Why anxiety should be added to the 5 stages of grief

Why anxiety should be added to the 5 stages of grief

Why anxiety should be added to the 5 stages of grief

By Claire Bidwell Smith

Source: The Washington Post

A few years ago, I began seeing a surge in anxious clients to my private practice as a grief therapist. They were reporting panic attacks and debilitating anxiety following the death of a loved one. Some of them had experienced anxiety before the loss, but the majority of them had never had anxiety before.

Granted, anxiety is on the uptick in our society. Xanax prescriptions are on the rise, more college students than ever are reporting anxious symptoms, and a proliferation of books and apps are hitting the shelves to address this prevalent symptom. But in the almost 50 years since Elisabeth Kübler-Ross published “On Death and Dying,” coining the now-famous five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance), anxiety has not usually been part of the equation.

But it should be.

Grief and anxiety are inextricably linked. We experience anxiety after a loss because losing someone we love thrusts us into a vulnerable place. It changes our day-to-day lives. It forces us to confront our mortality, and facing these fundamental human truths about life’s unpredictability causes fear and anxiety to surface in profound ways.

Loss is the perfect conduit for developing anxious symptoms, but the good news is that — using a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy, deep grief processing and meditation techniques — it’s highly treatable.

One of my earliest clients in this capacity came to see me about six months after his father died. He was in his 40s at the time, working successfully in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles. He had enjoyed a close relationship with his father, had attended to him throughout his illness and had been with him during his final days. After his father’s death, however, my patient had developed a significant case of anxiety that was playing out in the form of panic attacks and also bursts of sudden anger, both of which were affecting his work life and relationships. He was desperate to get a grip on these symptoms.

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