Advice from Claire: How to Cope with Anxiety When You’re Grieving

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Are you experiencing anxiety alongside your grief? Claire gives you some tips for managing the anxiety that commonly accompanies grieving. Plus, she answers a question from a listener who finds herself intellectualizing her response to her husband’s recent medical diagnosis.

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Claire Bidwell-Smith

Claire Bidwell-Smith  00:00

Someone you love has died. And now you’re an anxious wreck. Is this normal? And what can you do to cope? I’m Claire Bidwell-Smith. And that’s what we’re talking about on NEW DAY. Okay, so anxiety and grief. I literally wrote the book on this one. It’s called anxiety, the missing stage of grief. And I wrote it because at the time, no one had ever called out the correlation between grief and anxiety. But that connection is very real. Panic attacks, hypochondria, social anxiety, just regular anxiety, all of these can surface after we lose someone we love. It’s really common. It’s really normal. And there’s a lot you can do to cope with that. Look, losing someone we love can really fuck us up in a lot of ways. The grief is so much more than we imagine. The life changes can be immense, the experience of losing them can be traumatic, the world simply doesn’t look or feel the same way now that they’re gone. And all of this has made you into an anxious wreck. Breathe, it’s normal. I’m here to help. Maybe you’ve never been anxious in your life. And suddenly, you’re having panic attacks left and right. Or maybe you always run anxious. But now that anxiety is at a whole new level. Maybe you just lost someone you love. And all of this is new to you. Or maybe you went through a loss or multiple losses, and you’re just now realizing that those experiences might be the reason you’ve been running anxious all these years. For a long time, no one talked about the connection between anxiety and grief. It wasn’t in any of the grief books or the handouts you received about the five stages. You probably thought there was something else wrong with you. Since anxiety wasn’t on that list of symptoms you’re supposed to be feeling. I went through this myself. When I was 18. I started having panic attacks around the time my mom died. And no one around me, not even the ER doctors connected it to my grief. So for a long time, I just thought there was something else wrong with me. But eventually, I started to put the pieces together. And I began to understand that what I was going through was directly related to the loss of my parents. I began writing about anxiety and grief and articles online and I was flooded with clients asking me if this was a real thing. And then working with so many people who are going through it helped me understand it even more, which is why I wrote anxiety, the missing stage of grief.

Claire Bidwell-Smith  02:17

But because I’m not going to sit here and recite the whole book to you. I want to give you a basic rundown if this is something you’re going through. First, it’s normal and okay. And I’m sorry, because it sucks. We get anxious after we lose someone we love for several reasons. One of them is because sometimes our world changes dramatically and it’s hard to cope with. Another reason is because death is scary. Maybe you never thought it was real before. And now you know it is and you’re seeing your life through a whole new lens. Another reason is because the person’s death was traumatic for you. Suicide, addiction, murder, accidents, even long term illnesses can be traumatizing. The final reason is because you may not be allowing yourself to grieve. Maybe you’re scared to grieve, or you’re struggling with guilt, check out my episode on that. Or you’re not in an environment in which it’s safe to grieve. Not grieving can make us anxious. Whether it’s one or all of the reasons I just mentioned, here’s some tips for how to manage your anxiety. First, don’t run from it. Anxiety isn’t something we can just get rid of. In our regular lives. A little anxiety is actually useful and keeps us on track and helps us prepare helps us focus on what’s important. But when anxiety takes over and debilitating ways, you need to take a look at it and find out more about what’s popping up. Do you need help processing the death? Is your life falling apart as a result of this loss? If so, get support? Do you have unresolved issues with the person who died? Find a therapist or support group to help you work through these? Are you having an existential crisis because you never thought about mortality the way you are now. Seek out spiritual or religious counsel, talk to a therapist about your fears around death and dying rather than just trying to ignore them. Meditate, go to yoga practice mindfulness and breathing exercises. All of these things help regulate your emotions and calm the central nervous system. Try EMDR and cognitive behavioral therapy if you’re looping through the same anxious thoughts, replace your fear based thoughts with positive mantras. I’m safe, I’m healthy. Read about anxiety and how it works and how you can harness it in order to get into a calmer state. Above all, have some compassion for yourself. someone you care about has died and you’re reeling. You’re not supposed to be good at this. It’s okay to be a mess. It’s okay to be scared and sad and angry and confused. Let yourself grieve. Find ways to support yourself as you go through it.

Claire Bidwell-Smith  04:48

Today’s question came in after this listener heard the episode where my husband Mark and I spoke with couples therapist Elizabeth Earnshaw. It was a great episode and if you haven’t heard it yet, make sure you check it out after you finish this one. And then if you’re inspired to send me a question, you can email me at, or fill out the online form at That’s how this listener in Michigan wrote me. They said, My husband has been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment. But given some changes I’m observing and his cognition and behavior, I’m certain that a dementia diagnosis is in our future. I believe it was while listening to your recent episode with your husband, props to you both, by the way is so cool for listeners to be able to peek under the hood of couples therapy, that I realized that I too am intellectualizing my response to my husband’s condition. What strategies or resources can you recommend to help me bring my emotional self to this situation as well? Hi, listener, Michigan. Thanks for tuning in. And I’m so glad you liked the episode with me and Mark. I’m sorry to hear about your husband’s condition. I answered another question recently from a listener who’s grappling with a similar situation and it might be helpful for you to take a listen to that episode as well as this one. Overall, I think that when we over intellectualize a response to a situation, it’s usually because we’re afraid to face the emotions underneath. So I would start there, I would start by pinpointing those emotions. You don’t even have to feel them yet. But just figure out what they are, is their sadness, their grief over losing aspects of your husband, sadness that the future isn’t going to be what you thought it would, is their fear and anxiety. I think it would be scary not to know what’s ahead, or to imagine that things might get harder. All of these are big things to feel so it’s understandable that you’d push them away and focus on practicality or over intellectualizing your feelings. I think one reason we can have a hard time letting ourselves feel stuff is when we don’t feel safe to feel things. So that’s something I would look at too. Are you afraid to fall apart? If so, why, do you need more support and your life? And support looks like a lot of things, it could mean that you’re the one that takes care of your household and lifestyle. So maybe you need extra care at home? Support could also just look like having someone to lean on who isn’t your partner. Are there friends you could turn to or could you do some sessions with a therapist? I’m also really wondering how much you and your husband have really talked about the situation. And I mean, on a practical and emotional level, has he felt able to voice his fears and worries, have you told him yours. If that feels too hard to do together just one on one, then I would enlist the help of a couples therapist who can help you guys guide and facilitate the conversation. And this also makes me wonder if perhaps there are other unresolved issues that you might need to face together, either individually or as a couple. However, things play out with your husband’s health will be a big change to your lives. Are there things you need to address before it’s too late? Again, finding support to walk through those things is going to be really important. I can tell you up front, though, that regret sucks. As hard as some of these conversations are or as hard as it might be to let yourself go to the emotional places, regretting that you didn’t will be worse. So good luck, I will be thinking about you. Thank you so much for writing in. Find a good, safe place to let yourself feel all of this stuff. I know you can do it.

Claire Bidwell-Smith  08:15

I’m so grateful for all the questions you send in. I’ll answer another one on Wednesday. Plus, I’ll talk about seeing psychic mediums after someone dies, you should tune in even if you’re a skeptic. The best way to catch all three episodes of new day each week is to subscribe to the show on your favorite podcast app.

CREDITS  08:35

NEW DAY is a Lemonada Media Original. The show was produced by Kryssy Pease and Erianna Jiles. Kat Yore is our engineer. Music is by Hannis Brown. New Day is produced in partnership with the well-being trust the Jed foundation and Education Development Center. Thanks for listening.

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