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Stowe guests: How to face your fears when separating

In this instalment of Stowe guests, we catch-up back again with Claire Black from Claire Black Divorce Coaching.

This is Claire’s third piece for the blog and today, she joins us with some great advice on how to handle fear and anxiety when you are separating.

Going through a separation and divorce can be frightening. Many of my clients say that they are afraid of what the future might hold, or they fear how life might look and feel in 6 months or a year.

It is normal to feel fearful when you’re going through a divorce – it turns the world upside down, so who wouldn’t be afraid?

Fear stimulates our primitive fight, flight or freeze responses, so you might find that you stick your head in the sand, hoping your fear will go away on its own (freeze response).

Or you might find it leads you to react angrily (fight response).

Or perhaps you try to run away and drown it out with drink, partying or keeping incredibly busy (flight response). These approaches might work in the short term, but in the end, they will either paralyse or exhaust you.

There is a 4th way.

The children in Michael Rosen’s book, “We’re going on a bear hunt” decide that when faced with a deep cold river and thick gloopy mud that they can’t go over it, they can’t go under it, so they’ll have to go through it. Fear is exactly like this. When you avoid it or run from it, or try to distract it, it controls you.

To really put your fear behind you, you need to go through it and face it.

Get clarity

Some of your fear might arise from lack of knowledge or fear of the unknown, and it helps to get clarity around those fears. For example, if your future financial position is uncertain and worrying you, work out your income and budget or ask a financial adviser to help you. Even if the picture isn’t as you would wish, at least you are no longer in the scary position of not knowing. Once you are aware of any shortfall you can work with the facts, not the “what ifs”, and start to plan how you could fill the gap or change and prioritise your spending. Many baby steps taken over time add up to great leaps forward.

Or if you are scared by the prospect of spending weekends on your own while your children are with their other parent, ask yourself who you know who deals with this well. Ask them how they spend their time when the children are away. You can dial down your fear of what you will do in that time by asking yourself empowering questions. Is there something you’ve always wanted to do, but never had the time? Is there a hobby you’ve always wanted to try? Do you have friends you don’t see often because they’re too far away? Could you arrange to visit them during one of your weekends?

Use mind movies

Are there certain scenarios you fear, like what you will do if you bump into your ex, or how to prepare for your next session of mediation?

The brain doesn’t know the difference between what you imagine and what you remember – the memory and the imagination fire the same neurological circuits. You can use this knowledge to decrease your fear of these scenarios by becoming the Steven Spielberg of your own mind. Many actors and sports performers use this technique to help them improve and maintain their performance, and you can too.

Here’s how.

Imagine the scenario you are afraid of, and run it like a movie in your mind, with you watching it on a big screen. See yourself in the movie, saying exactly what you need to say, and acting confidently, calmly and exactly as you wish. Rehearse what you want to say out loud. Now rewind the scene and run it again, asking yourself what you could do to make it even better. Make the colours vivid and bright and make the picture bigger and bigger. Feel yourself in the scene, so that you are no longer watching, and have become part of the movie in your mind. Repeat until you feel in control of the scene, and that you’ve given your very best performance.

Notice how you feel now that you know what you want to say and how you want to feel and act. When you are faced now with the scenario that you fear, your brain will remember your mind movie and will know what you need to do.

Flip to using your “WOW” brain instead of your “OW” brain

When you are climbing a mountain, do you find yourself looking up at the height you still have to climb and thinking, “OW, look how far I’ve still got to go? It looks too difficult, I don’t think I can do it”, or do you look back to see how high you’ve already climbed, and think “WOW, look how much I’ve already achieved, all I need to do is keep on going”?

Flipping the way you think from OW to WOW gives you a more empowering set of tools, so start to notice how you are thinking. If you see the climb ahead as too daunting, pause to look back and notice what you have already achieved. What have you done in the last week/month/year that you couldn’t do before?

Divorce is a time when you are often forced to learn new skills. Some people (that would be me!) have never mowed the lawn before, or arranged a car service, or been in charge of their own finances. Whilst challenging at first, these learning curves are rewarding and can be sources of pride and feelings of achievement – when you notice them.

Notice when you do something that you were previously afraid of. When you face something that scares you, be proud. Start to keep a “WOW list” of all the things you’ve achieved, and all the times you have faced something that scared you. Keep your list somewhere you can see it easily and remind yourself of your achievements whenever you start to question yourself.

Even if you are afraid of trying these strategies, give it a go and see what difference it makes!

Read more from Claire and our other partners.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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