day at a time.
- Increased Perceived Insecurity: When loved ones can die, the world can suddenly feel like a scarier place. If you have always prided yourself on being able to take control and influence your world, you may find yourself losing confidence and feeling more helpless and out of control. Insecurity is natural in times of transition. When you are grieving you are transitioning from the security of what was to what is, and all that this entails.
- How to help yourself cope: Be patient with yourself as you take on all the new roles and responsibilities you now have. Do not be afraid to ask for help and adjust your expectations for yourself. Anyone in your shoes would have moments where they feel overwhelmed and uncertain so do not judge yourself harshly.
- Intensity of Emotions: When someone very significant dies, the emotions can be very intense, unexpected, uncontrollable and overall very different then how you have reacted to other losses. Coupled with the unrealistic expectations that most people hold about the grieving process, these reactions can cause you to doubt your sanity and perceived ability to ever recover.
- How to help yourself cope: It is common to worry that you will become stuck in your pain but, like everything else in life, your grief will change with time and work. Find ways to express your emotions and soothe and comfort yourself to help to manage these experiences. Do not be afraid or embarrassed by your emotions; the intensity and rawness will lessen. Tears are healthy.
- Managing the Process of Grief: Grieving is a slow, energy draining and painful process. The unexpected and intense experience of grief does not lend itself to the same logical processes of resolution as do other problems you typically encounter in life. Coping strategies may not be as effective and some emotions may have to be expressed many times before the energy is released and the mood can shift. All of this can increase feelings of discouragement which heighten anxiety.
- How to help yourself cope: Assistance might be needed to help manage these experiences, to develop new coping strategies and more realistic expectations for your individual grieving process. Seek out information and support if you are concerned about how you are managing.
- Lack of Guidance: When we are feeling lost or confused we seek out guidance. Sometimes friends and family may not give the best advice and we can feel isolated in our grief if our experiences are different from others’. If our expectations are unrealistic, advice does not seem to work, or there is no clear information or direction to help us cope, this can further raise our anxiety.
- How to help yourself cope: Connecting with a bereavement counsellor or a support group can give you a safe place to ask questions, address concerns and receive support and guidance.
Tips to Support Grieving
- Sit with nature – by the river or in a quiet park – breathe in some fresh air
- Follow spiritual practices (sweat, church, prayer, song, etc.)
- Write in a journal
- Write a letter to the person who died, then bury it, burn it or put it away
- Write a story, poem, song for the person
- Let yourself have fun – Let yourself laugh
- Don’t judge yourself or your grieving process
- Ask for help from friends and supporters
- If you get stuck in a stage, or the feelings seem out of proportion, seek counseling
- Be gentle with yourself and acknowledge that healing is going to take time