Negative thoughts are a normal part of divorce, but you don’t have to suffer with them indefinitely.
Even in the best of times we all have negative thoughts. But when you get divorced the negative thoughts take over. You become trapped in a world of fears. You’re constantly asking yourself, “What if this happens?” And, of course, this is something really, really bad.
The nightmare of negativity and pessimism is constant. You’re bombarded by terrifying thoughts whether you’re awake or asleep and dreaming (that is if you’re lucky enough to get some sleep).
What makes the pessimism so prevalent now when you’re trying to find the strength to heal and move on with your life?
The truth is that all of these negative thoughts are fueled by depression and anxiety. And it probably comes as no surprise to you that divorce triggers depression and anxiety for a lot of people.
The problem is that no matter how well you understand why your mind races after one bit of negativity and fear mongering after another, the simple understanding will never, ever make the thoughts stop. That’s because anxiety changes your brain. It impacts the way you think in such a way that the more you think negative thoughts, the more the anxiety keeps you focused on them. It’s a nasty cycle of fear and negativity.
Many people run to their doctors for a prescription to help them navigate the negativity. For some a prescription is all they need. But for others it isn’t. And then there are some (like me) who flat out refuse to take medication to help them through the persistent pessimism they’re experiencing post-divorce.
If you’re one of the people who need more than medication to mediate the tangled mess of myopic, pessimistic negative thoughts you’re struggling with, the following list for creating pockets of calm will be your lifesaver.
There are several things besides (or in addition to) taking a prescription that you can do to help break the vicious cycle of negative thoughts. Here are 10 of them:
- Write your negative notions down. Once you capture your thoughts on paper (yes, paper), your thoughts are safe. Your mind can relax because you’re not relying on it to remember these ideas any longer.
- Accept that you’re struggling and stop beating yourself up. When you start blaming and shaming yourself for what you’re thinking, you create more anxiety which creates more negative thoughts. So as soon as you accept that the negativity is just part of your healing after divorce, the less fuel you’ll be adding to the fire of fears you’re battling.
- Think about your unwanted thoughts as thoughts. Stop thinking about the meaning of your negative thoughts and instead think of them as simply thoughts. They’re like unwanted visitors or telemarketers that you ignore and get rid of as quickly as possible so you can get back to doing what you really want to be doing.
- Exercise. Instead of letting discouraging ruminations take all of your energy get your entire body moving. Exercise has the potential to not only change your focus, but also produce some feel-good neurochemicals like endorphins. (And isn’t figuring out how to feel good again why you’re reading this article?)
- Tap your toes. Alternately and rhythmically tapping the toes of your right foot and then your left provides alternating bilateral stimulation (ABS) which is amazingly soothing and relaxing physically, emotionally and mentally for most people. And if tapping isn’t your thing you can use sights and sounds for ABS too.
- Watch a funny show or listen to a funny podcast. Slipping into another world that’s safe and easy is a great way to shed your fears for a little while. (When I was going through my divorce in 2002, I would watch reruns of The Andy Griffith Show and Green Acres.)
- Spend time outside experiencing nature. According to Mental Floss, “spending time in the great outdoors has been scientifically proven to reduce stress levels, help you find clarity, and rejuvenate your mind and body.”
- Tell someone about your negative thoughts and strategize together to debunk your fears. Two heads are definitely better than one when it comes to facing fears and neutralizing negativity. When you try to do it all on your own, you often wind up in a tangled web of terror that prevents you from making any kind of decisions for making your life better.
- Think about something that requires deep concentration. Deep concentration doesn’t mean that you need to think about something difficult. It just means that your attention is absorbed in something. Examples of ways you might focus your thoughts are meditation, counting backwards from 100 by sixes, and using breathing exercises.
- Tell yourself a different story. Some people can shift their negative thoughts simply by changing the story they tell themselves about their situation. Instead of ruminating on the fear of being alone for the rest of your life, you could change the end of your story and start thinking about how you might find the ideal person for you to spend the rest of your life with.
When I went through my divorce, I used all of these strategies. Not all at the same time, but selectively depending on what was going on.
Did I know them all before I got divorce? Absolutely not. I stumbled on each of them and I discovered that some would work one time and not at all another.
But you’re in a better position than I was. You know all 10 of these strategies and don’t have to flail around in the darkness of despair. You now have a starting point for injecting a little calm into your life by quieting your negative thoughts.
Maybe all 10 of these strategies will work for you, maybe not. Maybe one will work better for you today and not at all tomorrow. That’s OK. The important thing is that you try them again and again until you find what works for you when you need it the most.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce coach and personal life coach helping people just like you who want support as they heal from their divorce. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. And, if you're ready, you can take the first step toward working with me as your personal coach by scheduling a private consultation.
Looking for more advice about getting through your divorce? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Healing After Divorce.