Following the loss of a pregnancy or an infant, the grief that women and men face can feel tsunami-like. Seemingly without warning, a future is altered and plans dissolve. Coping with the natural grief can be challenging but, in the long run, permitting the universe of feelings associated with loss has net benefit.
When my son was stillborn in 2005, I could feel the grief and it felt right to me. It was agony – but there was a corner of my mind and my heart that welcomed it because it felt so correct. In grief, I cried and I reflected.
Anxiety Can Hijack The Grief
In truth, I found the pressing symptoms of anxiety far more difficult to manage. I struggled to cope with the grinding nausea, the forgetting to breathe normally, and the trouble sleeping although I was exhausted all the time.
There is a distinct difference between grief and anxiety. According to Julie Bindeman, Psy-D, “[G]rief is a normal response to loss. Anxiety is when the body’s normal response to a fearful situation has been ‘hijacked’ and the same response occurs when danger is only imagined vs. real.” This is likely to play out following loss – especially when a loss is one that is out of order (death of a young person, a child, etc.). The world can feel especially sad and dangerous then.
Feeling the grief and coping with it can have long-term positive effect. Managing the close cousin of anxiety may be harder although equally important. The first step for me was actually recognizing the symptoms of anxiety, including:
- 1.Shallow breathing
- 2. A lack of appetite or difficulty modulating appetite (not eating enough/eating too much.)
- 3.Trouble sleeping (difficulties falling asleep and/or difficulties staying asleep)
I found several key strategies that worked for me in managing my anxiety.
Strategy 1. Use social networks
- Consider finding a peer-to-peer support group. For example, go to the website of the non-profit Star Legacy Foundation.
- Reach out online to identify solutions for a specific problem. For example, if you are feeling alone and isolated find other people who do.
- Undertake grief work through online outlets.
Strategy 2. Talk to a friend
In talking to a friend you are making a healthy effort not to isolate.
If you feel overwhelmed text a friend and see if she has a few minutes. Isolation breeds anxiety like little else. Try this and see if you don’t breathe a little easier for the effort.
Strategy 3. Exercise
Go to a class where you can sweat.
Join a gym, as many gyms have exercise and yoga classes included in a nominal membership fee. The reminder to breathe, the sweat equity – these all pay in spades.
Strategy 4. Meditate
If you (like me) hold some skepticism about how effective meditation is, set that judgment aside and try it. You may not be a life-long convert, but you may be surprised at how meditation can stave off anxiety in the near-term.
Strategy 5. Seek Counseling
Grief is a normal response to loss. Seek therapy if you feel you would benefit. Many insurance plans will cover therapy in circumstances where a loss has occurred. Consider the importance of self-care and give yourself the opportunity to attend therapy, go to yoga and create safe space for grief.
Tara Shafer is the co-founder of Reconceiving Loss, an online support center for parents who have suffered pregnancy- or infant-loss, which can be found at ReconceivingLoss.com. The website’s articles and activities are free and open to the general public. Tara received an undergraduate degree in history from Clark University. She also received an M.A. in Human Rights/Refugee Studies from Columbia University and served as an advocate for both Amnesty International and Human Rights First. She is a contributing blogger for BabyCenter, Huffington Post and Psychology Today. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Mashable and on National Public Radio.