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Anxiety Sensitivity in Bereaved Adults With and Without Complicated Grief

Robinaugh, Donald J. MA*†; McNally, Richard J. PhD*; LeBlanc, Nicole J. BS*; Pentel, Kimberly Z. BA; Schwarz, Noah R. BA; Shah, Riva M. BA; Nadal-Vicens, Mireya F. MD, PhD; Moore, Cynthia W. PhD; Marques, Luana PhD; Bui, Eric MD, PhD; Simon, Naomi M. MD, MSc

Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease:
doi: 10.1097/NMD.0000000000000171
Brief Reports

Abstract: Complicated grief (CG) is a bereavement-specific syndrome chiefly characterized by symptoms of persistent separation distress. Physiological reactivity to reminders of the loss and repeated acute pangs or waves of severe anxiety and psychological pain are prominent features of CG. Fear of this grief-related physiological arousal may contribute to CG by increasing the distress associated with grief reactions and increasing the likelihood of maladaptive coping strategies and grief-related avoidance. Here, we examined anxiety sensitivity (AS; i.e., the fear of anxiety-related sensations) in two studies of bereaved adults with and without CG. In both studies, bereaved adults with CG exhibited elevated AS relative to those without CG. In study 2, AS was positively associated with CG symptom severity among those with CG. These findings are consistent with the possibility that AS contributes to the development or maintenance of CG symptoms.

Author Information

*Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA; and †Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA.

Send reprint requests to Donald J. Robinaugh, MA, Department of Psychology, Harvard University, 33 Kirkland St, Cambridge, MA 02138. E-mail:

© 2014 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins