It is quite common for people to feel an increased sense of anxiety following a bereavement. I have only once experienced it in a way I recall as being particularly bad. It followed a sudden and very unexpected bereavement and the ensuing shock that came with it. A couple of other things happened out of the blue too: another car collided with mine; and an important piece of information disappeared from a proposal I was writing.
I was spooked by the realisation that I couldn’t control things around me. I felt anxious doing everyday things like driving down the road a short distance. This wasn’t at all like me. I had an interview for a job and had a panic attack on the train on the journey to it. I was extremely agitated and felt nauseous. I’d never had these feelings before.
The bereavement had altered my perception of things. I have a friend who has recently suffered a bereavement and has become anxious about dying herself. Again, this is a typical response to grief and, in some instances, people have thoughts of suicide to escape the loss and fear of mortality, a way to take control of their lives.
This may sound dramatic to those who haven’t experienced these aspects of grief, and perhaps alarmist to those who have not encountered bereavement yet; anxiety can form a significant part of the grieving process. As with any other facet of grief, these types of symptoms can come and go and be more contained on some days than others.
Tips for managers
If you are managing someone who appears anxious following the death of a loved one, make sure that they have someone who can support them when they seem to be not coping. Often this might just be for a short period of time. Ensure you regularly check how the individual is getting on in general and don’t form any judgement about behaviour that may be a one off. Just because an individual doesn’t cope on one particular day doesn’t mean that they are struggling all the time. There will be good days and bad days.
Try to reduce stress wherever possible if the person seems to not be coping on a general basis. Consider suggesting counselling if the individual is experiencing difficulty coming to terms with their loss, or coaching if they are struggling to maintain performance.
Remember that not everybody will appear as if they are struggling: some people may throw themselves into work or even ask for more responsibility to avoid their grief – only to experience it later.
Help for individuals
If you find yourself experiencing a higher level of anxiety than usual, think about whether there’s anything physically you can do to help yourself. When I had my panic attack I was fortunate enough to be able to walk for an hour before my interview and by the time I entered the company’s premises I was actually quite composed and relaxed.
Is there anyone you can talk to to help calm you down and give you a different perspective? Remember there are bereavement counselling helplines out there such as Grief Chat, Cruse Bereavement, The Bereavement Trust or The Samaritans if you are feeling low or suicidal.
If your line manager is approachable, talk to them about any aspects of your job that you find more difficult than others. Ask what support is available to you. Try not to struggle on alone. There is no weakness in experiencing any aspect of grief- we are all human.