Despite a pandemic, life continues. Babies are born, kids graduate, people fall in love and unfortunately- couples still divorce. I am witness to the difficult truth that for some ,divorce can come at the most inconvenient of times. Learning your marriage is over is hard enough, but trying to do so during a pandemic is a completely different level of personal crisis. In my book "No More Us", I encourage important self care, especially during the initial stages of processing your loss. With the world so uncertain, I thought perhaps to share the first chapter's exercises with some adaptions to address the limitations and challenges of our current times. If you are newly facing divorce, you may find the following exercises helpful.
EXERCISES: EMOTIONAL TRIAGE
Find some uninterrupted time alone and focus your thoughts on the present and the next several days or few weeks. The purpose of this exercise is to develop a way to function in the midst of the storm by building in basic-needs self-care, as well as setting aside time free from the emotional turmoil to accomplish important tasks. The following are some suggestions to consider:
1. Make sure you are eating at least three times a day. You may have no appetite due to panic hijacking your nervous system or you may be overeating to stave off an emotional tsunami. Try to moderately regulate your eating and avoid any extremes in either direction. Possibly remind yourself with an alarm or have quick, easy-to-digest meals and snacks at the ready if you are nauseated or not experiencing any regular hunger. If you find yourself binging, try to acknowledge your need for pleasure and that food may be one of the only positive experiences you can find. If so, stay aware and enjoy with intention and possibly planning, rather than mindlessly eat food that doesn't feed your need.
2. Get enough restful sleep. A lack of sleep can make mental health issues more challenging, increase anxiety and depression, and impair your ability to think clearly. Try daily meditation. No need to get fancy, do what works. If sitting daily or several times daily for 5 minutes with your mind on your breath and letting go of thoughts- that is enough. If a nap is more your style, make it daily habit and give your body and mind a chance to rest.
3. Exercise regularly to release stress and improve sleep. Gentle, regular exercise is recommended and getting outside is helpful to improve mood and sleep quality and has a significant effect on boosting immunity. Don't punish yourself, just move in whatever way feels good, strong and positive.
4. If you find yourself unable to establish basic eating or sleeping routines on your own, or if you are experiencing significant anxiety or depression, I encourage you to make an appointment with your doctor to discuss how to address your symptoms promptly. You don't have to have a history of mental health issues to experience symptoms. Reactions to stress can cause temporary but very real symptoms of anxiety or depression. Effective treatments such as talk therapy and medication are options you may wish to explore to support healthy coping.
5. Create a daily routine where you can set aside the emotional and focus on the practical.
List your daily routines.
Scan your list to identify the essential tasks and determine whether there are any nonessential tasks.
Mark the essential tasks and consider rescheduling or omitting those that may not be priorities.
Plan a brief period each day, as well as some longer blocks of time, to allow emotions to surface freely and safely or plan for emotional conversations with your partner. I encourage you to schedule work- and child-free time as that will likely not happen— or be frequent enough—without you actively planning for it. Since many of the usual ways we find alone time are no longer options (work, friends, activities) you may have to intentionally plan to make them happen. This may mean asking your partner to leave or to allow you to leave the home (or both) on a regular predictable schedule that you can count on. If you're going to expect yourself to hold it together around the family, you have to have a place and time to safely fall apart.
Know that there will be times when you can’t contain your emotions, so learn to be kind and patient with yourself. If you find emotions and worries arise during your daily routine, acknowledge your emotions but gently and firmly remind yourself you will consider them at a later time. If despite your best efforts, you find yourself spilling out regularly, notice when/where/how and make a plan. (e.g. If doing the dishes ends up with you losing your temper most nights, put someone else in charge and take a walk instead).
Keep reflecting on how well your strategies are working. Don't be judgmental, just be honest. It is what it is, and if there is a problem-problem solve rather than blame or deny. If it's not a really a problem, but just not to your usual standards, consider allowing yourself to be “messy” while still getting the job done. You aren't perfect and this is far from a perfect time. Until a better time arrives, and it will, try being good with just being good enough.