Dealing with Our Fears


Joyce Nevola, LMSW, Bereavement Counselor

The heralding of Autumn is flickered in sparks of change, the end of an all too brief summer season, the eruption of harvest time, and the threat of another cold, dark winter in the lurking. Department stores are flooded with visions of Halloween ghosts, goblins, zombies, vampires, and other scary creatures. The lives of the dead and of the living co-mingle on October 31st. Billboards advertise haunted houses and fright nights echoing screams of dread.

All of us deal with fears throughout our lives. Fear is a warning of impending danger and a normal reaction to circumstances of stress. It sets off a chain reaction in the brain which culminates in a release of chemicals that causes rapid breathing, a racing heart, energized muscles, and a fight-or-flight response. Fear plays a major part of adapting to the loss of a loved one. Research has noted that, approximately, 40% of bereaved people will experience some type of anxiety disorder in the first year after the death of a loved one. We may fear what life will be like for us now. We may be terrified to cope with intense sadness. We may be afraid of the stark silence when we return home from work or activities. We may fret about how we are going to continue our regular routines when we are plagued with listlessness, apathy, and fatigue. We may be frightened by the prospect of lingering loneliness. We may dread no longer being special to someone, no longer being anyone’s priority, and no longer having someone to witness our everyday life.

We may fear the notion of being orphaned. We may feel uncertain about how to handle practical matters such as finances, housing, raising our children alone, cooking our own meals, going back to work when our heart is so heavy-laden. We may be frightened with the prospect of our own mortality. We may just feel afraid without knowing why. Here are some suggestions to cope with fear after the death of a loved one:

• Make a FEAR LIST. Fears can become less worrisome on paper.
• Read your Fear List out loud, suspending any judgment.
• Talk about your fears to a family member or friend.
• Put your fear list in a box or envelope and put it away.
• When you are ready, take out your Fear List and choose one fear.
• Allow yourself to feel that fear, permitting your body to have its reaction.
• Listen to your self-talk about that fear.
• Reverse the language of fear. Instead of saying “I am afraid”, say, “I am experiencing fear at this time”.
• Tame your fear by exploring practical ways to manage it, such as getting a financial advisor, joining a support group, reading grief literature.
• Use positive affirmations like: “I am able to conquer my fear”.
• Distance yourself from your fear. Put it back in your box and envelope.
• Practice COURAGE! Come to know the strength that is already within you.

Remember that the Hospice Grief Center is here to support you in every phase of your grief journey with individual and/or group support. Call us at 315-634-1100.