Fear of an uncertain future can stop us from doing great things, and it can keep us holding onto things and habits that are hurting us. Listed below are 5 steps to deal with separation and divorce anxiety.
I think it is fair to say, that the majority of us from time to time wonder what the future will be like. Whether we will be happy, have enough money and be healthy etc. But when you are contemplating, going through or coming out of divorce anxiety over the future can be overwhelming and unbearable at times.
Currently I am working with clients online in Surrey, London, New York, Mumbai, Melbourne, Phoenix, Paris, Hong Kong and Singapore, as well as in person coaching with Dubai residents. Despite the differences in culture, religion, and location, fear of an uncertain future, separation and divorce anxiety is widespread.
For some, future fears are about their children. Whether their children will cope with or forgive them for the divorce.
Others question whether they will adjust to living alone, have enough money, or meet someone special, that they can share and enjoy life with.
Some are concerned about how family, friends, colleagues, business partners etc. will react to the news and whether their relationship with them will change.
Then there are those who are still in grief, dealing with the loss and questioning whether the pain, stress, frustration, guilt, sadness or resentment will ever pass.
The common theme between them is the desire to know if they will be happy again. Some anxiety over an uncertain future is natural. But constantly thinking about it is draining and damaging. I regularly support my clients to stop wasting time worrying about the future or replaying the past and work through the 5 powerful steps I am sharing with you today. If any of this is resonating with you, take comfort that it is both normal and natural to have concerns and try out my suggestions below.
Judy I am working with, is currently going through a divorce. She is unsure if she should move or stay in London. If she moves, she might be happier but then she might not. She questions if being a single parent makes her much less desirable to men. If it does might she be better off staying in a big city, where she at least has the option to meet new people. Compared to a small town where she might be the only single parent and her daughter might be the only pupil without two parents. But then if she stays in London she might not be able to get her daughter into a good school and she might not survive financially in the city.
As you can see her concerns are all based on “might’s” this might or might not happen.
Left alone with her thoughts she felt exhausted, anxious and overwhelmed. I helped her recognize that she doesn’t have to make all the decisions now and that one by one over the 6 month program we can address concerns when they comes up. It is about embracing the uncertain future and I have 5 Steps to support you to do that.
But before we go into embracing the uncertain future, letting go of relationship baggage is an essential first step. Only once you free yourself from past bitterness, anger, sadness etc., can true peace of mind and happiness be achieved. Judy like many others I work with still had unresolved frustration, disappointment and guilt with the way her marriage ended.
On bad days she used to wonder if she was a terrible mum and person for walking out on her husband. Should she have put up with her husband’s drinking, partying and general disinterest in them for the sake of her daughter? These thoughts used to consume her. The stress, anxiety and overwhelm she felt was taking a toll on her health, she found sleeping difficult and felt constantly on edge. Coaching and healing to let go of the past enabled her to move forward. Then we could work on dealing with future uncertainty, enabling her to feel stronger, happier and more confident in herself.
5 Steps to Embracing the Uncertain Future
1. Let go of expectations
When you expect things you set yourself up for disappointment. You can take actions to influence your future, but you cannot control outcomes or others. If you expect the worst, then you can get trapped into a negative closed minded outlook, that will prevent you from seeing and seizing opportunities. In the example above Judy expects if she moves to a smaller town, she won’t ever meet anyone new and that she will be the only single parent. Clearly this is not helpful.
If you expect the best, and things don’t go exactly the way you wanted you have to deal with this disappointment.
When dating again letting go of expectations is crucial, and is something I support those that request that support to do.
Instead of expecting the future to give or not give you something specific, focus on what you’ll do to create what you want to experience.
2. Create options for different possible outcomes
The hardest part of dealing with uncertainty, at least for me, is the inability to plan and feel in control. This is how many of my client’s feel, until they know what the outcome of their divorce will be, their financial situation or even how they will feel living alone they can’t plan. They can’t plan what they will do, where they will go and what action they can take until they have more clarity on things. But they can create and plan for possible outcomes.
When I work with someone we make option lists for their possible outcomes. For example what they would do if their marriage ended, they get more or less money then expected, they hated living in the city alone, they had joint custody of the children. To achieve peace of mind, it can be useful to list plans for different outcomes. You don’t have to go into much detail if you don’t want to, but making rough plans can be reassuring and lessen anxiety overwhelm. Many also share that after we talked it through, it no longer played on their mind. So get with a friend, family member or coach and talk through your options and outcomes.
3. Get confident in your ability to handle any situation
Start by reminding yourself of difficult times in your life you survived and got through it. A difficult childhood, bullying, a previous break up, difficult work situation or perhaps another major loss, the chances are at the time it seemed unbearable but looking back you coped and got through it.
Another method I do all the time and has been shown to help with managing anxiety is to ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” and then whatever that worst is, ask yourself, “What could I do to cope if the worse did happen? Or “How would I handle it?”
4. Become an observer and advisor
Farhan, (currently in my 6 month program) shared a special insight with me last month, and it led me to write this article. He said “Nicola it is not the unknown that bothers me, everything in life is unknown, we all know that. But what bothers me most, is that since we separated I find myself getting lost in a repetitive cycle of thoughts. Thoughts about what may and may not happen in the future and that’s what I want to stop, to be able to just deal with it when it comes and not think about it now, like I used to be able to do”
So I asked him to share every single thought. Then asked him what advice he would give a friend, family member or colleague who had that thought. He laughed and said “I would tell them not to be so ridiculous and I would tell them it is pointless and a waste of time thinking that way.” We laughed more as he continued to address each thought he had. He gained perspective by becoming an observer and advisor to himself. He now uses this to prevent getting wrapped up in his own thoughts and I shared it with others in my programs, they also found it beneficial.
To follow this tip, I suggest you write down, share (and where possible find humor in any escalating thoughts) Ask yourself. “If a friend or family member were facing this situation or having these thoughts what advice would I give them?”
5. Manage and reduce stress effectively
All of my programs focus on strategies to reduce stress and tension. Built up stress and anxiety affects breathing rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, muscle tension and every organ in our bodies.
Finding a way to reduce stress, as well as let go of stress we hold in our bodies is essential to maintaining a healthy life. When we go through a painful break up and divorce, this is particularly true. Different strategies work for different people.
It could be a relaxing bath or massage, physical exercise, deep breathing, comedy and laughing, meditation. I use to think I can’t do meditation. Until I met a wonderful lady on a course and she said you can meditate listening to music. I googled it (I like to research everything first these days) and yes it is just as effective meditating with some background music according to experts. So now I do this, Kirtana is my favorite music to mediate with at the moment, its beautiful. But according to research it can be any music you like.
Another thing that helps me de-stress is cooking. I love creating and trying new dishes, as I manage to switch off from everything else. Years ago I used to buy into the lame excuse “it is pointless cooking for one.” But it’s great fun teaching yourself and making tons of mistakes along the way. Plus you can freeze almost anything and cooking and giving food to others is really rewarding. Whether it’s the security guard in a building, assistant in your local shop, work colleagues or inviting people over I bet there will be people grateful for it.
So find a healthy way of de-stressing, that works for you and do it regularly.
Lastly words from a special prayer, that many (myself included) regardless of religious or cultural background and beliefs find helpful in difficult times.:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference.