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Grief and bereavement, coping with anxiety

May 14, 2019

When a loved one who is part of our life is missing, we try to react psychologically. One way is to return as soon as possible to our daily activities, in the hope of “extinguishing” grief within us. Nothing could be more wrong. Bereavement, especially if sudden, should not be removed but welcomed and overcome with the time it takes. We talk about it with Dr. Katia Rastelli,  psychologist at Humanitas.


Going back to “normal life”

The sadness and pain that result from a sudden bereavement can not be erased with a blow of the towel. These are complex emotions that need to be managed and processed which can easily affect our ability to overcome our daily obligations. One mistakenly imagines being able to return to the so-called “normal life” as though nothing had happened, saving pain for evenings and days off, when there is time to process them. Actually, the pain can not be put on a timer: so here it can come back in different forms, including anxiety and panic for things that apparently have nothing to do with the loss suffered


When do we talk about pervasive anxiety?

The anxiety that can result from a bereavement has the power to be pervasive and affect other areas of life that apparently have nothing to do with the disappearance of the loved one. Especially if death has come suddenly and without warning, due to an accident or a fulminating disease.

So it can happen that for a period of time you are afraid to receive phone calls with other bad news, or you panic every time a loved one spends more than an hour without answering our messages. Sweat, tachycardia, obsessive thoughts with a negative background can be symptoms of a failure to process the grief.


Accepting symptoms to overcome them

Many people experience anxiety and other depressive symptoms the day after an unexpected loss. This is normal and has to be taken into consideration if we have suffered a sudden bereavement. As well as the fact that one of the immediate and most common reactions after a loss is denial. Negative feelings can be particularly difficult to process when a loss is unexpected because the path to acceptance is longer.


When death is sudden

The death of a loved one is always difficult, no matter how you lose it. But when it happens because of a long illness you have a bit more time to start to understand what is happening. A sudden death, on the other hand, brings with it a number of additional problems. The sense of one’s own mortality dominates the mind of the survivor and prepares people for a future that leads to anxiety.

Once the loss is realized, you should expect symptoms such as chest oppression, sleep irregularities, focus problems, sudden crying and changes in appetite. You may also experience a general sense of impotence or squalor about the future. Many of these symptoms can also indicate other health problems, so it’ s always important to consult a doctor and exclude any other cause.

Occasionally, people develop post-traumatic stress disorder, especially if the loss was caused by a particularly violent accident. In this case it is essential to talk to a professional about it in order to receive the right psychological assistance. Talking to a therapist can make a big difference in the healing process. The most important point to keep in mind is that people don’t pass the death of a loved one, but integrate the loss into their lives. This means creating a “new normality” that honors the person who has passed away, while still allowing you to move forward.


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

“Unlike in the past, today’s society is increasingly struggling to integrate the idea of death as a natural step in our existence – said the psychologist -. Fear of dying has led, in general, to replace the normal processing of mourning, mechanisms such as avoidance and denial that, although useful in the first period (not to “go crazy with pain”), do not allow the mind to later bring to a conclusion a very important process, albeit challenging, which should end with the acceptance of a normal sense of the limit, present in our lives.

Avoidance and denial over time are very expensive at the level of mental energy but above all they are not able to manage the natural emotions connected, which can then be felt more or less importantly, sometimes suddenly, perhaps stimulated by other situations or contexts (anger, outbursts of anger, isolation and so on) – continued Rastelli -. It is important to take your time to “suffer pain”. When you have to deal with a sudden loss the situation unfortunately gets complicated, because the mind is facing a real trauma, with symptoms similar to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). You are physically and psychologically ill, often there are intrusive and recurrent thoughts, you can get to implement behaviors sometimes dysfunctional (not curing, alcohol intake and so on). The situation should normalize after 12/18 months, however, if important symptoms such as sleep disorders, fatigue or little interest in doing things remain, this could mean that it has resulted in a depressive situation that needs to be taken in hand, perhaps with specialist help. It is important to remember, however, that there is no “right” reaction to such a great pain and that a fundamental role is always played by the support of family and friends. The affection of those around us is the way that allows us to continue to live, reorganizing our experience in the absence, but especially in the memory of those who left us”.

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