“Your anxiety isn’t going to go completely away,” said the pretty well-dressed counselor sitting across from me. “The very thing you are afraid of has already materialized”. It was a fear I never had before that warm August evening 2 years prior. I had never even thought to ask the question, “can grief cause anxiety?” but against my will, in a devastating turn of events, I had learned the answer.
Yes, yes it can.
How I Know Grief Can Cause Anxiety
I had five perfect pregnancies (except for the part that I make a very crabby pregnant woman) and gave birth to five beautiful babies. God was good to me. We were one big happy family.
In a way, I’m looking back through rose-colored glass because all the small stresses and frustrations in that day no longer matter. They were insignificant to the deep grief we were about to be plunged into.
Pain I couldn’t even describe, a life was taken too soon, a future snuffed out.
My Rebekah was a beautiful 8 year old girl, full of laughter and life. She was a hurricane of activity, all sunshine or all rainclouds- no in-between.
She was mine. My right-hand man. We did everything together from baking cookies to playing barbies to household chores. I adored her. My only girl.
She died in an accident. Gone just like that. No more sunshine, no more crawling into bed with me at night, no more drawings with “I love you mom” scribbled on the bottom.
The first anxiety attack hit me on the day of the funeral. The large church was closing in on me, I couldn’t breathe. I stepped outside into the sunshine. The weather was warm and sunny and I tried to get rid of the tightness in my chest. I was distracted by the beautiful day and wanted to scream at the sun. How could it shine when my own sunshine was gone?
Anxiety: A Lesser Known Part of Grief
Grief is a strange process. It changes and evolves, never the same two days running. It has been over two years now since my Rebekah went to be with the Lord and sometimes it hurts like it did that first night. Other times I can talk about her without crying and smile at the memories.
I first wrote a post about anxiety and grief less than a year after the accident. It is not a helpful post at all, just an expression of how I was feeling. I don’t think many people understand what it is like to lose a child. I wanted them to know that it is so much more than just pain.
There is a constant fear it will happen again. If I lost one child then it is possible that I will lose a second. Right?
I have learned a lot about hurt, pain, anxiety, fear, depression, and faith since I wrote that post and felt it was time to not just relate to the brokenhearted but share what has helped me.
Here are 10 tips that I have found helpful over the past 2 years.
- Talk to a friend
- See a counselor
- Essential oils
- Recite scripture
- Take your thoughts captive
- Live in the present moment
- Push yourself
Talk to a friend
For me, the best thing I can do is get the anxiety out of my head. Somehow anxiety gains power as swirls around. It seems to grow and turn into ideas that no longer make sense.
Get it out of your head, friend. Talk to someone who loves you. Share with them the thoughts that are building. Sometimes simply saying them out loud releases some of their power, especially the ones that have spiraled to the point they have lost common sense.
See a Counselor
I found my counselor to be very helpful. She gave me the tools that I needed to combat the anxiety that had altered my everyday life.
I had become obsessed with the safety of my living kids. I saw danger around every corner and kept them as close to me as possible. This was not healthy for them or me.
I like her because she never encourages me to take the easy way. She wants me to work through the grief, through the anxiety, not around. It has been difficult.
A note about finding a counselor. You have to find the one that is the best fit for you. Sometimes you have to try a couple different ones. I feel it is the same as finding a doctor you like or a chiropractor or anyone else you trust.
We use essential oils for everything from coughs and congestions to sleep aids.
I found many of them to be helpful with anxiety especially those that contain frankincense.
We use Doterra, but I am sure other essential oil companies have similar blends. My favorites are “console” for anxiety and “serenity” to help me sleep. I am just now beginning to sleep again.
I want to mention one more thing about sleeping. I didn’t have a category to put this in so I am sticking it here LOL I found that taking a magnesium supplement right before bed helped my insomnia as well.
This goes along with talking to a friend. I find that the more I try to quiet my anxiety, the louder it becomes. The more it swirls around inside my head, the more power it gains (I know I mentioned this already but in my case, it is so true).
Those thoughts have to come out so they can be looked at in the light of reality.
The best thing about journaling is that no one needs to read it. No matter how awful your thoughts are, they remain undiscovered.
I feel like I need to emphasize that the thoughts we are struggling with are real. Grief caused our anxiety. We have every right to be afraid but that fear will grow and grow until we lose control of it.
I will not lie to you and tell you that my faith stood strong through losing my daughter. It did not. I questioned God in a way I never had before BUT the grief was too big for me and the anxiety still remains a giant I have to slay often.
I had to reach out to God and I would not be where I am today if I hadn’t. I found that I could pray during attacks, during the fear, and throughout the day to keep me going.
Recite Scripture/Comforting Bible Verses for Loss
Reciting scripture helps me a lot. It is a constant reminder to me that what I am feeling is too much for me to bear alone. The 23rd Psalm took on a different meaning to me because for the first time in my life I truly felt as if I was “walking through the valley of the shadow of death”
The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
A few other comforting Bible verses for loss that I recite over and over are:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name;
You are Mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you.” (Isaiah 43:1-2)
When you are in the midst of grief, you are lonely. I don’t care how much support you have, a broken heart feels alone. If you come away from this post with anything, I want you to know that God is with you.
“Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
The everlasting God, the Lord,
The Creator of the ends of the earth,
Neither faints nor is weary.
His understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the weak,
And to those who have no might He increases strength.
30 Even the youths shall faint and be weary,
And the young men shall utterly fall,
31 But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:28-31)
God has promised to be with you.
“Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)
You might find comfort in some of these Bible verse posts also.
Take Your Thoughts Captive
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)
You have to learn to control your thoughts. I know, it feels impossible, but anxiety begins with one whisper of thought and spreads like wildfire. Before you know it, you’ve worked yourself into a state that may take days to recover from. Does this happen to you too?
For those of us who are dealing with grief causing anxiety, our thoughts are stemming from something terrible that has happened as well as pain.
I learned that taking your thoughts captive is a series of steps. You can’t just say, “I surrender my thoughts” and be done with it. Well maybe some people can, but I can’t. This is the process that I go through.
- Recognize the thought- It took me a long time to recognize the thought or event that was causing me to spool up. It was usually something like an ambulance, or a car slamming on their brakes, or one of my kids climbing too high in a tree. I would then begin to imagine all the terrible things that could result.
- Seek out the root of the thought- Once I recognize the thought, I need to bring it back to the root of the problem. For me, anything that is potentially dangerous causes me to fear that one of us will die.
- Admit what is causing your thought either out loud or to yourself- In the beginning, I had to say it out loud.
- Surrender the thought to Christ- I pray and tell God exactly where my thoughts are. He already knows, He’s just waiting for us to ask before He steps in.
- Remove yourself from the thought- Think about something else, engage in a different activity, call someone on the phone, turn on music, rationalize your thoughts, go for a run, cry. Whatever it takes.
I took an excellent course about taking your thoughts captive by Sunshyne Gray. It might also be helpful to you.
Can Grief Cause Anxiety? Learning to Live in the Present Moment
For those of us who are asking “Can grief cause anxiety?” our fear has already come to pass. It is a reality. There is no rationalizing it away.
I know living in the present is a hard one. When anxiety strikes, we are fearful of what is to come. For me, it was also the past I was constantly looking back to.
It became normal for me to hold one of my kids (usually my youngest) and remind myself that right now, at this moment, everyone is safe.
The past is painful and the future is scary. Live in the right now. More about my experience with embracing the moment.
This was a must for me. In the beginning, I’d put the younger kids in the stroller and we would walk and walk. I used to say that it helps keep the crazy away.
Once the weather turned cold, my husband bought me a treadmill. Every day I would walk or run and cry.
Running, lifting weights, exercise classes, biking, whatever works for you to physically burn off some of that anxiety- do it!
You have to push yourself through the anxiety. Don’t stay in it!
Seriously, I take such baby steps. Even what seems insignificant like letting my boys ride their bikes down the street was a big deal for me.
Anxiety loses power when we do the very things it is prohibiting us from. I know it’s hard, but face your fears. I promise you, it is freeing.
Can Grief Cause Anxiety?
Can grief cause anxiety?
Yes, it can, but we have tactics to overcome it. We don’t have to live in the paralyzing fear.
I would really like to hear back from you all on this! Have you experienced anxiety as a result of grief? What do you do to help you push through?