Widow Fog: A Breakdown – What You Need To Know #WidowHacks

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.

II: Symptoms

  • 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!” )

II. Re-framing

  • 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

Young Widows With Children

Young Widowed & Dating

The Grief Toolbox

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

Widow Hacks : BEATING Anxiety Disorder

Dealing with anxiety disorder can be hard enough unprovoked; but when dealing with them in conjunction with lack of sleep, grief, or constant stress, it can be much, much worse. Enter: Widowhood. In my case, I was dealing with physical and mental stress, leading me to a prescription dependency, and upon my husband's death, it got 10x worse. I had to somehow get myself back together, and be able to function enough to raise two kids and work full time. Since the prescription antidepressants and ‘calming' meds weren't allowing me to be alert or independent…I could not focus on work, handle the pressures of single parenting, drive for long stretches, or even simply be alone! I was so afraid I was going to die from the symptoms of each attack – and doctors couldn't do much for me other than give me more meds!


I had to somehow get myself back together, and be able to function enough to raise two kids and work full time. …I was so afraid I was going to die from the symptoms of each attack – and doctors couldn't do much for me other than give me more meds!

When I'd finally decided enough was enough ( 10 months later ) and since meds were not helping proactively, only as a band aid fix in dire situations; I had to wean myself off of them, go thru withdrawal, and then learn how to naturally cope with anxiety attacks without meds. It took some time, therapy, and a LOT of patience, but once I got a routine down, and my coping mechanisms became second nature- things got a LOT better.  I got my life back.
Finally now, and for the past 6 years, I'm back at work full time, I can live alone, be fully present for my kids, relationships and even get thru my loneliness being a widow. Because so many other women go through this silent agony, with no visible symptoms and usually have no one close to them who can really relate,  I wanted to share  some of the techniques I was taught -that actually worked.

First, Know Your Symptoms

  Anxiety disorder is so hard to diagnose properly because it is the “phantom” symptom king. My symptoms could at any given time range from shortness of breath, sudden heart palpitations, numbness and tingling in my fingers and/or left arm ( and yes, thinking it could be a heart attack only made the symptoms WORSE! ) to sudden fatigue, chest paints, dry moth or heartburn. I really was feeling like a HOT mess! BUT – once I explained all these wide ranging symptoms to my therapist, it helped to know that she was familiar with them all – and they were NOT life threatening. They are “false alarm” reactions that your brain has “learned” at some point for whatever reason during some event that you've encountered as a natural reaction to mental or physical stress. The good news is, you can UN-learn that sequence of reactions with practice, patience and coping mechanisms. 
For your own peace of mind here is a link I found a while back, listing all the many symptoms of anxiety. It made me feel less freakish, less alone, and less afraid that my symptoms were unique enough to be some undiscovered life threatening alien disease. 🙂

Figure Your Triggers

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Allergies, over the counter medications ( NSAIDs) , auto immune diseases, food intolerance and stress can all cause temporary chemical imbalances in the body that can trigger anxiety attacks. After quite a bit of nutrition research, some guidance from my therapist, allergist, and OBGYN (I know right!) I realized there were several factors that could play in throwing the body off balance and alerts your nervous system that something may be wrong. Thats when anxiety finds the loop hole and attacks –  while you're weak.
 Getting my allergies in check was the first thing i had to do, as a “sensitive” so i could stop sabotaging myself.  Then came the meds… which to take? NSAIDS – Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory drugs are known to mess with your system there are warnings on them about taking with anti-depression or anti-anxiety drugs. And then there's decongestants – which before I had anxiety attacks I typically used at least one dose of those DAILY. Oral decongestants may cause anxiety, restlessness, problems with sleeping, and being aware of a fast or fluttering heartbeat. So there's that. Here's a list of things to think about when the goal is to eliminate things your body may be taking in every day- but silently sensitive to:

  • Allergy Meds with the -D in the name
  • Decongestants (use saline sprays and humidifiers instead, much more effective!) 
  • NSAIDS (Tylenol, aspirin… here's a list! )
  • Foods with common (SILENT) Allergic/Gastrointestinal reactions (Which, is a process of elimination, unfortunately, but – usually the culprits are Dairy products, wheat, eggs, peanuts, some processed foods like chips/candy, white refined SUGAR, or white flour products.
  • CHOCOLATE and other CAFFEINE products ( I know, just shoot me, right? Caffeine is my MAIN sensitivity. Feel sorry for me, collectively please!) 

FIGHT BACK!

A deficiency in B vitamins such as folic acid and B12 can trigger depression and anxiety in some people.  Vitamin D supplements were also the FIRST thing my allergist prescribed for me after being diagnosed with anxiety. You can take a vitamin supplements or eat foods (< — LINK! ) that are rich in B and D vitamins to ward off anxiety.  Foods with tryptophan, omega 3s, and herbal teas can help you fight back! These include:

You can ALSO cause POSITIVE chemical reactions on your own, with simple safe tricks that calm and can protect your system from those “false alarm” alerts.

Breathing Exercises :
The 4-7-8 method WORKS BEST for me! In times of high stress ( Driving! that's mine) swear by it! 

  1. Breathe in thru nose 4 seconds ( I double my count (8) just in case my 7 is not REAL Mississippi seconds lol ) 
  2. HOLD 7 seconds (14 for me! )
  3. BLOW out thru mouth, forcefully but slowly like a rushed whistle. 8 seconds. ( 16 for me!) 

Click for more Breathing Exercises!

  • Yoga before bed <—- Here's a video! 
  • Exercising at LEAST twice a week  – I know with me if I don't get that “extra energy” out, I'm in for an Anxiety attack at some point in the next week or so! I MUST do some cardio ( usually Zumba)  for at least 25-30 min 3X a week. I know. But try not think of it as a chore – Think of it as your way to FINALLY fight back!!! This is REAL solid prevention! 
  • Sun light – for a boost of Vitamin D

Quick Fix HacksMLXLS

Finally, you can do your best but you cant ALWAYS control everything. Here's what I do when I have an attack even if I did follow my prevention steps – or if I snuck a piece of chocolate. 🙁 I have a bad habit!! My faves are the ones that work fastest for me!

  • Hot showers – Normally I can reset myself if I cant sleep or have let the attack escalate. 
  • Rooibos of Peppermint Tea
  • Tart Cherry Pills ( For sleeping) 
  • A glass of very warm milk (Cow Milk has a natural enzyme that relaxes you. )
  • Homemade EASY Tumeric Tea ( warm milk (cow, almond or soy is fine) , turmeric powder, ginger, cinnamon). Mix with a whisk for better taste. Works WONDERS for instant relaxation. Be prepared to SLEEP. 
  • Eating Peppermints – Altoids, something with real peppermint oil, not candy. This helps if I'm driving for long distances. #trigger Note: The Altoids minis do not contain peppermint. Get the originals!
  • Run Hot Water over hands in bathroom
  • Lay on left side ( Quick heartburn and gas relief) 
  • Lavender (Natural) Oil or Body Spray –  After that hot shower I spray this on and I go Night night! You hear? You ever go night night ?  lol 🙂
  • Walk around
  • Call someone on the phone and talk

All in all – these methods are not brain surgery – they really follow the same premise as getting healthy! Being healthier IS a side effect – and I'll be the first to admit; it HELPS TREMENDOUSLY. 
I hope this helps someone! 

xoxo,

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More Links for Help

http://www.rd.com/health/conditions/natural-anxiety-relief/

http://www.calmclinic.com/anxiety/relief

http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20669377,00.html

http://draxe.com/essential-oils-for-anxiety/

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