Grief is Normal, But That Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Life Changing
How to Address the Emotional Manifestations of Grief
Have you ever woken up with your heart pounding and thoughts racing in the middle of your grief and wondered, am I the only one who feels this way? Have you gone through the motions of a day, numb and in a daze, and thought, is this normal? Have you replayed your loss over and over in your head, wondering what you could have done differently, and asked yourself if anyone else does the same?
The answer to all of the above is yes: it’s all normal. Grief is a natural human response to loss, and it can manifest in many different ways. Grief can be physical, like when your stomach aches and your chest is tight. It can be behavioral, like when you don’t feel like doing anything or seeing anyone. And it can be emotional, like when you feel a complicated mix of rage and relief or when your sadness overwhelms you.
In our evidence-based grief support program, Moving Forward, we identify and work through the varied manifestations of grief. Grief is such a difficult experience because it’s necessary, yet painful. It doesn’t feel good to feel lonely, anxious, and angry, but we need to feel the emotions that arise so that we don’t get stuck in our grief. We’re used to living in a world that’s focused on always feeling better, instead of just feeling.
Anxiety is one of those feelings that many grievers experience, but isn’t as talked about as anger or sadness. We’ll share a technique to address anxiety that shows one way you can approach the big emotions of grief. First, let’s define what anxiety is: it is the fear of threats to values essential to people’s existence. That might look like anxiety around your identity: when your parent dies, how does that affect the way you see yourself as a daughter or son? It might look like losing a sense of meaning in life, or fears around your own health and vulnerability.
Remember that these feelings are normal. Then, sit with your anxiety and break it down into specific fears. You can fill in the blanks of simple sentences to get you started:
- I’m afraid of _____________
- I’m worried that ___________
- I’m anxious about __________
Come up with as many statements as you need, and try to make them as concrete as possible. For example, instead of thinking “I’m anxious about the future,” break that down to, “I’m anxious about who will take care of me in my older years since my partner’s death” or “I’m worried about how I’ll be able to afford retirement without my spouse’s income.”
Next, respond to each fear separately. Take your time going through each one, and seek methods for relaxation as you do so (meditation and exercise are great places to start). Take breaks. And as you think about each concern, recognize the elements that you can control. You don’t know whether you’ll face serious health issues, but you can focus on preventative care to stay as healthy as possible. You can’t control when your loved ones will die, but you can control how much you prioritize spending meaningful time with them.
Exercises like this one are important tools in processing your grief, and, in time, adapting to the big changes in your life. No matter how grief manifests for you, give yourself time and permission to let it happen. You don’t need to problem solve or fix your grief. You just need to sit with it.
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