Ask A Grief Coach
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Ask A Grief Coach

ASK A GRIEF COACH

Question: Will I Ever Stop Fearing the Future?

Answer: Absolutely. Here’s where to start.

Ask a Grief Coach is an online column to address commonly received questions in private work with my clients. All names are kept anonymous, and the questions are shared with permission. As you read, keep the context of your own story in mind. No answers found here will apply directly to your circumstance because your grief is unique to you. However, the hope is that you will find tools and tips of support, whether you are the griever or the supporter.

Dear Mandy,
The thing I can’t get through right now is this intense fear of the future. I’m not this person — I’ve never lived this way. The future seemed bright, hopeful, and expectant. But now that I am winding through an unexpected and terrible loss, I can’t get past one day at a time. And even in that one day at a time mentality, I feel trapped by any thought of the future. I literally cannot handle my thoughts leaving the present moment, because I just spiral.

I can’t live like this forever, and I feel like it’s true that this will pass. But when? When does this fear of the future leave?

Sincerely,

Wondering and worrying

Photo by Jack B on Unsplash

Dear Wondering,
You are so right — you cannot live like this forever, nor do you have to. But right now, no matter how ongoing or fresh your grief may be, you are in the middle of the messy.

This part takes a lot of patience and even more present-minded practices. It is beyond difficult to see part of your future when everything around you feels blurry. And grief blurs the lines — the distinctions between our littlest decisions and the life-changing ones seem equally important and overwhelming.

It sounds like you’re already aware of a technique to bring yourself back into the present moment — also known as a grounding technique. My personal fave is the 54321 method: Counting 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can touch, and 1 deep nostril breath in with a big open mouth exhale.

But let’s check in with those fears of the future. Think back to the last time one surfaced. You experienced the thought of future loss, and zero control. How does that grief and fear show up in your body? It might be tense shoulders, blurred vision, or sudden onset nausea. Maybe you start to feel your inner ear itching, or realize your head is pounding.

These are the feelings you get as a result of that thought. The familiar thought, although uncomfortable, leads to body feelings that may be SO familiar you hardly notice them anymore.

And that physical, internal response is going to lead you to a behavior that cancels the negative feelings and avoids the negative or harmful thought.

Do you see the relationship between all three? You are in a cycle of thought, feeling, and behavior dysfunction. This is where we hear people say, “I’m stuck!”

So how do you get “unstuck?” Well… start with compassion. You’re not truly stuck. In fact, your mind, heart, and body are doing exactly what they were designed to do. That level of intense fear alerts the amygdala to tell the rest of your body, “Stop what you’re doing and get safe! This thought is not safe!”

Allowing yourself to drop the swords and let your heart and mind off the hook is a big deal. Because when you gain some perspective and compassion for your wounded, surviving heart, you will begin to notice when those thoughts arise again.

Or maybe you’ll notice the body responses first. When you do, you have a chance to ask yourself, “Ooh! Is my head pounding because I’ve had no water today, or is it because I’m unable to stop thinking about tomorrow’s decisions and keep letting my shoulders hunch forward?”

We are chasing awareness. When we get mindful and intentional in the experiences of our daily lives (especially in the middle of a griefy storyline), we gain awareness of our body, mind, and heart as they respond to protect us from perceived harm.

The future is coming, whether we like it or not. Grief will happen again, no matter what we do. And yet, in the midst of these big, hard thought processes, we can take stock of ourselves and cultivate more compassion. Slowly, but surely, we will notice those fearful thoughts and choose to challenge them before believing them.

I’m cheering you on as you challenge those thoughts!

Mandy

Do you have questions about grief? Submit now for a chance to be anonymously featured in an upcoming column: Ask A Grief Coach!

Mandy Capehart is an author, small business owner, editor, certified grief and life coach, and creator of The Restorative Grief Project. The Restorative Grief Project is an online community focusing on one another’s stories and new methodologies for grief, creating a safe environment for our souls to heal and our spirits to be revived. To learn more, visit MandyCapehart.com or follow her on Twitter. She thinks she is pretty funny. The jury is out.

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Mandy Capehart

Mandy Capehart

Writing about grief, beliefs, & psych/mindfulness. Editor of Ask a Grief Coach. Happily Tweeting & doing other “Very Good Things.” I apologize in advance.