Grief famous person

How the death of someone famous can affect PTSD symptoms

We are deeply saddened by the death of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. An inspiration to our country, her 70 years of dedication and service have shown her incredible strength and honour. We join with people around the world in mourning her loss, and our thoughts are with the Royal Family at this time.

When someone has PTSD or C-PTSD it can affect every moment of their lives. When other events in life add further stress, or increased emotion, this can also exacerbate PTSD and C-PTSD symptoms, even if you can’t explain why.

If you’re struggling to cope with emotions and grief in the wake of the death of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, or any other famous person or celebrity, it can be useful to understand more about why the death of a famous person can affect you, and make your PTSD or C-PTSD symptoms more intense.

Firstly, be kind to yourself. It is easy to feel a little self-conscious when you find yourself experiencing grief feelings around the death of a stranger.  The feelings can ‘creep up’ on you and you may wonder ‘why am I so upset about this, I didn’t even know them?’  The sadness doesn’t just feel abstract, it can feel personal. There are many reasons why the death of a celebrity can affect you such as:

  • You feel like you knew them: Even though you may not have met in person, when someone is famous it may feel like you knew them. If they were very active on social media they may have shared very a lot of personal information which adds to the sense of really having known them.
  • They are someone you truly admired: If they are an artist, musician, actor or writer, their work may have helped you through a difficult time in your life or inspired you to be who you are. They may have been a role model. Or their work may remind you of more carefree periods or form a connection to your younger days. It’s natural to be upset when someone who was important to your life dies.
  • Celebrity deaths remind us of our own experiences: The death of someone famous may bring up memories of our own grief. Perhaps the person who died has a connection with someone you have lost, or reminds you of them. Perhaps someone you loved who has died was a big fan of theirs. All of these factors can make the death of a celebrity more upsetting.
  • Their deaths challenge our view of the world: Celebrities also feel like a part of the landscape that won’t change. The shock of their death can challenge our assumptions about the world. This can make us feel very vulnerable.”
  • “We see it everywhere. Seriously, everywhere.  You turn on the TV, listen to the radio, log on to social media, look at google news and you just can’t avoid it.  This constant exposure can be overwhelming and it can make it hard to get a break from the tough emotions.”

Why can grief exacerbate PTSD and C-PTSD symptoms

One incredibly helpful tool in understanding PTSD & C-PTSD and it’s effects on the way you think and feel is the ‘Window of Tolerance’ – a concept to describe the ‘optimal zone of arousal for a person to function in everyday life’.

The Window of Tolerance refers to the zone you can be in when your emotions are balanced and controlled, and you are thinking clearly and reacting rationally – you’re functioning at your most effective. When you are in your Window of Tolerance, you can manage everyday life well, including planning ahead, stress, pressure, and defusing perceived ‘threats’ to your emotional balance.

For some people, this Window is wide, and it takes a lot to drive them beyond it – they can manage stress and emotions quite easily. However, for people with PTSD or C-PTSD, this Window of Tolerance can be much narrower and it can feel that more emotions and situations are intense and difficult to. A narrowed window of tolerance may cause people to react more intensely to external stressors, like the death of someone famous, as they’re easily tipped ‘up’ or ‘down’ out of the window. This can cause the fight/flight response or a freeze response more often and with more intensity than they used to expect, which can intensify PTSD or C-PTSD symptoms.

You can find out more about the Window of Tolerance, how to widen the window, how to stay within the window, and ho to get back into within the window in our article here.

How to support yourself at this time

Just because you may have never met a celebrity or famous person in person doesn’t mean your grief about their loss is invalid, so it’s important to give the emotion the attention it deserves, especially if you’re struggling with PTSD or C-PTSD too. Cruse Bereavement charity have supplied the following tips to look after yourself at this time:

  • Allow yourself to grieve: Give yourself permission to feel sad, for the person who has died and their loved ones, and also for what you have lost.
  • Talk to someone: There will be others who are affected by this death in the same way as you. Look for places where people are sharing their feelings online. Friends and family can also help, but it’s worth thinking about whether they are going through anything similar themselves. Not everyone will understand how the death of someone famous can feel.
  • Find ways to remember the person: Take time to remember the person. Try making a small memorial, looking at pictures, writing down some of your memories, or revisiting their work. 
  • The world feels changed: The Queen has been a constant in our lives for so long that sometimes if has felt that she would always be around. However old someone is, their death is always a shock. And with someone like our Queen, who has been part of the shared public landscape for so long, not being around can make the world feel like a less safe and certain place. This can make us feel vulnerable.
  • Take a break from the news: We often feel like staying up to date with sad events can make us feel better. But it’s important to recognises when the news is making you feel worse.

Losing someone, even a celebrity, can be a big stressor, so it’s important to take your time and grieve in a way that works for you and your needs. Be mindful of your feelings and perhaps explore them if you’re currently undergoing therapy or treatment.

If you need support, The Cruse helpline is open and their bereavement supporters will be happy to talk to you about how you’re feeling – whether that’s grief for The Queen or because the situation has brought up other difficult feelings for you. Call 0808 808 1677

Longer term, if you find you are unable to participate in life, having difficulty focusing, not eating, crying, or fixating on the events, it may be time to consider professional help, so please reach out to your GP or local mental health team.

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