Anxiety and its presence in the experience of Grief.

Dealing with the loss of a loved one can tear you from inside. It might feel like it is the end of the world.  It is only natural or normal to feel anxious about death or at the prospect of death. People usually experience anxiety in the wake of uncertainty. We often hear that some uncertainty is good as it helps to prepare  for something. But in times like this, when there is a pandemic outbreak, when there is death everywhere, uncertainty only breeds chaos and anxiety. The certainty of death as an inevitable life circumstance and the uncertainty of its arrival, is a constant existential dilemma we deal with. 

What is Anxiety?

In a time like this our collective psyches are throbbing with anxiety. We are grieving deaths, we are aching from the lack of dignity towards those who have died. There is burning anger at the injustice of governmental institutions and its despicable supply chain. We are all capsized in a certain anxiety spiral. “Is my turn tomorrow? Is someone I love going to get infected?”. Thoughts are painful at this moment. 

Anxiety is collectively felt in our bodies. Our bodies and minds are replete with  worry; we feel fear, uneasiness, restlessness or nervousness. The prospect of losing someone close to you because of something that could entirely have been managed effectively, if our collective lives were better taken care of is a suffocating predicament to be in. Our mortalities are questions daily.

Anxiety in this time of the pandemic can enter our systems in different ways.  Somethings we may be feeling in a time like this are :

  • Increased heart rate or palpitations,
  • Heavy breathing or breathlessness,
  • Restlessness,
  • Trouble concentrating or focusing on tasks,
  • Having trouble falling asleep or suffering from insomnia,
  • Being tense most of the time,
  • Constantly sweating or heavy sweating,
  • Feeling weak or lethargic,
  • Trembling or experiencing muscle spasms,
  • Indigestion or gastrointestinal issues,
  • Intense desire to avoid triggering situations,
  • Obsessing over certain idea or ideas,
  • Experiencing Hyperventilation,
  • Constant feelings of danger or panic,
  • Anxious about a certain situation or event which could result in PTSD,
  • Experiencing chest pains or heartburn,
  • Undergoing sudden hot flashes or sudden chills,
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness,
  • Numbness, 
  • Feeling like you are choking,
  • Feeling detached or derealization and depersonalization, 
  • Constant fear of dying or being sick.


What is Grief?

Grief in a time like this can show up in many spaces of our lives. There is the collective grieving we are experiencing in this moment, ask anyone at work how they are and see what you both experience, most likely a heavy sensation in the chest and a very cursory shrug and “good” to move the heck on to the task at hand. That heaviness and the shrug, thats  collective grieving. 

Anticipatory grief in a time like this is knowing someone you love or someone you are close to is hospitalized or infected. The tremendous anxiety or even paralysis about the next steps and the sudden breakdowns are incredibly nerve wracking. 

Grieving loss itself is another form in which we are all grieving, it is this severe and critical pain felt after the loss of a loved one. 

Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, a Swiss doctor, introduced 5 stages of grief in 1969. Although many other theories about grief were presented, these 5 experiences – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance often show up. Instead of understanding grief as one emotion or state, it is better understood as a process and acknowledging this dynamic process can help us witness this loss  that may show up as collective grief , anticipatory loss, or loss by death. Grief and Anxiety interlace. Anxiety is an experience in grief. You’ll see it present at so many of these stages and processes. 

  • Denial: When we lose someone or fear losing someone it is natural to feel numb or shocked, this is a temporary way to deal with sudden surge of overwhelming emotions. 
  • Anger:  We live in very hard times. Anger is entirely justified. Anger at our systems and the helplessness it now portrays, anger at those that left us because they were not careful enough, anger and extreme guilt at our own selves. 
  • Bargaining: our painful helplessness will keep us in a persistent cycle of “what if” and “if only”. The Allahabad Court has called deaths due to lack of oxygen as “no less than Genocide.  As an individual if we are writhing in helpless pain at this genocide, and painfully wondering about what we could have done better, we maybe absolving the government of its accountability, but that doesnt take us away from thinking in this way when we grieve.
  • Depression: depression feels heavy with sadness. Feeling low or extremely down, crying uncontrollably or losing sleep, are common signs visible in someone experiencing loss. We may listen to songs that are an expression of this pain and sadness, we may not know what to do as we ache in this way, we may speak to the memories of those who died and all this is a necessary throbbing in love for the person that left and our journey with them. 
  • Acceptance: we never restore back to our previous selves. Our lives have changed and we wake up, cook, clean, cry, laugh, yearn, mourn and live. Live to hopefully listen to the throbbing anger to take mindful action as a response to what  made our loved ones leave. 

If you are anxious and/or grieving please know you are doing the best you can. 

Written by

Insha Fatima and Aarathi Selvan. 

Contributions by Nida Mir.