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Taking Care of Yourself During Divorce

Four steps to help you make a new self-care habit that sticks.

Photo by madison lavern on Unsplash
Source: Photo by madison lavern on Unsplash

“I have been waiting to take care of myself until all the details of my divorce are finalized” is a phrase I hear way too often from women when they sign up for my program on healing post-divorce.

The overwhelm of divorce is real. You must juggle the needs of your children, your home, yourself, and now your divorce process.

It is hard enough some days to remember to eat lunch, change your clothes, and use the bathroom.

That is how hectic it can get!

Making this worse is the fact that women and people from systemically oppressed groups historically put their needs last and tend to others first. This is born out of years of trying to please others to stay safe and accepted by the majority.

People usually don’t see the need to take care of themselves as a priority, but rather believe that focusing on their children, co-workers, pets and even their ex is the best place to start.

You know the reminder you get every time you fly somewhere: Put your oxygen mask on yourself before you put one on others? The reason every plane that takes off needs to remind people of this essential rule is because it is human nature to jump to help others first. But, this warning reminds you that you will be of little help to others if you are not fully living yourself.

When going through a divorce, the people I work with list “worry about how their divorce will affect their kids, their jobs, and their friendships” highest on their list of concerns. The key is that the way to make sure these areas are preserved during this time is to take care of yourself first.

As the best selling author of Do Less: A Revolutionary Approach to Time and Energy Management for Ambitious Women, Kate Northrup recently reminded me that taking care of ourselves is actually a gift to our children and those with whom we live. As she explained, “Putting yourself last and sacrificing your sleep to get your other needs met is a sure bet for eventual burnout and/or illness. During a stressful time like a divorce, you need all of your energy reserves topped up as much as possible. If you have kids, they'll navigate the process so much more smoothly if you're operating on all cylinders.”

Kate is so right and I recall how much crappier of a parent I was to my kids on the days I had forgotten to eat lunch and drink enough water!

If you are willing to consider that taking care of yourself will help the ones you love and make your divorce process a bit smoother, then you might wonder where to start.

Luckily, Kate Northrup provides four clear steps on how to make "taking care of yourself" a habit:

Step 1: Think of making it a temporary experiment to get you going. If you treat this habit like a short-term experiment just to see what results you get, you won't have nearly the amount of resistance or guilt that might come up if you decided you were going to completely overhaul your way of being.

Step 2: Pick a period of time for the experiment. (two weeks would be great).

Step 3: Pick the parameters. (e.g. I will do one thing for myself every day, even if it's only for 15 minutes, and I will do it first thing in the morning or at least before 9 p.m.)

Step 4: Pick the evidence you'll be looking for as to whether or not it's working. (For example: I'll jot down my energy level on a scale of 1-10 every day and see if it improves and I'll also note my emotional state every day and see if there are any changes.)

If you don't see positive changes in yourself or your family, feel free to go back to putting yourself last. But I think you'll find you'll break the habit through the experiment.

I love this practice because you take small bites that are so much more manageable, and you gather data. Small observable goals and collecting evidence are the core of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, the therapeutic modality I practice and that has research support for alleviating depression and anxiety.

Taking care of yourself is a practice and does not happen overnight.

Putting yourself first requires exercising a muscle you are building.

Keep in my mind that you don’t wake up one morning after working out once with a six-pack.

Building muscles takes patience and repetition.

But, I promise you can do it.

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