Worry & Grief: 5 Steps to Stop the Cycle

First, let’s talk about the why – why we worry and why in grief it may be worse than ever. For some, worry is deeply instilled, even long before loss. Perhaps it’s nature, perhaps it’s nurture, or maybe it’s the idea that to be a cautious, responsible and prepared adult, we have to generate some level of worry in our day-to-day lives.  

But worry often becomes worse in grief and in the aftermath of loss absolutely EVERYTHING feels overwhelming. Everything is a decision. Everything feels filled with the potential for something to go wrong. Why?

Because something did go wrong- very wrong.

The worst thing that could have happened has happened and now it’s going to be very hard to have faith or trust that anything could ever go right again. 

It’s important to remember that in grief, we are often mourning our partners and advisors. They were the people who could actually help us with all this stuff, and now we’re not only grieving their loss, we’re having to keep living and doing and deciding without them. 

As a result, we may find that worry robs us of sleep, steals our peace, and forces us out of the present and into a future of uncertainty where we’ll try to fix and know things that can’t yet be fixed or known.

Stopping the cycle of worry begins when we understand what worry is, and what it isn’t, and we need to recognize one very important point…

Worrying and doing are not the same thing.

Worry is not planning. Worry is not being productive. And above all, worry is not problem solving. 

I want you to really begin to think of it in these terms, and most importantly, use the following 5 steps to overcome the bad habit that worrying has become in your life:

BE AN OBSERVER

First recognize that being an observer of your thoughts and behaviors allows you to look on as an outsider would, and to experience without judgment or labels just how much of your life and thoughts are spent in such an unsettled mental and emotional state. Take note: how much time are you spending worrying? What time of day is it happening most? Does it happen when you’re especially drained, or haven’t had enough sleep? Are there people or situations that trigger it or set it off? 

DEFINE IT AND CATEGORIZE IT

Second, ask yourself: is this worry for the sake of worry? Is it something you have control over or not? Are thoughts alone enough to change the course of whatever may or may not happen? Decide what is a worry for the sake of worry and what is something you can actually do something about. Define worries into what you have control over – and exert that control when and where you can. And then learn and practice letting it go when you can’t. 

WRITE IT DOWN & CLOSE IT UP

Keep a notebook with you. Maybe it’s a small one that fits in a purse or pocket during the day. In addition, make sure you have a pen and paper next to you where you sleep. As the thoughts and worries come in – write them down. Here’s what the worry in your head may sound like: “I don’t know what’s happening with the estate. The lawyer said I should have gotten more information by now. I don’t know why I haven’t heard from him yet”. On paper, simply write: “Call Lawyer”. Hopefully that simple act alone can be a start of getting it out of your head where it’s doing nothing but causing you suffering to a place where it can become an actionable plan. 

TAKE ACTION

Turn these thoughts and worries into an action that will clear them from your thoughts. In other words, turn them into something productive, purposeful and meaningful. These are the things you can control. The phone calls you can make. The information you can get. Write them down to get them out of your head and then DO them.

ASK YOURSELF: CAN THIS BE DONE, KNOWN OR DECIDED TODAY?

If not, then it’s no longer today’s problem and therefore no longer today’s worry. Here is an example of a worry I often hear: “Who is going to take care of me when I’m older?”. This is a very legitimate question and one that may need to be addressed at some point. But can that be decided today? Do you have all the information? Is every possible scenario and factor in place for you to decide or act on? If not – then take it off today’s list. Focus on the present, and recognize that grievers have plenty to do and manage right now without having to travel so far into the future to find even more problems to try and solve.

In the end, it’s a shift in mindset and perspective that makes the difference, and a decision that we make to not add more stress or grief to our stress and grief. Get it on paper, make a plan, take action, and break the endless cycle of worry…once and for all.

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