The Divorce Strategist Laura Aiello on Self-Care During Divorce
"Put your oxygen mask on first."
"You can't pour from an empty pitcher."
"There's nothing selfish about taking care of YOU."
By now, you have heard all these self-care mantras and more. And what's more, you probably agree with them wholeheartedly! But then... LIFE. DIVORCE. KIDS. JOB. PAPERWORK!
Keeping your head above water
It's not unusual to feel like it's all you can do to keep your head above water, let alone pile on any "extras." Just breathing may feel like all the self-care you can manage. (More on that in a minute.) The truth is, all those platitudes listed above are true. You know it deep down inside. It just seems so – well, bottom-of-the-list. Throughout the divorce process, everything about life can feel urgent. Your attorney needs yet another piece of information. Deadlines loom at work. Your kids need attention. Your soon-to-be-ex is making crazy demands. And let's not even get started on the swirl of emotions you're dealing with on a day-to-day (sometimes minute-to-minute!) basis. Ugh!
Squeezing in time
While a day at the spa or a round of golf with friends sounds amazing, the reality of squeezing it in just doesn't seem possible. It can almost feel like yet another chore on your to-do list. Now what? Do you just suffer in silence and hope to catch a break eventually? Give up on taking care of yourself?
Reality check: Although it may be on your back burner, self-care is not optional. Continued stress with no break and no end in sight is a recipe for disaster.
Not only will your mental health suffer, but your physical and emotional health will be compromised as well. If you don't take some time to slow down and recharge, your body will force you to do so, usually at the most inopportune time and in the most inconvenient way. So. What to do? It's not as tough as it seems to make time for taking care of yourself. Check out these tips to get you started on the path to a better you:
Seriously. "Where there's a will, there's a way." You MUST make self-care a non-negotiable priority in your life. Self-care does not have to be inflexible, but it shouldn't be something you just dump at the first sign of pressure, either. Think of it as a meal. You must eat to live. Period. What you eat, when you eat, and how often you eat – those are the flexible things.
Let go of the all-or-nothing approach
"If I can't get an hour massage once a week, then I won't do anything." Time, money, and your schedule all factor into what you make time for and how you make time for it. Small things count, sometimes even more than grand gestures. It's doing it that matters.
Plan it out
Brainstorm a list of things that are all about taking care of yourself. Set a timer for two minutes. Start writing anything and everything that sounds like a break to you. It could be something huge, like taking a trip to Paris. Or, it could be a little thing, like 15 minutes with a cup of tea and a good book. Just write your list, and don't judge or edit it based on practicality or any other factors. After the two minutes are up, read your list. Highlight ideas that jump out at you. Once you have your highlighted list, prioritize it based on time, money, and opportunity. You will likely have a mixed list of big ideas and small moments. Figure out how you can implement them and when.
Put six small things (one each day) and one bigger thing on your calendar. Be specific. What time? Where will you be? What will you need? If you need some bath salts for your big "I'm gonna soak in the tub for an hour" item for the week, buy them a day or two ahead so they are ready, and you won't be tempted to flake.
Ask for help
I know. We're a culture of do-it-yourselfers. And it's killing us. Let me tell you a little secret: There are people you know who want to help you. They just don't want to upset or offend you by offering. Or if they do offer, you stoically say, "No, no. I'm doing just fine." Stop that! Take them up on their offer. You will make them feel awesome. Or, ask. Let someone take the kids for an afternoon. Trade chores with a friend. "I'll clean your house this week if you mow my lawn next week." Just ASK.
Remember when I said just breathing might feel like all you can do? It's one of the best things you can do. Meditation, particularly when it's focused on just a few minutes of breath attention, has an amazing way of calming the sympathetic nervous system (the "fight or flight" response).
Next time you feel stress creeping up on you, try this: Hold one hand out. Take the index finger of the other hand, and begin to trace your hand from the base of the thumb up one side and down the other. Continue tracing each one of your fingers this way. As you finish with the pinky finger, just sweep across the bottom of your hand and repeat. Every time you travel up your finger or thumb, inhale. As you go down the other side, exhale. It may not seem like much, but it helps anchor you in the here and now, calms your breath, and slows your heart rate. Just two minutes of this can significantly reduce your anxiety and stress!
Give yourself grace
The truth is that divorce is stressful. Life is stressful. But with a few good tools in your tool kit, you can not only survive but thrive through your divorce. This is an opportunity to lead the life you want to lead, perhaps the life you have suppressed or put on hold during your marriage. Showing yourself some TLC along the way will help you make decisions you feel good about. It'll help you build a foundation for your future and set expectations for yourself and those you allow in your life in the future on how to treat you.