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Pain-induced anxiety: Calming the fears that follow the loss

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What often causes people to mis-attribute grief-related feelings of anxiety to some unrelated cause. “Probably 70% of my clients have gone to the hospital for a panic attack after a major loss,” Smith said.

After doctors rule out physical illnesses, clients turn to her for advice, often struggling to understand the link between her physical symptoms and her grief.

This becomes especially problematic in places opposed to mourning, such as the United States, Smith explained.

Therapist Claire Bidwell Smith, author of & quot; Anxiety: the missing stage of pain & quot; he says there is no wrong way to hurt himself.
With more 4 million reported deaths from Covid-19 reported worldwide since December 2019, pain and loss have affected countless hearts and minds. Smith recommends connecting the dots between loss and anxiety as a critical first step toward healing.

This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

CNN: How do pain and anxiety relate?

Claire Bidwell Smith: When some big change seems to come out of nowhere and disrupts life, we realize we’re not safe, things aren’t safe, we don’t control.

All of this is true all the time, but the loss is a great reminder. Life changes and emotional disorder are much greater than most people understand. Grief, which is the series of emotions that accompanies a major loss, can leave you on your knees. That feeds anxiety.

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People in distress may begin to feel anxious about their own health or the safety of other loved ones. Sometimes, they don’t even realize that what they are experiencing is anxiety or is related in some way to their pain.

Anxiety, a psychological condition that causes fear and worry, can present many physical symptoms. These can be misleading, which makes you think you have heart palpitations, a stomach problem, a new sweating problem, headaches, insomnia. Many people think they have a medical problem and not an emotional one. You can also read detail guide on trauma of loss.

CNN: How do you help people alleviate their grief-related anxiety?

Smith: My first job is to help people connect the dots between their loss and their fears, tracking their anxiety along a timeline: when was the last time I was anxious? How were things before my loved one died?

If the loved one had a long illness, anxiety could begin before death. After a sudden death, anxiety can begin immediately. Usually, if someone is diverted to anxious territory, it is something that happens quickly after the loss.

Some people I see, who have never had anxiety in life, suddenly start having panic attacks right after the death of a loved one. Others, long acquainted with anxiety, see that the symptoms actually occur after a loss or perhaps adopt new manifestations.

CNN: What coping strategies can people use?

Smith: Seeking support is really vital. There are many more grief support groups and therapists available right now. And because of the pandemic, there are many virtually available. You can often find support online and get started tomorrow. If the therapists or groups you find are booked, enter a waiting list. It is never too late to resolve the pain.

If people don’t seek help to untangle their emotions, they get caught up in anger or guilt. These play into substance abuse, depression and anxiety, relationship problems and work and school problems. Therefore, the domino effect of trying to exercise and not seeking support is not good.

CNN: What advice do you have for those resistant to formal mental health treatment?

Smith: Self-guided online courses are one of the options offered by many therapists. Even reading articles or books or listening to a podcast about pain can normalize your experience and help give you more permission to cry. You may feel like you’re going crazy, like something else is happening to you, when it’s really pain.

Social media offers so many resources for pain. An easy search on Instagram #gris it can help you find solidarity with others. Even just reading about other people’s experiences through their posts and comments is valuable because it can help you realize that you are not alone.

CNN: Because of the pandemic, so many people have not been able to be with their dying loved ones. What impact can this have?

Smith: We’ll see more complicated pain, with prolonged periods of mourning, where people can get stuck in a loop of guilt, lamentation or anger. This comes, in part, from the feeling that many of the losses were avoidable, and because people were forced to say goodbye to Zoom and FaceTime loved ones with nurses wearing masks and face shields. These types of endings can lead to complicated pain.
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Clients I work with who have lost a loved one to Covid-19 feel angry as they watch people get vaccinated or decide not to get vaccinated. Of all posting meeting images. Someone who lost a father to Covid a month ago is painfully aware of the degree of closeness they had for not having to suffer that loss.
Initially, they have to work through shock, anger, and guilt. Then we can start finding new ways to say goodbye. This may seem to do self-compassion exercises or talking to a pastor, minister, or rabbi to work on acquitting guilt. It can involve finding spiritual connections with someone they have lost by writing them letters. I urge people to adopt their own sense of ritual and perhaps even celebrate memorials.

CNN: What role do meditation and mindfulness play in healing?

Smith: When we are in pain and when we are anxious, we spend a lot of time living in the past and worrying about the future. Meditation and mindfulness help to make us aware of the present moment.

Meditation also helps us understand our own thoughts and how we can learn to detach ourselves from negative ideas and irrational fears.

CNN: You write that imagination can be another powerful tool. How?

Smith: I was not there the night my mother died. Even today, I imagine myself crawling into the hospital bed and grabbing her and saying goodbye to what I didn’t get. I found catharsis in imagining what I would have done if I had been able to. But it took me years (definitely more than five) to get to this point.

Just like when athletes plan a course the night before, imagination can almost give their body a sensitive memory, which can be soothing. But it’s not something people are willing to do right away.

CNN: What role does history play in dealing with pain and loss?

Smith: People carry stories of loss and death, but often feel that they are suppressed because they have not found good places to share them. The way we hold a story is very indicative of how we feel emotionally. When we maintain a story of fear, an uncomfortable story, a story of grief for a long time, it unfolds in our day to day lives.

The cure comes from finding outlets to explore a story and possibly finding ways to rethink it. We can do this in therapy, counseling, support groups, online mourning forums, and mourning writing classes, among other places.

CNN: You’ve come to believe that staying connected with our lost loved ones can be more healing than letting go. How is it?

Smith: This seems different to everyone and is not something most of us can do right away; often we just want our person to come back in front of us. But once they are ready, I encourage my clients to appeal to their loved ones, continuing to hold internal conversations with them. Before there was an emphasis on letting go and moving on. Now I think it’s more important to move forward with the person you’ve lost.

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For example, meditating: What advice would my father give me about this job offer? What would my mother think of my new boyfriend?

Developing and fostering a relationship with our person may include sharing stories about them, taking on certain aspects of the work they did, or doing things in memory.

CNN: Quote Hope Edelman, author of “The AfterGrief“Who has said that the core of pain work is making sense of loss. Is there any way to encourage the creation of meanings that can have such lasting value?

Smith: Somehow, this stage is natural. However, we cannot get there until we work out the guilt, grief, and anger that hinder our ability to make sense. If we are angry with our loved one or with a situation that has happened, many people will hold on to that anger because it is a very powerful emotion.

But I’ve never seen any grieving client who hasn’t questioned life in any other way. Where is my person? Can they see me? Will I see them again? Why am I still here?

It is very difficult to suffer great losses and not have these questions. These investigations lead to finding meaning and transformation.

Jessica DuLong is a Brooklyn-based journalist, book contributor, writing coach, and author of “Saved at the Seawall: Stories from the September 11 Boat Lift” and “My River Chronicles: Rediscovering the Work that Built America.”

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