Losing someone that you care about isn’t easy. Grief is a very complex emotional process that can incorporate aspects of depression, anxiety, and denial. On top of that, there are a number of social events associated with loss including wakes, funerals and even large family dinners after the funeral is finished. For those who struggle with social anxiety, this combination of raw emotions, social gatherings and other aspects of the grieving process can be almost too much to bear.
Fortunately, there are ways to soften some of these blows. Keep in mind that this won’t necessarily make the grieving process easier, of course. It will keep your social anxiety from making the process harder, though, and that can make a significant difference.
Grief and Anxiety
Anxiety is a common component of the grieving process, with many people experiencing what’s known as “grieving anxiety” that manifests with features such as worries about the future, restlessness, insomnia and even feelings of numbness. Having social anxiety can make these effects worse, as the stress that comes with loss and causes grieving anxiety will have a similar effect on your other anxiety triggers as well. In some cases, grief can make your triggers more sensitive as well, especially if you’re grieving over someone that you were particularly close to.
One aspect of the grieving process that is particularly difficult for those with social anxiety is the number of social interactions that come with visitations and funerals. The events can be crowded, and there are often expectations that visitors will come to meals or other gatherings after the funeral as well. While this can be difficult to get through without triggering anxiety, some of this can be mitigated by arriving to visitations early and selecting seating at funerals that is back a bit from the front of the room. This allows you some space and an easy way to leave the room if needed while still allowing you to pay your respects.
Grief can be a drawn-out process, and the grieving process is different for everyone. When you suffer from any form of anxiety (including social anxiety), this process can be even longer. As your grief triggers some aspects of your anxiety, you may become nostalgic over times you spent with the person that you lost. You may even feel that you wasted too much time, weren’t a good friend or otherwise let your loved one down. The repeated instances of nostalgia and anxiety can prevent you from advancing through the grieving process toward acceptance, resulting in you grieving for a much longer period than you otherwise would (which can itself become an anxiety trigger.)
Grief can make your social anxiety symptoms worse, and your social anxiety can increase and prolong the symptoms of grief. If you are unable to deal with this cycle on your own, be sure to talk to a doctor, therapist or someone else who you can trust. You may need adjustments to your medications to help you get past it, or you may need to start some meds if you don’t currently take any. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you need it; you’re not abandoning the person that you lost, you’re simply doing what you have to do to move on and keep yourself healthy.
Have you had to find ways to handle your social anxiety after losing someone close to you? What techniques worked best for you then?