When Grief Causes Anxiety

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

Losing a loved one is hard. According to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, MD, in her 1969 book titled On Death and Dying, there are five stages of grief:

  • Denial

  • Anger

  • Bargaining

  • Depression

  • Acceptance

Depending on the individual, these stages can last different lengths of time, can appear in a different order and some people may skip over one or more of the stages or some may repeat several of the stages over and over. According to Kubler-Ross, these same stages of grief can occur, not just after a death, but after any major loss, such as losing a job, ending a relationship, or facing poor health.

Although anxiety is not listed, many people may also experience anxiety as a result of grief. Our reaction to the loss depends on different factors, including our age at the time of the loss, our closeness to the person and our dependence on the person.

Younger children often react to death with confusion, believing they may have caused the person to go away and can somehow make them come back. Children may have sleep problems or may experience loss of appetite. Children may also show signs of separation anxiety. Usually, these signs of grief will disappear with time.

As children grow, their reactions to death may change. Older children may deal with death by avoiding the subject altogether and become engrossed in other activities as a way to avoid thinking about either the deceased person or death in general.

Teenagers have usually developed an understanding of death and experience grief in many of the same ways as adults.

Sadness, obviously, is a major part of the grieving process. It is natural to feel unhappy at the thought of never seeing a loved one again. When people don't allow themselves to feel grief or go through the process of mourning their loved one, complications, such as depression or anxiety can occur. It is important to allow yourself time to grieve your loss.

There are other reasons anxiety may occur during this time.

  • Dependence. We may have been dependent on the loved one for financial or emotional support. We may feel that we will not be able to manage without the loved one present. And in an already emotional and stressful time, these fears can become overwhelming.

  • Our own fear of death . Facing the death of a loved one often makes us reflect on our own mortality. We may begin to worry not only about our own death but worry about who will care for those we leave behind, especially if you have young children. Thinking about our own death can be scary.

  • Fear of illness. If our loved one died of a long illness, we may worry that we have inherited the disease.

  • Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The death of a loved one is a traumatic event in our life. If we witnessed the death, or were present during an illness or accident, we can suffer from PTSD, experiencing painful flashbacks, sleep problems or other symptoms.

  • Fear of the unknown. No matter what our spiritual beliefs, we do not understand what happens to us after death. This fear of where our loved one may be and what will happen to us upon our death is usually intensified during the days or weeks after a death.

Panic attacks may also either appear or intensify after the death of a loved one. Some experts believe this is caused by not allowing ourselves to mourn and experience the different stages of grief. These experts believe when we stop ourselves from feeling the pain, we create emotional turmoil and our minds are no longer sure how to react and therefore react with fear.

Experiencing the death of a loved one is a stressful time and it could be the increased level of stress, combined with physical factors, such as difficulty sleeping or not eating correctly that could add to our intensified emotional state and cause an increase in our anxiety.

If you, or someone you know, is having a difficult time dealing with the death of a loved one, it may be beneficial to seek professional help. Grief counseling can help to resolve some of the issues, including help in coping with depression or anxiety.


Loss, Grief and Bereavement, Date Unknown, Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD, MedicineNet.com

Grieving Anxiety, Date Unknown, Ewa Schwarz, Online Counseling.org

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.