Coping with Anxiety in Grief
By Susan Bryan, MA, LPC – VNA Bereavement Coordinator – Collin
You are reading this because you are grieving the death of someone very close to you, someone you loved very much. The death of someone we love is scary and stressful. We feel helpless and uncertain, and wonder if we can go on living without them. We don’t know what the future looks like without them, and we don’t know how to fill the void in our lives that their death has caused.
You are most likely to be experiencing common feelings and reactions in grief – deep sadness, exhaustion, confusion, inability to focus or concentrate, lethargy, loneliness, anger, regret, and anxiety. Adding to all these grief feelings and reactions, you are probably starting to think and perhaps get anxious about the upcoming holidays. Continuing to live in this COVID time can also intensify feelings of stress and anxiety in grief.
It is so important to be gentle with yourself and take care of yourself. Take time to rest, grieve and cry as you need to. Do what is soothing and calming that helps bring you peace and comfort. When we are stressed or scared, we forget to breathe, or we breathe very shallowly. Take time to just sit, with your feet firmly on the ground, and breathe slowly and deeply from your diaphragm. Set a timer if you are afraid you will fall asleep. Play soft music, light a candle, close your eyes, or choose a focal point to look at while you pay attention to your breathing. Other things to do when you are feeling anxious include taking a warm bath, listening to peaceful and calming music, and going outside and paying attention to the beauty around you. When you are feeling fearful and alone, reach out and talk with family and close friends who “get” your sadness and grief.
Sometimes the fear and anxiety are heightened and turn into panic attacks. These sudden and intense events seem to come out of nowhere, so it’s important to know what contributes to these episodes. When we are anxious, we have physical symptoms such as shortness of breath, heart palpitations, chest pressure, dizziness, nausea, weakness, and tense muscles.
When you are experiencing severe stress and anxiety, some simple practices can make a difference as you deal with your fear:
- Practice deep breathing and feeling your feet firmly on the ground. Stay focused and feel grounded in the present moment.
- Make a list of the things that make you nervous and fearful – situations, places, people, certain times of the day or week.
- Examine your thoughts about these stressful situations. What are you telling yourself when you feel anxious? (Examples – “I won’t be able to make it without my loved one”, “I will be all alone”, I can’t handle everything I have to do.”)
- When your thoughts spin like this into anxiousness, catch yourself, and replace the fearful thoughts with positive and strong thoughts and affirmations: “I am strong”, “I can do this”, “I am not alone”, and “I will get through this”.
- Practice. It takes a while to recognize and replace your anxious thoughts with positive thoughts. With practice, it will become easier and will help you journey through grief in healthier and calmer ways.
- Consider what you might change about these times, places, and situations to make them less anxiety-producing. Consider what you might decide to do differently, or eliminate, that will help with your anxiety and stress.
- Journal or make a list of the practices, places and people that are calming for you. How can you incorporate more of these into your everyday life?
- Do what works for you. Do what helps bring you comfort, peace, and calm.
Know that we are all created to be resilient in the face of sadness and stress. You will make it through the grief you are experiencing now. Your grief will get less intense. It will get better. If you are having extreme panic attacks that are concerning to you or your loved ones, it’s important to seek professional help. Please reach out to us if we can help support you in your grief process.
For further reading on this subject, we recommend Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief – A Revolutionary Approach to Understanding and Healing the Impact of Loss by Claire Bidwell Smith, LCPC.
The Sacrament of Waiting
Seasons of Your Heart by Macrina Wiederkehr
she celebrated the sacrament of letting go.
First she surrendered her green,
then the orange, yellow, and red
finally she let go of her brown.
Shedding her last leaf
she stood empty and silent, stripped bare.
Leaning against the winter sky
she began her vigil of trust.
Shedding her last leaf
she watched its journey to the ground.
She stood in silence
wearing the color of emptiness,
her branches wondering;
How do you give shade with so much gone?
the sacrament of waiting began.
The sunrise and sunset watched with
Clothing her with silhouettes
they kept her hope alive.
They helped her understand that
her dependence and need,
her readiness to receive
were giving her a new kind of beauty.
Every morning and every evening they stood
and celebrated together
the sacrament of waiting.
Holiday Activities for grieving Children
Sue Rafferty, LMSW, Bereavement Coordinator, Dallas and Tarrant
Holidays can be especially challenging for grieving families. Grieving children who have lost loved ones still find magic in the holidays, and want them to be a special time of year.
It’s important to talk about the person who died, and talk about your grief. This gives permission for memories and feelings to be shared or questions to be asked. If the person who died is never mentioned, children will learn that this is a forbidden subject. They may stuff down their grief or pretend the loss is affecting them less than it really is. Children often are more able to talk about their loved ones when they are doing a craft or other activity. Here are some ways loved
ones can be honored in the holiday season, or any time of year:
- Make ornaments using photos or drawings.
- Make special gifts from the clothing of the person who died. Sewing projects can include stuffed animals, pillows, quilts, purses, or tote bags. Someone else may be able to help with the sewing if you gather the materials.
- Share memories of the person who died. Ask about times that were funny, happy, frustrating, loving, or scary. Draw pictures of memories. These could be included in a scrapbook.
- Create a place for remembering the person who died, and decorate it with pictures, keepsakes, greens, flowers, candles, or ornaments.
- Have each person write down stories of their loved one, or draw pictures. Put them into a specially decorated box. Designate a family gathering time to bring them out and talk about them.
- Light a candle for the person who died.
- Decorate the grave-site with flowers, ornaments, or a small Christmas tree.
- Donate to a charity or cause in honor of the person. Have the children write a note that they are honoring the person, share a memory, or illustrate the note.
- Look through photographs or watch videos of the person who died.
- Give gifts to each other in memory of your loved one.
Participating in holiday activities can help children and family members heal and be comforted during a difficult time. May you have peace in this season.
VNA bereavement events provide an opportunity for bereaved individuals to meet with others who understand loss and learn more about helping themselves. Some of our groups are in person, and some on the Zoom platform. Our bereavement events are open to families and friends of VNA patients, as well as to adults from the community, and offered free of charge. Please reach out to your Bereavement Coordinator for more information or support.
In-Person Grief Support
Grieving Hearts Group – Loss of Spouse/Partner – Frisco
2nd Sundays – November 12, and December 10 at 4:00 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. Grace Avenue United Methodist Church, 3521 Main St, Frisco, TX 75034. Sign-ups for new participants are due by 3 p.m. the day before, in case of a change.
Contact Susan Bryan LPC, to RSVP and sign up, (214) 733-5543 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Grieving Hearts Group – Loss of Spouse/Partner – Allen
2nd Tuesdays, November 14, and December 12 at 10:00 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. First United Methodist Church, 601 S. Greenville, Allen, TX 75002. Sign-ups for new participants are due by 3 p.m. the day before, in case of a change.
Contact Susan Bryan, LPC, to RSVP and sign up, (214) 733-5543 or email@example.com
Healing Through the Holidays
Grief workshop in Dallas. Wednesday, November 8, 10:00 to 11:30 a.m., in VNA office in Wells Fargo building, 1420 W. Mockingbird Ln. Suite 700, Dallas, TX 75247. Contact Sue Rafferty, LMSW, firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (972) 215-6128, for more information and to register.
Online Grief Support (on Zoom)
Lunchtime Grief Support
Lunchtime grief support meetings provide an opportunity to hear a practical program about some aspect of the grief process, with time for questions and discussion. We usually meet the fourth Thursday, noon to 1 pm; we’ll meet the
3rd Thursdays in November and December.
On October 26 we will be discussing the book The Grieving Brain: The Surprising Science of How We Learn from Love and Loss, by Mary-Frances O’Connor. The Zoom Link for October is https://vnatexas.zoom.us/j/8197
0406079?pwd=alV5bGZISVpwRUhKZUVSZnlXSnFNQT09. Meeting ID: 819 7040 6079 Passcode: 388445, Phone
On November 16 we will have a guest speaker, Larry Barber, LPC-S, CT, grief therapist and author. He will talk about Coping with Grief During the Holidays. Zoom link for November 16 is https://vnatexas.zoom.us/j/889165
25209?pwd=VHlRNExIWmQrc1VJamtETmhDSlVyUT09. Meeting ID is 889 1652 5209, Passcode: 917879, Phone 1-346-248-7799. We will use the same link for December 21. For more information Contact Sue Rafferty, email@example.com, (972) 215-6128.
Monthly Grief Support in partnership with Methodist Hospital “Generations.’
Meetings are held the second Monday each month, 1-2 pm, on Zoom, November 13, December 11. On Monday, November 13, we will have a guest speaker, Larry Barber, LPC-S, CT, grief therapist author. He will talk about
Coping with Grief During the Holidays. You will need to register with the Generations program to access the Zoom session. Zoom link: https://zoom.us/j/92980366396 Meeting ID is 929 8036 6396 Contact Sue Rafferty, LMSW, firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (972) 215-6128, for more information.
Grieving Hearts Group – Loss of Spouse/Partner
2nd Tuesdays – November 14, December 12 – 6:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. Sign-ups for new participants are due by 3p.m. the day of. Contact Susan Bryan, LPC to sign up and receive Zoom link. (214) 733-5543 or email@example.com
Grief Resources for Fall 2023
VNA bereavement events provide an opportunity for bereaved individuals to meet with others who understand loss and learn more about helping themselves. Grief support events are offered virtually via Zoom and in person. Please reach out to your Bereavement Coordinator for more information or support.
Dallas and Kaufman: Sue Rafferty – 214-689-2922 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Collin and Denton: Susan Bryan – 214-733-5543 | email@example.com
Pediatric: Kevin Moore – 972-962-7500 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Helpful Websites for Loss and Grief
www.faithandgrief.org/gatherings – A local faith-based organization that is currently holding in-person and online grief meetings.
www.griefshare.org – A faith-based grief program that uses video lessons and discussion groups. Many of its groups are being done online; check their website to find ones near you.
www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/grief – Listing of private practice counselors and therapists in your area who specialize in grief and loss (VNA doesn’t endorse these, but is only sharing this website info if it is helpful to you)
www.aftertalk.com – Website with articles, blog, resource center, and an “ask Dr. Robert Niemeyer” column, with space for writing private conversations to loved ones and archiving memories
www.centerforloss.com – Links to books and articles by grief counselor and educator Alan Wolfelt, PhD.
www.grief.com – Website with videos and info from grief expert and educator Dr. David Kessler.
www.thegrieftoolbox.com – A place for grief tools, where people can find the grief resources they need. Includes links to articles, videos, support group finder.
www.whatsyourgrief.com – Website about many aspects of coping with grief
www.widownet.org – Information and self-help resources for widows and widowers, discussion boards.
www.griefhealing.com – Website with extensive quotes/poems section, articles on loss and pet loss, discussion groups.
www.healgrief.org – Social support network providing resources and support for coping with grief.
www.opentohope.com – Online resource center that includes community forums and articles, podcasts, and videos on a wide variety of grief-related topics.
www.ourhouse-grief.org/grief-pages (has Spanish resources) – Grief articles in English and Spanish
www.connect.legacy.com – Online support groups, articles, blogs, resources, and more.
https://forums.grieving.com/ – Forums for different kinds of losses and grief issues.
www.hubpages.com/health/grief-loss-bereavement – Extensive website about grief and loss with many links to grief-related articles.