The Grief Journey

How To Manage Health Anxieties After a Loss

by Adrian Johansen

Losing a loved one is never easy, and grief can manifest itself in a variety of ways after a loss. You might experience denial, anger, frustration, fear, or anxiety. Watching someone you care about slowly decline due to illness can bring your own health anxieties to the surface.

In the age of COVID-19, monkeypox, and other rampant diseases, it’s easy for those fearful thoughts to find fuel and grow. Managing your health anxiety can be more difficult than ever when you’ve witnessed how gravely certain illnesses and ailments can affect someone.

If you’re grieving the loss of a loved one and you find that you’re more anxious about your health since their passing, it’s important to know why the two are connected. Then, you can explore what you can do to manage your anxiety and move forward.

Everyone experiences grief differently. It’s a natural response to loss, but there’s no “one size fits all” manifestation of grief. When someone you care about dies from an illness — even if it was relatively quick — it can feed on the doubt, anger, and sadness you might already be experiencing.

Add that to the fact that people are already more anxious about their health than ever. The global pandemic changed almost everyone’s lives for two years. So, it should come as no surprise that health anxiety impacts about 4 to 5% of the U.S. population. 

It’s not uncommon to experience fear after a loss. You might be worried about how your life will change. Or, you might have practical fears like whether you’ll be able to raise your kids on your own or how you’ll manage things financially without the help of your parent. Seeing someone you love struggle with their health, especially if they are related to you, can fuel your fears of dealing with health issues yourself. Health anxiety is only one component of fear after loss, but it can have a major impact on the way you live your life and the limitations you put on yourself.

How To Cope in Healthy Ways

If you’re experiencing health anxiety after a loss, it’s important to find healthy ways to cope. Unfortunately, it’s far too easy to slip into unhealthy habits and coping mechanisms when you’re experiencing both anxiety and grief. Some of the negative ways in which people tend to cope include:

  • Substance abuse;
  • Risky behaviors;
  • Unhealthy relationships.

Instead of falling into these unhealthy ways of coping, it’s essential to overcome your anxiety and work through your grief in ways that keep you moving forward. Focusing on your mental and physical well-being while coping can make that easier. Simple acts of daily self-care can go a long way as you learn to cope, including: 

  • Exercising;
  • Eating healthy meals;
  • Journaling;
  • Mindfulness/meditation;
  • Getting enough sleep.

It may be tough to sleep after losing someone, particularly if the spot beside you in bed is now empty. Regardless, you may have racing thoughts that keep you up, but the aforementioned self-care acts can help. It’s also a good time to throw yourself into a new hobby or rediscover something you once loved doing. For example, if you love fashion, consider revamping your wardrobe and your mental health. Replace items with pieces that make you feel good. If you’re interested in music, try learning a new instrument. If you’re a sports enthusiast, join a local team.

Finally, lean on those closest to you. Some people choose to isolate themselves when they’re grieving, but that’s one of the worst things you can do. Not only will it keep you from progressing through your grief, but it can cause your anxious thoughts to become much worse as negative self-talk starts to take over.

When Anxiety and Grief Become Too Much

Managing your mental health as you work through health anxiety each day is important. However, when you’re trying to fight back against the effects of grief and anxiety at once, it can feel overwhelming. Thankfully, you don’t have to manage your emotions on your own. 

For starters, consider limiting the amount of “health news” you consume. For over two years, hearing about the pandemic was practically unavoidable. It was on every news station and social media platform. While the “buzz” around COVID-19 might be settling, there’s always going to be something new popping up to trigger your fear. While you don’t need to blind yourself to the reality of current health events, make sure the information you take in about them isn’t consuming your life.

If you’re having an especially hard time coping as you deal with the loss of a loved one on top of your own health fears, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Adjusting to a new normal without your loved one can make it difficult to discern what amount of health anxiety is normal. If you’re worried that the anxiety and emotions you’re feeling aren’t healthy, and you’re having a hard time moving forward, talking to a therapist or counselor can make a difference.

Health anxieties are very real, and they can easily be triggered after losing a loved one due to illness. 

Thankfully, anxiety is often very manageable when you choose to receive the proper help and treatment. Lean on your support system, reach out for professional help when needed, and know that you can start the next chapter of your life without the overwhelming fear of health concerns weighing you down. 

Adrian Johansen lives, writes and thrives in the Pacific Northwest.

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