Self-Care and Divorce

As a family law practitioner, my legal practice is centered in crisis.  Your crisis.  Professionally, I meet people during one of the worst times of their lives: their divorce.  Amicable or acrimonious, divorce is ranked among life’s most traumatic experiences.  Divorce is almost always an unhappy event, and at the very least it’s marked by disappointment and the loss of dreams and expectations.  It is a tumultuous, exhausting, and time consuming process.

There are so many parts to divorce. In addition to the legal obligations, there are assets to divide, debts to refinance, and custody schedules to develop.  It seems like there are so many other things that would be more important in a divorce – hiring lawyers, finding a new place to live, making sure you have enough money – but finding time for self-care is one of the most critical tasks you can accomplish during the chaos that accompanies divorce.

Self-care is a broad term that generally refers to the actions an individual might take in order to reach optimal physical and mental health.  Self-care is extremely personal, and can literally take a different form from one person to the next.  It can include activities like getting a haircut or massage, taking a trip, eating at a favorite restaurant, or it can be as simple as taking a shower. The bottom line is that self-care refers to making yourself a priority and following through with what you need in order to be your best self.

It’s easy to make excuses to avoid self-care, especially in times of overwhelming stress.  When your obligations are piled higher than Everest, finding reasons to skip self-care comes as naturally as blinking.  After all, how could you possibly think of yourself when there are so many other things that need to get done?  This means, unfortunately, that self-care in the context of divorce is almost nonexistent.

Self-care has a direct impact in your ability to make rational decisions in times of stress.  During times in which your self-care is lacking, you’re more likely to make decisions without thought as to how they may impact your future.

Divorce requires you to make difficult decisions during a time in which you feel your world is falling apart.  These decisions will impact the beginning of your life after divorce and need to be made with careful consideration.  The only way to ensure that you have both the physical and emotional strength to make these decisions is to engage in self-care.

Several misconceptions about self-care exist.  First, some operate under the notion that self-care is selfish.  This, however, could not be further from the truth.  Basic self-care includes good sleep, hygiene, a healthy diet, and exercise.  For some people, these three things are all it takes to ensure that they are operating at their optimal level.  It’s hard to argue that making sure you eat and sleep is selfish when it is literally required to simply exist.

Other people (I’m looking at you, parents) understand that self-care is important. Yet they place the task far lower on the priority list than it should rightfully be.  Parents are notorious for skipping self-care.  Every parent I have had the opportunity to meet struggles with how their children are coping with divorce.  They take extra steps to ensure that the children involved feel loved, safe, and comfortable.  However, much like on an airplane where you are instructed to first put on your own oxygen mask before helping anyone else, you must take care of yourself first.  Without making sure your own cup is full, you can’t expect yourself to be able to fill anyone else’s, including your children’s.

Further, as a parent, taking care of yourself and engaging in some simple self-care will help you to better see how your child is coping.  A lack of self-care can cause difficulty in processing information, making it harder to really see how your child is dealing with the impact of the divorce.  It seems counter-intuitive to attend to your own needs in order to better attend to someone else’s, but, again, you can’t give what you don’t have.

While engaging in self-care helps make the divorce process easier to manage, it doesn’t erase the fact that your life, as you know it, is forever changing.  Divorce is hard.  Taking the time, however, to make yourself a priority will ensure that you make it to the end of the divorce process in one piece and ready to start your new life.  Divorce is an end, but it is also, necessarily, a beginning.  It’s my job to get you to that new beginning.  It’s your job to make sure you get there still standing on two feet.

Easy Tips for Self-Care:

  1. Make sure you get enough sleep and are eating regular meals.  Try to exercise 2-3 times a week.
  2. Take the time to process the emotional parts of life.  Don’t try to ignore the impact your emotions are having on your day-to-day activities.
  3. Make time for play.  Just because you are going through a time of seriousness, doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to smile.  Find time to engage in an activity that doesn’t have a defined purpose or result, but that does make you happy.
  4. Be inspired.  Read something uplifting or listen to music that evokes reflection or introspection.
  5. Finally, spend some time with yourself and find out what self-care looks and feels like to you and then engage it as often as you need to.  There is no right or wrong self-care activity.

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