How to Cope With a Sense of a Foreshortened Future

Man driving, lost in thought

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Following a traumatic event, a person may develop a sense of a foreshortened future, which is currently considered an avoidance symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). People who experience this symptom feel as though their life will somehow be cut short without any real explanation as to why. They may also feel as though they won't be able to reach milestones in their life, such as a career, marriage, or children.

A sense of a foreshortened future can vary in terms of severity. Some people may have just a mild sense that their life will be cut short, whereas others may have a specific prediction regarding the length of their lifespan and are completely convinced of their premature death. This symptom can be very difficult to cope with and may lead to isolation, hopelessness, helplessness, and depression.

Tips for Coping With a Sense of a Foreshortened Future

However, there are some steps you can take to reduce the severity of this symptom. A number of potential coping strategies are described below.

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Practice Mindfulness of Thoughts

Believing that your life will be cut short following a traumatic event makes sense. You may have feared for your life or even come close to death as a result of your traumatic event. Furthermore, following a traumatic event, our assumptions about the world as a safe and secure place are shattered.

People are forced to come to terms with their own mortality. As a result, the belief that your life will be cut short likely feels very true; however, there is really no way to determine your lifespan. Consequently, it can be helpful to be mindful of those thoughts about your premature death.

Notice your thoughts as simply objects in your mind, as opposed to the truth. Doing so will prevent you from connecting with those thoughts, thus reducing the likelihood of hopelessness and helplessness.

Identify and Engage in More Positive Activities

A sense of a foreshortened future can increase the risk of depression. Therefore, it is very important to identify and increase the extent to which you take part in positive activities. It may be particularly useful to engage in activities that you used to enjoy before the traumatic event occurred.

You may not notice an immediate change in your emotions or thoughts. That is normal. Keep at it. Being more active, especially in positive activities, will eventually improve your mood and can prevent depression.

Pay Attention to the Choices You Make 

We often make choices based on our emotions. Anxiety may tell us to avoid something. Sadness may tell us to isolate. Anger may tell us to retaliate.

Although it is definitely important to listen to our emotions, they may not always lead us down the best path. Instead, it is important to think about what kind of life you want to live and make choices that are based on that idea.

For example, if you want to live a life where you are a compassionate and caring person, make choices each and every day to engage in a behavior that is consistent with those values. Doing so will create a sense of agency and purpose as well as increase the feeling that you are living a fulfilling life.

Connect With Others 

A sense of a foreshortened future can cause people to isolate themselves from others. Given this, the best thing you can do to counter this is to connect with others and establish social support. The more meaningful relationships you have in your life, the more fulfilling your life may begin to feel.

Reduce Avoidance 

Following a traumatic event, it is very natural to avoid certain activities or places. The problem with avoidance is that avoidance often leads to more avoidance. When we avoid something, we are delivering the message to our brain that a situation is not safe.

The more we avoid, the more our world feels unsafe, which will then lead to us avoiding more and more situations.

Therefore, it can be important to take steps to approach situations or activities that you want to avoid. Of course, you don't want to approach situations that may be objectively unsafe (like running alone in a park at night, for example). You do, however, want to engage in activities that you used to feel comfortable doing before the traumatic event occurred.

This practice can be difficult, as you may experience anxiety and fear, but these feelings will eventually dissipate. When you start this process, it may be helpful to bring along a trusted and supportive friend.

Take Care of Yourself 

Another way to combat the sense of a foreshortened future is to engage in behaviors that are about valuing your life. Schedule time to pamper yourself or engage in self-soothing and compassionate activities. Exercise. Eat well. Taking care of yourself can have a tremendous impact on your emotions and thoughts.

How to Increase Your Chances of Success

Many of the coping strategies listed above are easier said than done. Be patient and take your time. Reward yourself for any small amount of progress that you make in reducing your sense of foreshortened future.

It may also be helpful to seek treatment for your PTSD.

By reducing your symptoms of PTSD in general, you will likely notice that your sense of foreshortened future also reduces in intensity. A therapist can also provide you with support as you use the coping skills described above.

There are a number of effective treatments for PTSD; however, finding a mental health provider can be an overwhelming and stressful task if you do not know where to look. Fortunately, there are several websites that provide free searches to help you find appropriate mental health providers in your area.

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6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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    doi: 10.1037/tra0000053

  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioral Health Services. 2014.

  3. National Institutes of Health. Anxiety disorders.

  4. Ratcliffe M, Ruddell M, Smith B. What is a "sense of foreshortened future?" A phenomenological study of trauma, trust, and time. Front Psychol. 2014;5:1026.  doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01026

  5. American Psychiatric Association. What is post-traumatic stress disorder?.

  6. American Academy of Family Physicians. Mental health: keeping your emotional health.

Additional Reading
  • Blake, D.D., Weathers, F.W., Nagy, L., Kaloupek, D.G., Klauminzer, G., & Charney, D.S., et al. (1990). The Clinician Administered PTSD Scale. Boston: National Center for PTSD-Behavioral Science Division.