Emotional Wellbeing

Mandy Kloppers

How to Cope with Anticipatory Grief: 6 Tips

If you’re expecting a loss, anticipatory grief can stop you in your tracks. It’s hard to make the most of each moment when your mind and body are dealing with a trauma or loss before it occurs. Fortunately, there are some coping methods to deal with this form of grief and take advantage of the time you still have.

What Is Anticipatory Grief?

Anticipatory grief often involves caregivers with terminal patients or family members and patients with terminal diagnoses. However, it can present itself any time there is a major change, such as surgery, moving, co-parenting, or having an older pet. Anticipatory grief stops you from cherishing the time you have before the change by forcing you to think and feel like it has already happened. 

We experience this form of grief as a way for our minds to prepare for the coming experience, whether it’s losing a loved one or preparing for another unwanted change. Some people feel it more intensely than others and can have physical and mental effects. 

When you grieve in preparation for something, you can often experience the same mental and physical distress as the  “conventional” grief after a loss. Grief after the event is hard enough to navigate. Anticipatory grief can be even more complicated — you want to enjoy your time but feel trapped, as if it already passed.


6 Tips for Navigating It

Everyone grieves differently, including in anticipatory grief. Fortunately, there are ways to make it through the experience. Here are seven tips for navigating this complex experience. 

1. Feel Your Feelings 

You might feel like shoving your feelings away, telling yourself “The person is still here. The event hasn’t happened yet. You’re fine.” However, this can cause more physical and emotional turmoil down the line. Accepting the feelings you have to prevent them from overpowering you. 

In anticipatory grief, you might experience many feelings, including the following. 

  • Sadness 
  • Guilt
  • Anxiety 
  • Denial 
  • Irritability
  • Anger
  • Loss of control 
  • Desperation 
  • Dread
  • Obsession
  • Loneliness
  • Needing to isolate 


All of these feelings are normal and accepting them and letting them pass through you can help you reduce their intensity in the future.


2. Use Your Feelings for Positive Moments 

While embracing those feelings might seem counterintuitive at first, you can use them to fuel positive decisions and feelings.

Spend time with your loved one or do whatever you will miss. Control what you can about the situation by offering comfort to others grieving, doing things a terminal patient loves to do, saying the things you need to say and paving the rocky road ahead as much as possible. 


3. Use It As Preparation 

You can use your feelings of grief in anticipation of what’s to come. Anticipatory grief is a preview of what you’ll likely experience once the event happens. It’s a time when you can try different things to help you best cope. 

If you’re preparing for someone to pass, consider spending time with them and capturing conversations and memories you can reflect on. For events or items you’ll lose, it might help to spend time around them or begin distancing yourself and exploring new opportunities. Practicing self-care is crucial for healthily navigating grief. Take time to explore easy things you can do to improve yourself physically or mentally. 


4. Educate Yourself and Others 

It can get overwhelming when a significant change is coming, but learning as much as possible about what’s to come can help you better prepare yourself and others. 

Do your research with credible sources and learn methods to make the transition easier. Knowing what’s ahead, you can make plans to handle any scenario. It can also help you educate those around you. 


5. Find a Support Group 

Finding others dealing with anticipatory grief can give you comfort and provide understanding. For example, you can meet up with a support group surrounding the change or consult with someone you know who’s been through something similar before. Be honest with them about your experiences and your feelings. Leaning on each other can make the weight of grief a little lighter. 


6. Ask for Help

Don’t be afraid to ask for help when things are too much. Whether you’re seeking someone to help with meals and errands so you can spend more time with a loved one or asking them to be a caretaker for a bit so you can recharge, you shouldn’t feel guilty. Many people want to help. 

If you’re giving up a life chapter or experience, consider asking someone to cover with you so you can start having some days without it. You could also ask someone to help with outside responsibilities so you can spend more time doing it. 

Talking to a professional can help you cope with the mental health impacts of anticipatory grief. A psychiatrist or therapist specializing in grief can help you work through the conditions that might emerge. Everyone needs help sometimes, especially after something distressing happens. 


Coping with Anticipatory Grief 

It can be hard to navigate grief when what you’re grieving hasn’t happened yet. When you know about anticipatory grief, make the most of the time you have, lean on others and practice healthy self-care, you can pave a smoother road for what’s to come.