Maintaining Your Sanity During Divorce
(Tools for Your Emotional First-Aid Kit)
There are many moments throughout our lives in which we experience uncertainty, fear, and sadness. In times of high stress, we often avoid acknowledging our needs and forget to engage in self-care. Throughout these times, we must not only take care in the way we engage with others, but most importantly in the way that we converse with ourselves.
Post-divorce depression is very common and not something to be ashamed of. If you’re feeling depressed or anxious following a divorce, you may benefit from referring to your emotional toolbox. As you begin to consider divorce, you should develop your emotional first-aid kit simultaneously, so that you are ready and equipped to support yourself throughout this life changing journey.
An emotional first aid kit is a set of tools implemented into a person’s life to assist them in engaging in self-care and becoming more aware of themselves and their needs. During times of massive change, this awareness is often crucial for emotional resiliency. The ultimate goal is for these sets of tools, skills, and behavior to comfort and assist you when you are struggling by helping you to move through the pain and recuperate.
Every person’s emotional first-aid kit is unique. What works for you may not work for me, and that’s okay. They are not cultivated overnight, and you are not expected to subscribe to its principles immediately. Like divorce, these kits take time and often involve a change in lifestyle. There are no right or wrong tools, but a completed tool kit addresses the body, mind, heart, and soul. While this blog will provide you with some tips on how to get started in creating your own emotional toolbox, this is not limiting by any means. These general ideas are presented with the goal of you shaping and applying them to your own lifestyle and needs.
Heart: Notice, Express, Feel
One major tool that has proven helpful in many people’s emotional tool kits is identifying a strong support network. This support network will be different for each and every one of you, and can take the form of family, friends, mentors, or a trusted licensed professional. Once you’ve identified this group of people, allow them to support you through this journey. Remind yourself that there is no shame in reaching out to others – especially those who care about you so deeply.
Professional help is nothing to be ashamed of. Psychological treatment only continues to develop and expand, with countless routes of therapy available for people of all walks of life. If you need help – please don’t be afraid to seek it. In the United States, approximately 46.4% of people experience some form of mental illness throughout their lifetime, and the number of unreported cases is likely even higher. Additionally, not everyone who benefits from therapy is someone suffering from a chronic mental illness – therapy can simply assist you throughout periods of intermittent stress and change. Therapy can provide you with unwavering support, coping mechanisms for big life transitions, and help you to develop the necessary introspection to maintain a happy and healthy life. However, being able to openly express yourself and validate your emotions by any trusted person in your life is helpful in mending some of your heart’s wounds.
With all of this being said, it is also important to create the space and time for you to sit with yourself. Being comfortable in your solitude is something that remains vital to your wellbeing and is integral in developing proper self-awareness. Make an effort to engage in solitary activities that you enjoy or find comforting. Engage in different forms of self-expression, whether that be anything from painting to creating music. Become reacquainted with yourself as you prepare to embark on a new journey.
Body: Feel, Nourish, Soothe
Divorce can be traumatic. However, many people feel they must move past divorce without acknowledging their own needs. However, unprocessed trauma is stored in the body, deteriorating the health and wellbeing of the person experiencing it. Therefore, it is important that you remain in tune with your mind and body – as well as with your mental and physical pain.
You can take care of your body in many different ways. Think of the last time you did something that made you feel happy or content. This could be something as simple as playing a childhood game or going for a walk. Engaging with your senses is crucial to overcoming times of great stress. For example, during a panic attack – a time of heightened and extreme anxiety – one effective method of reducing stress is aligning the body with its surrounding environment. This is accomplished by identifying 5 things you see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you hear, 2 things you smell, and 1 thing you taste. If you apply these principles to your daily life, rather than reserving them for times of great distress, they can help to maintain your wellbeing and conquer difficult times without severe stress. Reimagine this tool and apply it to your daily routine as so:
First, make a conscious effort to place yourself in environments that make you feel safe and calm during your free time. Get out and see things that are therapeutic for you – this can be anything from a street sign to a state monument. Next, touch and surround yourself with items that have brought you comfort throughout your life. This could be an old blanket or a favorite t-shirt. Listen to your favorite sounds – whether that be the sound of waves crashing in the ocean or your favorite song. Allow yourself to be enveloped by the things that bring you joy so that you can actively deflect the things that bring you pain. Don’t forget to engage with your smells – get out and smell the roses – literally. Exercise and interacting with nature have been two proven ways to reduce stress. Whether it be a walk around your neighborhood or a bike ride through your favorite town – get your body moving and your senses tingling with positive stimuli.
Finally – make or buy your favorite meal. Allow yourself to give into your cravings in a healthy and self-aware manner. Treat yourself because you deserve it – just because your marriage is ending doesn’t mean your happiness has to.
Soul: Connect, Ground, Trust
Divorce can make you question a lot of things about yourself and your marriage. It is not uncommon for people to feel very insecure following the dissolution of their marriage. The soul is unique to everyone, and so are its needs – acting as a part of each of us that never disappears, even if we are not consciously aware of it. Make a conscious effort to connect with your soul and allow it to guide you through these times of uncertainty. Ask yourself, what places ground you? What activities allow you to recognize and connect with this part of you? Are you a part of a community of faith? There are many podcasts about the different ways in which you can connect with your soul through your activities and your environment, what is most crucial is your desire to do so. Surround yourself with people and things that encourage your introspection and individuality. Be committed to rebuilding your self-confidence. Do not forget about your soul – acknowledge it and tend to it as you approach a time of great transition.
Mind: Still, Center, Focus
High levels of chronic stress, also known as toxic stress, have demonstrated a significant negative impact on the human brain and its ability to function. Toxic stress commonly leads to symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as a plethora of other psychological ailments that are highly stigmatized and thus difficult to address. However, ignoring these problems will not make them go away. Yes – it is unjustly difficult to seek care when you are experiencing symptoms that interfere with your daily life. However, it does not mean you should be subject to dealing with these difficulties by yourself. Brain fog, exhaustion, and anxiety are all common results of intense stress or pain and can significantly impair daily occupational functioning. Once again, I must remind you – there is no shame in seeking help. Acknowledging that you are in pain is the first step to overcoming that pain.
In addition to professional support, seek and engage in activities that activate your mind and help you to feel calm. Think back to the last time you did something that made you feel overwhelmingly content. If possible, engage in that exact activity again. For example, meditation is one of many practices used to bring about mental clarity. Think about what you could be doing to help yourself obtain this and get started – don’t wait another day. There’s no risk in trying something, as you’ll never know if it will work if you don’t.
If you need to talk to someone, please don’t feel like you’re alone. Call a family member, friend, or trusted professional. However, if you would rather speak to someone you don’t know or if you’re uncomfortable sharing with the people around you, please refer to any of these resources listed below. YOU do matter, and you should never forget this, especially while going through something as difficult as divorce.
•NJ Hope Line (suicide prevention) 855-654-6735
•IME Addictions Access Center 844-276-2777
•NJ Connect for Recovery 855-652-3737
•The Peer Recovery Warmline 877-292-5588
•National Suicide Hotline 800-273-8255
•NJ Mental Health Cares 866-202-HELP (4357)
•Council on Compulsive Gambling of NJ 800-GAMBLER (426-2537)
•Veterans Counseling Hotline 866-VETS-NJ4 (838-7654)
•The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention provides referrals to support groups and mental health professionals, resources on loss, and suicide prevention information (NAMI 2020). (888-333-2377)
•The National Domestic Violence Hotline provides 24/7 crisis intervention, safety planning and information on domestic violence (800-799-7233)
Need help finding a counselor or mental health professional? Here’s a few resources to get you started…
•HelpWhenYouNeedIt.Org over 350,000 listings for social services, mental health, substance use, legal and financial assistance.
•Psychology Today offers a national directory of therapists, psychiatrists, therapy groups and treatment facility options
•SAMHSA Treatment Locator provides referrals to low-cost/sliding scale mental health care, substance abuse and dual diagnosis treatment (800-662-4357)
•Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) provides information on prevention, treatment and symptoms of anxiety, depression and related conditions (240-485-1001)
•Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) provides information and referrals on ADHD, including local support groups (800-233-4050)
•Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) provides information on bipolar disorder and depression, offers in-person and online support groups and forums (800-826-3632) (NAMI, 2020).
•The Emotional First-Aid Kit – The School of Life