Therapy Q&A: Understanding Those Around You: April 2016

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Written by Catherine Bridwell

Therapy Online: Getting through just one day stress-free is a rare occasion for many. However, by understanding those around you, in the home, the workplace, or even a personal relationship, you can overcome part of what causes that stress in the first place.

catherine-bridwell Catherine Bridwell The Pursuit of Happiness

Question: I have an overwhelming fear of death. I think about it on a daily basis. It doesn’t stop me from having fun or affect my life, but I haven’t told anyone about my fear. I think about my own death, parents, or friends. Sometimes I will get so emotional I will start to cry. I picture myself in a coffin, underground, away from my friends and family…my life has ended. There are no more girl’s nights out or hugs from my loved ones. I am in search of a religion to believe in life after death, but right now I just think everything goes black. My existence will eventually be forgotten. How can I get over or cope with my fear of death?

Answer: An overwhelming fear that is powerful enough to cause daily thoughts and can bring you to tears is important enough to affect your life dramatically as time goes on.   The fear of death may be about more than the fact that this life does eventually end;  no insurance policies, no last minute bargaining, or exceptions. It may be about other fears that are not as concrete and have not surfaced in your conscious thoughts – perhaps about life traumas, crises, and the grieving process…It may include your level of comfort taking risks or accommodating distressing situations.

If the fear is limited to that of death and what that means, you’re on a good track exploring theological and religious teachings.   You could also discuss the subject with respected friends and relatives; especially those who have more years under their belts and who have experience with adversity/hardship.

If your experience of fear is about more than life’s ending, begin to take note of other circumstances and situations that trigger  it.  Once you can separate and can label what is causing the thoughts, the worry, the dread, you can move into problem-solving mode.  You might decide to expose yourself in small doses to the circumstance triggering the emotion.  Or you could decide to learn more about it.   You may even learn that once you’ve put yourself in the dreaded situation that it doesn’t merit all that worry after all.

Searching for the meaning of life (and its end) has been a much explored subject for eons. Your fear(s) may lead you on a journey that proves gratifying.

Question: How do I start to accept that my divorce is final?

Answer: Accepting your divorce is  final, regardless of who initiated it and its circumstances, is a process akin to adjusting to the death of a loved one.   There is no recipe – each person experiences it uniquely.   Divorce is a death in many ways.   It is the end of a relationship that most people enter with no serious thought to its ending in divorce.   It is the death of an anticipated life.   It can be a process more arduous than adjusting to the loss of a loved one because  remaining connected to the former spouse may be required  (co-parenting, same community,).

If you are in the initial phase of acclimating (usually the first months after the divorce is final),  and you have to be in touch with your “X” make the contacts as structured as possible.   For example, decide on where, when and how to deliver and return children for visitation.   Decide ahead of the situation arising what will be in your best interest in accepting/declining invitations to events at which you “X” might be present.   Ask a friend to read highly distressing communications and give you the gist before delving in yourself.

Consciously move forward into  new situations – taking especially good care of your own needs. And keep in mind that time is healing. Once you’ve taken all the self-protective steps you can fathom, lean on the fact that time will play its healing role.

Question: I’m afraid to tell my boyfriend that I went out to dinner with an old friend from years ago.  He and I were always just friends. My boyfriend never shows signs of jealousy, so that isn’t the issue. I just rather not share it.  Is that wrong?  Nothing happened, I even paid my half for dinner and we spoke about my boyfriend and his relationships, etc. Just like friends.

Since jealousy is not the issue; what is the issue?   The first step in understanding emotions (your discomfort/your fear) is to figure out specifically what is causing the feeling.   Once that is known you can decide what action is appropriate;  including the decision to take no action at the moment.

So, is your boyfriend controlling?   Is he insecure?   Do you feel badly about not telling him about the dinner ahead of time?   Or, do you need some independence in your relationship with him?   Ask yourself these and other questions until you have a solid sense of the underlying cause of dreading sharing the fact that you had dinner with a good friend.     Hopefully you and your boyfriend will learn more about each other through this experience.

Question: How do I stop my emotional eating?  I have been doing it for years and have tried other things.  I always go to food when I am stressed, depressed, or nervous.

Answer: Emotional eating is not uncommon.  There are general and simplified explanations for it and there are specific and complicated ones.   Anxiety is the reason people eat to assuage emotions.   Simply stated:  anxiety is the physical experience of stress, nervousness, depression.   Anxiety is relieved when a person chews, salivates and swallows.   So, the first step in conquering emotional eating is to be as specific as possible about the cause of the anxiety.  Then you can decide how to best monitor and manage the anxiety rather than attempting to make it disappear by chewing, salivating and swallowing.

Emotional eating can become a habit and have its own engine even when there is no elevated anxiety.   So breaking the habit may be part of the goal of addressing emotional eating. Once you have a sense of what is causing stress, nervousness or depression you decide what can be done to better manage it.   If “just tolerate it” is the only path, substitute healthier behaviors than eating, eliminates the availability of the  culprit goodies,  solicit friends to be coaches, put a huge amount of money in the food bank jar every time you slip………

There are many self-help books on this subject.    You could start there and if the emotional eating doesn’t subside, consult a counselor, attend  an overeaters group, and talk to a nutritionist.   Asking the questions is the first step and you’ve already done that.  Forward.


Do you have any questions?   E-mail them here and we’ll answer them as soon as we can.   Note: We do not use last names! E-mail:

About the author

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Catherine Bridwell

Catherine D. Bridwell is in private practice in Morristown, NJ. She is a psychotherapist and counselor to families, couples, and individuals. She is a Certified Divorce Mediator and a Parenting Coordinator for divorced couples. In addition she lectures and has authored workshop presentations on family related and emotion management topics.


Feel free to e-mail Catherine at