After the death of a loved one, the process of bereavement can be long and difficult. According to researchers at the Yale University School of Medicine, 44 per cent of bereaved spouses experience a full-blown anxiety disorder during the first year after a loved one's death. While periods of anxiety and depression are common during the grieving process, prolonged or debilitating anxiety is a sign of a more serious illness that could benefit from treatment.
Stages of Grief
According to the Kübler-Ross grief cycle, a clinical map of the typical grieving process, there are seven common stages of grief: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing and acceptance. Every person is different and grieves in her own way. For some, this cycle is rapid and violent; for others, it's a slow process that takes years to get through. Anxiety can appear at any stage of the process, according to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, creator of the grief cycle map.
For some people, moving through the grieving process involves long periods of time spent in each stage. Sometimes, according to MedicineNet, a decline in emotional health results in a disease state in which the individual stops moving through the grieving process and remains stuck in one phase. Those who have lost a loved one particularly suddenly or violently are at greater risk for getting stuck. Disease states can include major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and generalised anxiety disorder that requires psychiatric intervention.
A Natural Response
According to Dr. Robert Washington, a psychologist and bereavement counsellor, anxiety is a natural part of the grieving process and should be expected. Grieving anxiety can be severe and still not be considered a pathology.
Reminders of a lost loved one, anniversaries of special events, family reunions, childhood milestones and holidays can be especially difficult for the bereaved, according to the Mayo Clinic. Typically these milestones are the worst during the first year (the first time those days come around after the loss). In an otherwise emotionally healthy individual, these days will eventually get easier. If an anxiety disorder has developed, however, these days can get worse as time goes on.
Return to Grief
According to the Mayo Clinic, full-blown grieving anxiety can return at any time and is often brought about by triggers. This kind of grief anxiety resurgence isn't necessarily a setback---it can be a healthy part of the grieving process.