Due to Covid-19, we’ve all experienced loss or known someone who has. For a lot of us, those losses have made us afraid of losing more people.
The fear of loss is common. But if you have constant fear about losing someone you love, it can keep you from being present with them while they are with you. ‘
If you’ve lost a partner before, you might find yourself feeling anxious in a new relationship. The pain of the last loss can make you fear losing a new person, even before you’ve started dating. But you deserve to have love and support, not to be alone to grieve forever.
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Losing loved ones is something no one can prepare you for. Whether you have time to prepare or the death is sudden, there is no way to stop yourself from hurting with loss.
But why does it hurt?
Humans are biologically social animals. When we spend time with people we love, our brain and bodies see many benefits. Being with loved ones lowers blood pressure, increases trust, and generally reduces stress throughout the body1.
When we lose a connection, our bodies react in the opposite way. We are more stressed, we question other relationships around us, and we’re less likely to cooperate with others. This happens when we drift away from friends, have a breakup, or even fight with someone close to us.
The fear that someone we love might die is an anticipation of the pain of losing a meaningful connection. Our minds perceive that the future experience will be painful and seek to avoid the possibility.
Past experiences of loss can reinforce that anxiety because you already know how losing a loved one feels.
If you’re experiencing intense feelings surrounding potential loss, you might notice changes in your mood and attitude. You might feel sad or deal with extreme fear that seems to have no cause. You may find yourself unable to eat or overly tired.
The fear that someone close to us might die can also affect how we interact with the people around us. You might avoid making new friends or establishing romantic relationships. People you know might comment on your controlling behavior. You may find yourself making excuses to be alone.
While fear of loss and fear of abandonment come from the same base anxiety of losing connection, there is a huge difference between them.
Fear of abandonment is about a loss of emotional connection due to the choice of the other person. Fear of loss, especially to death and sickness, is more about losing someone to outside circumstances.
The fear of being abandoned, in a romantic relationship, would be the fear that your partner might find you lacking, that they might cheat, or that they might break up with you for a reason you cannot understand.
The fear of losing someone in a relationship to illness or death comes even when your relationship is strong. You and your partner have plans for the future, a house, a business, kids, or a dog. But if we lose someone to sickness, there’s nothing you or your partner can do to prevent it.
If you are scared of losing someone, you should know that there is always a root cause. All of our emotions are informed by our past experiences. Here are some of the common sources of death anxiety.
Children form attachments with their parents beginning at birth. According to attachment theory, children who feel connected to their caregivers are securely attached. They know that they can rely on their caregivers to be present to comfort and provide for them.
If a child’s caregivers are absent, inconsistent, or emotionally unavailable, they might feel insecure. From a very young age, they feel that their connections are unstable. Even if their parents do not pass away, losing a connection that early can be devastating and be experienced as a loss.
There are many reasons a child might have an unstable environment. A child may be adopted or in foster care2. If they have a parent or caregiver with a substance use disorder, they may be left alone for extended periods of time. They may have unstable housing, and only be able to stay with one parent at a time.
If you experienced instability in your childhood and now experience heightened anxiety in your relationships, know that you are not alone.
A traumatic experience is any experience where you fear for your life or the life of someone close to you. You may actually experience the death of a loved one as a result of that experience.
Past experiences of abuse, directly or indirectly, can be sources of significant insecurity and fear3. Accidents, witnessing an illness or death of a family, and serious illness can count. The Covid-19 Pandemic was traumatic on a global scale4. The whole world was consumed by confusion, anxiety, and loss.
When a person experiences trauma, it changes the way the brain functions5. They become more sensitive to potentially traumatic experiences in the future. The anticipation of future pain can turn into anxiety about any death.
Anxiety is an emotion everyone experiences. At low levels, it prevents us from doing things we consider unpleasant, often causing procrastination. At higher levels, it keeps us from doing things that are dangerous. That’s why a lot of people would never go skydiving.
There are people who experience more severe anxiety. Their sympathetic nervous system, the part of the brain that reacts to threats, is constantly sensing danger. This manifests as an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders can cover a wide range of conditions, including panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and phobias. Social anxiety, the fear of judgment, is ultimately a fear that we will lose connections to those around us.
Someone with an anxiety disorder can become preoccupied with the threat of loss. Even thinking rationally, they might not be able to stop worrying about their loved ones’ health.
I can’t give you a trick to completely eradicate the fear of losing someone. In order to do that, I would need to teach you to completely sever your social connections.
I can, however, provide you with some tips for building resilience, or your ability to deal with anxiety. These tips can help you to recognize and manage your fear of future losses.
The first step to reducing the impact of uncomfortable emotions is to stop trying to deny or reject them. All of our emotions serve us in some way by making us aware of a need. Anxiety alerts us to a need for safety. If we try to avoid dealing with it, it gets more intense.
Accepting that you are afraid of something does not mean you approve of the emotion. But if you can sit with the fear, you may find that the source of the fear is something other than a fear of death. Instead, you might find that there is someone or something that you want to connect more with.
Think about what you are afraid to lose if you lose a loved one. Is it the ability to talk to them? Their cooking? Do you feel like you haven’t hugged them in way too long? If your fear is spawning from a lack of connection, you can figure out ways to soothe yourself and reinforce your relationships.
When you are anxious, your mind is feeding you potential information, instead of what’s really going on in the world around you. When that happens, it distracts you from everyday life and can actually interfere with your relationships.
If you find yourself thinking about future loss too often, try to use thought-stopping, grounding, and relaxation to help you stay mindful and aware.
Thought-stopping is an exercise that forces your mind to let go of what it’s thinking about. Counting backward by 10 would be too simple, but counting down from a three-digit number by 7 or 13 would probably take more brain power. Pick something that will force you to stop thinking about distressing subjects.
Grounding is a way to bring your attention to the current moment with your senses. Try identifying 5 things you can see, 4 you can feel, 3 you can hear, 2 you can smell, and 1 you can taste. You can change the order however you like, but make sure you’re really paying attention to what your body is telling you.
Finally, relax. Force the muscles in your body to release their tension. This makes your body stop responding to a potential threat. You can do this with measured breathing, or progressive muscle relaxation exercises.
The hardest part of losing someone is resisting the urge to try to control the world around you. When we’re experiencing fear and hurt, we can feel like we’re the only person who can fix things.
But trying to control or fix the world is setting yourself up for failure. When you’re already anxious, your ability to focus on follow-through suffers. And the less you’re able to accomplish, the lower your self-esteem can get, which leads to more anxiety. And the cycle continues.
Letting go of control is a constant choice. Ask yourself if what you’re focused on is important. Ask yourself if you’re really the best person to handle the situation. Remind yourself that there are things you can control and things you can’t.
Talking about loss is one of the best ways to improve your ability to cope with the death of a loved one6. When you avoid talking about what you’re afraid of, your brain reinforces that it’s something to avoid. When you talk about it, you break that cycle.
By talking about your fear, you remove the mystery from it. You can find someone who feels similarly and you’ll feel less alone. You might even find that some of the things you’ve been afraid of are not actually part of the reality of the situation.
You don’t need to speak to every person in your life about what you’re going through to see the benefits of talking. Ask a trusted person or close friend if they have the emotional space to have a conversation about all these thoughts. Let them know if you think you need them to just listen, reassure you, or give you a distraction.
In my personal experience, when someone feels anxious, they tend to get mean. They put up their defenses, and that often means lashing out at the people who are most important to them.
The fear of losing someone you love can have you losing control of your anger, the emotion that helps us to change our environment. Often, when that anger is expressed, we end up pushing away the people who support us. We can accidentally react to losing an important connection by destroying the ones that we have left.
If you find that your anger is getting the better of you, the first step for dealing with it is reducing its intensity. Consider doing something that inspires a different emotion, something that will make you laugh, or even cry. You might decide to redirect your energy to another action, like working out or cleaning.
Once you feel like your anger isn’t in control anymore, ask yourself what you are feeling and the urge to change. While we cannot change loss, we can change a lot of the things around us that impact how we experience loss. Try writing down your needs to help you communicate that to your support network.
For a lot of people who experience a devastating loss, their minds are consumed by fear and pain. This can lead to destructive habits to cope, such as drinking alcohol or using other substances to numb the pain.
One of the less destructive ways that I teach people to deal with crisis and distress is to give themselves a temporary distraction. Distractions help us to reduce the intensity of our emotions until we can choose what to do next instead of feeling controlled by them.
Distractions can include activities like engaging in hobbies or going out with friends. They can include volunteering to help others or binging a show. There’s no completely right way to distract yourself, but make sure you’re not doing anything that will cause you harm in the future.
Spirituality and religion are not the same things. Your spiritual connection to the world around you or your higher power is a personal experience. Religious practices are the rules people might set for how they practice their spiritual beliefs in the world.
If you are a religious person, fellowship with others who share your religion can be a deep source of support. Consider reaching out to a trusted spiritual leader or member of your community to discuss your experiences.
If you are not religious, consider ways to connect with the world around you. Some people find that being in nature is helpful, while others find body and breathwork such as yoga or tai-chi to be helpful for understanding their connection to the world around them. If you feel able, consider spending time with animals, such as a kitten room at your local animal shelter.
Sometimes being able to deal with the fear of losing someone you love needs an outside perspective. You don’t need to face your worst fear on your own. If you feel you need more support, consider working with a professional who specializes in anxiety and grief.
There is nothing wrong or weak about needing support. Loss is one of the hardest things a person can experience. We gain strength by leaning on one another, and a professional has tools and strategies to help you on your healing journey.
Some people would call this fear death anxiety. The fear of losing people to circumstances outside of your control is not uncommon. But if the anxiety is making it hard to live your life, you may need support from a professional.
Thanatophobia is the overwhelming fear of death or fear of the process of dying. This type of anxiety disorder can prevent people from taking effective action in their lives. It can even keep them from being present with the people they love, despite their need for connection.
There’s no way to completely erase those fears. Instead, you have to accept the fear and manage the way the fear impacts you. Mindfulness exercises and connecting with people who care about you can help you to feel better.
Relationship anxiety is a fear of losing a relationship or connection. It is associated with a fear of abandonment. While it’s not the same as the fear of losing a loved one to illness or an accident, it can deeply impact our relationships.
There is a part of our brains that tries to use control to fix or prevent things that could hurt us. It’s very difficult not to give into it. But if you don’t accept that some things are out of your control, you will only increase the impact of your fears.
The fear of losing a loved one can come from a variety of places, and create overwhelming anxious feelings. While there is no way to completely avoid feeling anxious about loss, there are things you can do to help you feel more in control.