Things to help anxiety and grief
March 31, 2022 1:57 PM   Subscribe

My father (much loved) died last month. Earlier this week I unexpectedly had to put my dog to sleep after a short illness. I am overwhelmed with grief and anxiety. I am on hydroxyzine for anxiety, but I can't tell that it does anything. What can I do to alleviate some of these feelings? I know it will improve with time, but is there anything (ritual, meditation, music, exercise) that will help me?
posted by mareliz to Grab Bag (13 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I'm so sorry for your losses. That all sounds really rough.

Personally, I find that being in contact with nature, in any shape or form, is pretty much always comforting. If you can go outside and stay there for a while, that may help a bit.
Maybe hug a tree, if that feels right for you, or talk to it, or just sit or stand below one for a bit. Trees are awesome, especially big ones. They've seen it all. They can absorb quite a bit of sorrow.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:16 PM on March 31, 2022 [14 favorites]

I'm sorry for your losses. Below is a list that I found somewhere online while surviving through the early stages of grief over the loss of a loved one. It is just ideas to try, many of them very general in scope. Hang in there. Please send me memail if you think that might help.

Help through Grief

1. Be patient with yourself. Do not compare yourself to others. Go
through mourning at your own pace.
2. Admit you are hurting and go with the pain
3. Apply cold or heat to your body, whichever feels best.
4. Ask for and accept help.
5. Talk to others
6. Face the loss
7. Stop asking “Why?” and ask “What will I do now?”
8. Recognize that a bad day does not mean that all is lost.
9. Rest.
10. Exercise.
11. Keep to a routine.
12. Introduce pleasant changes into your life.
13. Know that you will survive.
14. Take care of something alive, such as a plant or a pet
15. Schedule activities to help yourself get through weekends and holidays.
16. Find someone who needs your help.
17. Accept your feelings as part of the normal grief reaction.
18. Postpone major decisions whenever possible
19. Do something you enjoy doing.
20. Write in a journal.
21. Be around people.
22. Schedule time alone.
23. Do not overdo.
24. Eat regularly.
posted by ewok_academy at 2:24 PM on March 31, 2022 [17 favorites]

I found jigsaw puzzles to be good during this kind of time. Gives you a simple absorbing “what is my immediate next step” thing to think about, something you can make a little progress on, it's easy to stop and start as your time/energy allow, and if there are other people it gives you a way to be together without having to talk much.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:30 PM on March 31, 2022 [2 favorites]

Grief is hard. Ewok_academy has a good place to start.

We have a dog who has developed tumors in her lungs. Trying to brace myself for that eventual conclusion...

posted by Windopaene at 2:34 PM on March 31, 2022

I generally howl.
posted by flabdablet at 2:45 PM on March 31, 2022 [2 favorites]

Exercise can definitely help, among other options. There's a concept in burnout/depression/overwhelm/anxiety called "completing the stress cycle" (a means of completing our primitive nervous system's perception of danger to resolution), which is meant to let your biological functions stand down after an internal alarm.

And after that stress cycle completes, rest is really important to let your body recover from the experience of that arousal. Prioritize sleep right now, and good sleep hygiene.

Distraction is okay if it's not hurting anybody. If you need to zone out to some video games, puzzles, comfort TV, whatever, that's okay.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:48 PM on March 31, 2022 [4 favorites]

I'm sorry for your losses. Maybe talk to your doc about whether more/different medicine will help you get through this particular tough time? Also, I know from experience that anti-anxiety medicine can take a while to work. It has to build up in your system.

Hang in there.
Remember to drink water, and to eat. Even if maybe you don't want to. Being hangry on top of dealing with grief and anxiety just makes everything feel worse.
Agree with the distractions and comfort media ideas.

Look for baby zoo animal videos on YouTube.
posted by SaharaRose at 3:26 PM on March 31, 2022

When I lost my dad I joined a grief support group at the Jewish Community Center. I didn't think it would help, but it did. We did little arts and crafts things, and talked a bit if we felt like it. There was a broad mix of people, all genders and ages. I didn't attend for a long time, but the time I went was very helpful. I'm sorry for your losses.
posted by furtheryet at 4:21 PM on March 31, 2022

My father died in Nov 2019, and it wasn't until his memorial held the first week of February that I felt the weight of my grief leave my chest.

I notice it sometimes now, when I'm quiet and still. The ritual of gathering and telling stories really helped. I can't imagine not having that option if he died during COVID. Rituals big and small, made up by you can help. Follow your heart if it means a corner of your house for a shrine or a special meal or a place to scatter ashes or really anything connected to you and your loved ones.

This is hard, and I'm sorry.
posted by Arctostaphylos at 5:17 PM on March 31, 2022 [2 favorites]

Having had the fortune/misfortune to go through one of those life cycles where it seemed it was one loss after another a few years ago, the first thing I learned which I share with everyone I know who is facing loss and grief is that there is no one "right" way to experience grief. Grief is a strange, changeable thing, there are no rules and there is no road map. So the single most important thing is to be kind to yourself, and understand that whatever you feel at any particular time, there is no right or wrong to it. It just is.

Having said that, in more direct response to your question, I would add, don't discount the breath. Simple breathing exercises, like "box breathing"*, can be a good way to reset yourself in the short term, when you feel yourself spiraling, and over the longer term, as a regular practice, can be really helpful in stress and anxiety modulation.

*where you breathe in for a short count (count to 4, for example), hold for the same count, exhale for the same count, hold again for the same count, then start the cycle again. Take 5 box breaths, or 10, or more or fewer, or set a timer, whatever settles you.
posted by leticia at 7:14 PM on March 31, 2022 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry you are going through this. In addition to the very good advice above, a note about something that has helped me a lot.

I can't find the article now, but I found the following advice very helpful:
Do things with your body that signals to your self, that you are safe. There are physiological reasons why your system responds to certain actions by relaxing.
For example as noted above, breathing deeply and slowly.
Also, looking at the horizon, or far off objects like clouds. I know this sounds a bit cooky but I find it helps me ease out of being trapped in my ruminating mind. I have a habit of staring at the ground when I walk outside, trapped in my internal world.
Lifting my eyes up and looking far away helps me a lot.
Singing or dancing can help your inner, hurt self understand that you are not in danger right now.
That said, don't let dealing with anxiety and grief become yet another item on your overwhelming to do list. You are allowed to feel crap. You are not failing at anything, when you feel overwhelmed again despite your efforts to feel better.
Wishing you relief and ease, and moments of unexpected joy. This time is truly difficult, but it will become a memory to look back on, that you survived.
posted by Zumbador at 9:45 PM on March 31, 2022

Ah shoot, my heart goes out to you. Some suggestions:

1. Walking meditations. If you, like me, have a tendency to ruminate, you may find that a bit hard to deal with now when you try to still yourself. Getting out into the world with some motion may give you the flux that you need to be present without so much stillness for the ruminations to fill. There are readymade options for you to try all over the place, from Headspace to Audible to YouTube to Spotify.

2. Meditation and mindfulness, generally. As you can, I encourage you to get familiar with the way your grief and anxiety arise, build, peak, and recede. This can be difficult to do, but practice at paying attention seems to be something that helps most of us with any and all aspects of emotional lability. I started to use Headspace during my most difficult time a few years ago, and I found it helpful and instructive.

3. Therapy. Seeking therapy was perhaps one of the most meaningful changes that came out of my grief. I'd never experienced it before, and in fact I think I had probably denigrated it or, at best, rolled my eyes at it when I was "well." I'm not sure what your experience with therapy has been, but it's always worth exploring in whatever way feels comfortable and accessible to you. I started with a therapist whose practice is based on internal family systems (IFS) therapy, and golly that was a huge help for those weeks and months when I felt buried by grief and panic. Eventually, as I started to find my footing, we transitioned to a forward-looking approach that introduced me to acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), which is what I still practice. ACT has the benefit of being quite amenable to self-led work (on its own or with a therpaist) so it's budget-friendly and portable. I started using this workbook a couple years ago and still turn to it routinely.

4. Change of setting. My darkness was different from yours, but similar--I had to put my dog down while working through a divorce after my ex-spouse had a head injury that altered his personality (it's in my Ask history if you want to read along for the compassion I sought here back then... it was very helpful). In my case, I struggled greatly with the associations I had with places, vistas, streets, buildings, restaurants, grocery stores, parks, buses... every visual cue in my city was a hot stove. I couldn't experience them without burning myself and retracting. It felt like it would be that way forever, and I was inconsolable. So... whenever I could, I would rent a car and drive to places I'd not gone before. Places that had no previous associations. Instead, I gave myself the space to make new associations. I went camping and hiling at a lot of new parks. I saw a lot of countryside that was new to me. I cried in a lot of quiet, open fields, forests, peaks. I said a lot of goodbyes and talked to myself about today and tomorrow. These were really the first places I felt the light of myself again, at first only in flashes, and that was enough to keep me going.

5. Time. I hesitate to say this to you, because I hated hearing it. But it was true. It is true. Evolution or god or whatever it is has given our brains this remarkable ability to slowly (so, so slowly) remove the very close-to-the-heart sting of painful remembrances and, in its place, leave the memory of that pain without the direct feeling of it. I look at this experience from my own vantage point of the last few years and I marvel at it like it is some kind of a bittersweet miracle. I remember myself in those first six months, that first year, and being convinced that grief was my new normal. I simply could not grasp how I would not alwys feel that way. And the memories, indeed, have not gone. But the irrepressible pain did, in fact, fade away. Therapy, meditation, walking, hiking, talking with friends and family, those all helped me along the way, but I think this biological, physiological process is the powerful medicine. It's what people mean when they say that the way out is through. Your task is to support yourself however you can while your nervous system performs this work for you.

My heart goes out to you right now. Big hug from me.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 3:18 AM on April 1, 2022 [3 favorites]

My ritual is crying.

I Know that sounds pat, but seriously. I worked hard with my therapist to get to a place where I could allow myself to just cry myself dry. I was scared that if I started I would never stop, which is both true and not. Let the ocean take you, and you’ll find that the waves stop coming quite so frequently. Grief truly is one of the things where the only way out is through.
posted by Bottlecap at 4:19 PM on April 1, 2022

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