Ask Golden Willow

Loss and the illusion of safety


Dear Ted: I experienced a couple of losses this last year, which included the death of a loved one, my dog dying and moving. Even though each of these losses has had a profound impact on my life, I felt I was walking through the grief process pretty well. The emotional piece that has surprised me is that I seem fearful of many everyday events in my life. Tasks, such as driving to town, listening to voicemail, even going for a walk in the woods, seem overwhelming and daunting. I am wondering if this is a normal part of the grief process or if something else is going on that I should get checked out. Thanks, Feeling Shaky

Dear Feeling Shaky, Unfortunately, you were hit with many losses, and I commend you for being conscious of the grief process and staying aware of your journey of healing. You asked if you should see if anything else is going on besides your grief process. I believe it is always a good idea to check into your emotional and physical well-being after a loss.

Our emotional and physical worlds work together and definitely affect each other. Sometimes after an emotional event, you may trigger something physical as well. For example, when you get a tuneup on your car, it is always worthwhile to get everything checked out as all the systems work together, not separately.

It is common after a loss to feel insecure undertaking regular activities. When you have a loss, your illusion of safety can be disrupted. You become fearful, as parts of your world that had become normalized and habitual, no longer have a foundation for the brain to say, "This is safe." After a loss, your experiential foundation that normalizes the world is shaken or shattered and needs to be rebuilt. Emotionally, it is like being a child with a world demanding that you be an adult.

It's like the first time you drove a car. It probably felt overwhelming starting the car, watching the gauges, avoiding other cars, steering, and reacting to every other stimulus and action needed to safely drive down the road. Over time, you normalize the entire process and calmly drive around without an overwhelming feeling.

The same process happens during and after a loss. Your internal normalizing process is disrupted, causing your stimuli filters to be disrupted. This makes you feel emotionally flooded, causing high levels of stress with everyday stimuli becoming overwhelming.

Giving yourself time to rebuild your normalizing tools and letting your brain settle down to be less hypervigilant is the key. Simply understanding this is normal can help you to find ways to settle your system down. Using tools, such as breath work, prayer, rest and healthy nutrition combined with support from others, will help you to rebuild your safety gauge as you engage with the natural and normal healing process from loss. It is called grief.

Thank you for the question. I wish you well. Until next week, take care.

Direct any questions to Ted Wiard, LPCC, CGC, Founder of Golden Willow Retreat at (575) 776-2024 or

This column seeks to help educate our community about emotional healing through grief. People may write questions to Golden Willow Retreat and they will be answered privately to you and possibly as a future article for others. Please list a first name that grants permission for printing.