First: Understand It
I: Know This
- You are normal.
- WF can vary in duration and intensity among individuals.
- WF is not permanent. You can function normally again.
- Understanding what’s going on will help you to begin the process of moving out of the fog.
- Feeling disconnected
- Having many thoughts but lack the ability to organize and focus on one
- Compromised ability to recall, reason, and plan
- breakdown in train of thought, simple tasks seem overwhelming.
- Grief makes the EB work overtime, trying to make sense of the magnitude of emotions through rational thinking
- Just when you think you’re settled, an assault of feelings and thoughts blasts everything back up into the EB, and now it has to try to sort everything out all over again.
- Meanwhile, you’re on autopilot – only able to perform the routine tasks—if you can even remember to do them.
III: What’s Going On:
- Your brain has an area called your Prefrontal Cortex or your “Executive Brain”, (EB). Its main functions are to:
- Understand, Decide, Recall, Memorize, Inhibit
- Your Executive Brain can only process one thing at a time.
- Your EB uses up energy and exhausts quickly.
- Normally your body naturally avoids using your EB too much, saving energy by performing Routine activities (laundry) instead of complex activities (planning).
- Widow Fog is your EB, flooded and exhausted.
- Widow Fog keeps overloading the EB by forcing it to process too much information- so it fails trying to think rationally and make sense of emotion.
- This hurts your ability to understand, decide, recall, memorize and inhibit.
IV. How We’re Making It Worse…
- DON’T Ignore your feelings!! You might think “feeling less” would solve the problem – it doesn’t. This makes it worse! Expressing emotion is a natural reflex. Suppressing emotions weakens your ability to pay attention, solve problems, and it actually makes you feel worse emotionally and physically. When you suppress emotions, your brain can’t make sense of these signals, so you will begin experience frequent and intense threat signals. (ANXIETY ATTACKS!) Most of them are false alarms, but threats trump positive signals!
- DON’T Overthink things. I know it sounds almost belittling, be hear me out. You aren’t crippled or less smart. You are using your executive function for OTHER THINGS right now. So you simply don’t have the bandwidth for over complicating things. Overthinking complex problems gets you stuck in ambiguity. Feeling stuck can make you feel anxious.
Here’s what you can DO to FIGHT BACK:
I. Emotional Labeling – Choose Your WORDS
Emotional Labeling reduces emotional suppression and means to define an emotional experience in a word or two. Choose one or two words to best describe your experience. That way you prevents yourself from repressing or bursting with emotions at not-so-great times.
Define your experience, not your story. Telling yourself or another the story often makes you feel worse and muddies the essence of your primary experience. First get clear on defining your initial emotion in one or two carefully chosen words.
- Equip yourself with an expansive emotional vocabulary by using lists or charts of words that cover the full range of emotions.
- use these words every day in your thinking and communication, including your own journal.
- understand then decide on the word or two that best fits your experience. Then you choose to file your experience in your memory with the clarity of one or two excellent descriptors. Emotional Labeling reduces the noise.
(SO that’s why therapists are always saying “How does that make you feeeeel”! Or “Use your words!” )
- Re-framing is changing your interpretation of an event to create opportunity for you. Employing this strategy is absolutely necessary for resolving strong negative emotional events. People who learn to quickly re-frame their experience enjoy more optimism, positive relationships, mastery of their environment and overall life satisfaction.
Remember when raw emotional information is sent to your PFC for interpretation, threat signals dominate your attention. The challenge is to keep your PFC from being hijacked by telling a different story. ( not a FALSE story – you’re not stupid. A DIFFERENT, HIGHLY POSSIBLE angle of the story.)
Stories are not facts. Stories are how you interpret and explain events. Consider that facts make up 5% of the story, and the other 95% is your interpretation. Really understanding this is essential to learning the art of you telling yourself a much more beneficial story. The key is applying what Tony Schwartz at Harvard Business Review calls “Realistic Optimism”. He explains, “That doesn’t mean putting a happy face on every situation, which is just blind optimism. Rather it means intentionally telling the most hopeful and empowering story in any given situation, without subverting the facts.”
Successful reframing requires suspending judgment and creating alternative explanations for exploration.
- look for multiple ways to view it as if there is no right or wrong way to see things.
- When you’re stuck believing your initial negative reaction, you actually believe your story is true and you are powerless to improve your experience.
- If you generate two interpretations of the event, you can’t suspend judgement. It will be either right or wrong and that just creates a mental conflict. You want more than two perspectives from which to choose.
As a simple example:
a stranger honking his horn
You’re taking offense
consider the facts.
you heard someone honk a horn.
consider possibilities such as “The honk was accidental” or “It was another car” or “There was a dog in the road” or “That was an old friend in a new car saying hi to me”.
choose the perspective that feels most beneficial
Emotional Labeling helps you choose how you are going to express and feel about each emotion that comes to you, and helps you beat widow fog by freeing up your mind ( your Executive Function) for more important things.
Re-framing helps you beat the effects of widow fog (depressing, self sabotaging “self talk”) by allowing you to let go of the distress, distraction and defensiveness to put your attention where you choose.
Lastly – Find A Support System
You have a new array of social threats to navigate on this journey. You’ve got gatherings, labels, work, public places, paperwork and information processing to change your on-paper life to match your physical one, etc.
Being widowed left you isolated in so many ways. In addition to losing your spouse, you lost other relationships. You lost your sounding board, and you’re left with others’ misunderstanding and unsolicited advice. People try to change you, or “make you feel better” by pushing you to suppress your feelings, which triggers threat signals, and you respond by avoiding those and possibly other people. You spend more time in your head, and tend to get stuck in mental self-defeating loops. Due to this, you need a support system. Enrolling others in your growth plan is necessary for progress.
Facebook Support Groups for Widows I love:
Be patient with yourself. Growth is a life-long process, not a destination. Widow Fog is VERY COMMON. Knowing what it is, what it does to you, and how to cope – helps you grow, heal, and move through the fog FASTER. <3
Finding #NextYou Widow Community & Sister Circle << My group! ❤
Here’s to THAT,
Research on Widow Fog summarized with author’s permission. Further Reading: Understanding Widow Fog by Corey Stanford