“What if…” and Coping with Chronic Doubt

Doubt is an excruciating emotion. It makes us question if we made the right choice in our partners, if our friends and coworkers actually like and accept us, if we will ever achieve (or even deserve) success. For some, doubtfulness is crippling to the point of worrying that our loved ones will be safe from harm. We can learn to live with doubt (and even quiet it) but how?

Some People are Doubters

Some people are plagued by chronic doubt and others just aren’t. The good news is that there is nothing wrong with people who tend to feel doubtful. People who tend to feel doubtful have brains that are ‘sticky.’ This means that an idea that might normally pass a non-doubter by gets stuck to a doubter’s brain and nags them constantly. Sometimes it’s a big thought like “I wonder if my partner is cheating” or “I don’t know if I should leave my job” and sometimes it’s a small thought like “I wonder if that waiter thinks that I was rude” or “Maybe I won’t have anything interesting to say at the meeting.” The difficult thing about chronic doubt is that it makes even small thoughts feel huge. Doubters know that if you think a small doubt enough times then it can easily turn into a big one.

Social media and our comparison-encouraging culture have led to many people being plagued with doubt about their lives not measuring up. I so often hear “How come everyone else seems to have their lives/relationships/careers figured out and I don’t?” Being barraged by images of people having children, buying homes, and going on exotic vacations leads many to wonder “What’s wrong with me?”

Don’t Run from Doubt

For chronic doubters, the impulse when having a doubt thought is to withdraw. If you’re afraid that you’ll be perceived as dull or awkward at a party then you might decide not to go. You might end a relationship for fear that your partner is dishonest or stop trying at your job because you think that you’ve already failed. However, this only serves to strengthen doubtfulness. You never get a chance to prove doubt wrong. Perhaps you would have had a few really nice conversations at that party but you only get to find out if you go. When doubt keeps us from our lives we not only miss out on valuable experiences but the doubt thoughts are often stronger next time.

Instead of giving in to doubtfulness, stop and check out what it’s saying. Sometimes doubts are legitimate and sometimes their not. If you have extensive evidence to contradict your thoughts (i.e.: I’m afraid that I’m looked down upon at work and going to be fired but I consistently get pretty good performance reviews) then you’re doubt thoughts may only be serving to upset you.

Doubt and Mindfulness

Doubt’s mortal enemy is mindfulness. Mindfulness is the idea of attending to your experiences without judgment. Doubt loves judgment and when you remove its power source, it starts to quiet down. Turning your doubt into an observable experience rather than getting sucked into it’s mind tricks means that you take the power back.

Some people like to think of their doubt thoughts as little characters that they can tell to ‘go away’ or ‘shut up.’ Turning your doubtfulness into a tangible idea can make it seem more under your control – you can talk to your thought and set boundaries with it. Even consider turning it into a character that you find silly and harmless. Likewise, some people like to set appointments with their thoughts. Deciding that “doubt time” is Mondays and Thursdays between 1 and 1:30 means that when doubt comes knocking outside of that time that you can tell it to get lost and return at the appointed time. You may find that when your appointment arrives that there’s not much to think about.

If you’re a doubter you may continue to experience these thoughts regularly but over time they can become quieter and less overpowering.

5 Ways to Survive Break-Up Season

January tends to be the hardest month for couples and it is the time of year when a break-up is the most likely. You can learn to navigate the common pit falls and strengthen your relationship (or find one that is closer to what you want).

January: Break-Up Season?

The most common reason for the January break-up season? Stress. In the shadow of the already stressful and financially draining holiday season, couples have a hard time coping with the mounting concerns. You may have encountered family pressure to settle down (or find a different partner) or are dealing with the let down of the holidays ending and the gloomy weather setting in. Taken together, these stresses make it difficult to maintain a healthy relationship.

Get Through Winter Together

There are simple steps you can take to make sure you and your partner increase your positive experiences so you can come out of this stressful time stronger.

Schedule Together Time – With all of this stress, you and your partner need time to enjoy each other’s company in a low stress environment. Schedule a date night once per week to do something enjoyable and rejuvenating together: take up a new exercise routine, have a movie marathon, or go see a museum exhibit together.

Kindness is Key – When we are feeling stressed or overwhelmed we tend to forget to be nice to each other. Take a moment to reflect on why your partner is special to you and consider a way to express what they mean to you: write them a short letter, bring them a small meaningful gift, or offer to do a chore for them.

Make a Plan – If a big portion of your stress is due to financial or familial concerns make a plan to address it together. Write out a savings plan that has you each contributing equally. Call the friend or family member that you are concerned about together. Whatever your concern, feeling like you have a plan to address it and being able to rely on your partner to help you carry the plan out reduces your stress and builds your relationship.

Plan Alone Time – It’s hard to improve your relationship when you don’t feel well. If you notice yourself feeling tried, short-tempered, or highly emotional, make sure that you take care of yourself while taking care of your relationship. This may mean giving yourself an extra day off from work to recuperate, scheduling weekly alone time, or deciding to seek out the help of a friend or professional.

Keep the Conversation Open – Ignoring problems or stonewalling your partner will only lead to further problems. Instead, encourage an open dialogue where you are each able to express your concerns and frustrations without being accusatory. Really listen to your partner and they will likely do the same for you. Sometimes the very act of encouraging open, judgment-free conversation can be deeply healing.

Decide What’s Right for You

Sometimes the reason for January break-ups is the relationship should have ended in October. You may hold out through the holidays because you don’t want to be alone (or leave your partner alone) through the holiday season. You may have committed to plans and gifts and feel the expectation of friends and relatives seeing you together so you decide to put the decision off until the holidays are over.

If the relationship has been in trouble for a while, if you’ve made a substantial effort to improve things but it’s just not working, if you feel exhausted or run down, these may be signs that the relationship can come to an end. Sometimes, rather than holding on until the last possible moment, it is a relief to let go of a relationship before it wears you out. By making the conscious decision to end the relationship you can treat yourself and your partner with dignity and respect. Let them know that things are not working and consider scheduling a conversation to give support and feedback about what you appreciated about the other person while you were together. Seek out the counsel of a trusted friend or professional to help you both through the transition and give yourself adequate time to grieve before moving on. If you do, you will be refreshed and ready to seek out a partner that is better suited to your needs and personality. Consider making a fresh start of the New Year.