How to Remain Whole in a Time of Uncertainty

How to Remain Whole in Divorce

As a family law attorney, I find at times that my clients are in varying stages of stress, that they may feel overwhelmed, confused, and generally disconnected from his/her/(f)aer/eir/pers/their/vis/xyr/hir essence. It is understandable in times of change, especially when faced with uncertainty, to suddenly feel like your every day is now turned upside down. In my experience, I have found five practices that have helped my clients when navigating tumultuous times. While no doubt some of these steps will not speak to you, and perhaps only a combination of steps may make sense in a given moment, these steps are worth considering even in the most stable of times. In effect, these are tools for self-compassion and self-care, which are a necessity in today’s fast-pace, screen centric, audio-visual world, irrespective of whether you’re facing a global pandemic or just figuring out how to afford groceries that are 3x more expensive than a few weeks ago. Hopefully these steps are useful to you or a loved one who is coping with uncertainty or a time of transformation:

  1. Find Your Center: What grounds you? Perhaps it’s playing a round of golf, having a glass of wine with a friend, or getting a massage. It is important during times of crisis or metamorphic shifts in your life, whether that be a separation, career change, or birth of a child, that you focus inward by doing the things that bring you joy and calm. By prioritizing a bite-size amount of joy, you are restoring and bringing balance into your world. For some of my clients, I have seen that finding this balance helps him/her/em/zim/(f)aer/hir/zir/em/pers/vis/xem/them to engender clarity, which is essential in times of challenge and change.
  1. Practice gratitude: What is gratitude? It could be a feeling of goodwill toward someone who does something for you, as Immanuel Kant (1775-1780) describes. Or perhaps it is more a disposition, a state of being, or a set of traits that contribute to a mindset of thankfulness, as Michael E. McCullough and Robert Emmons, renowned psychologists, have studied[1]. In their studies, McCullough and Emmons explore the benefits of gratitude. In particular, they have theorized that a disposition of gratitude may mitigate feelings of resentment, envy, and regret[2]. Essentially, practicing gratitude is theorized to be a counterbalance to other emotions we connotate as “negative,” and thereby protect happiness and well-being. What better time than during the tectonic shifts of change to channel an attitude of gratitude to help quell uncertainty and engender feelings of happiness. Not to mention, mindfulness of thankfulness might just feel good!
  1. Remain focused on your big picture: In the midst of a divorce, it can be overwhelming to face the cadre of change happening. In addition to the changing financial realities, helping a child/ren adjust to the separation, and emotional tempest you may be feeling, you are also facing a new and unknown legal system. Having an attorney guide you through this process, and help you focus on your WIN and your goals for what your future two years, five, years, ten years from now looks like can be much needed reassurance and re-centering. By focusing on the big picture, rather than the day-to-day, you may find your sense of calm and begin feeling less weighed down by the day-to-day details. Accordingly, having a vision of your desired and actual future when facing the stresses of the now may help you navigate times of change.
  1. Maintain wellness: It is easy to forget self-care when life becomes, busy, challenging, or overwhelming. Finding time to exercise, eating nutritious and balanced meals, and having a routine centered around restful sleep can be ever helpful during demanding times. Maintaining your routine and focusing on self-care can fortify you to make difficult decisions and preserve emotional balance. Wellness cannot be overrated and often its neglect can lead to both short-term stress and long-term issues. Perhaps it is not possible to maintain wellness for more than just a small chunk of time throughout your day or week. A short walk, a quick break to wordle©, or grabbing a banana instead of a croissant may be enough to sustain you until you can reinstitute all of your habits of wellness. But most importantly, be kind to yourself, and even if you struggle to maintain wellness start with a small act and grow those habits when your life is more conducive to concerted efforts at maintaining wellness.
  1. Keep up connections: Continue to reach out to friends and family even when life makes you want to turtle. Having a team of support can be the much-needed difference to maintain sanity and serenity during times of uncertainty. During a divorce, I encourage my clients to build their team: this may consist of friends, family, a therapist, a financial advisor, and your attorney. Having different outlets for connection and advice can be bolstering and provide much needed support, comfort, and expertise for tackling new challenges. I personally realized how much I value my close connections during the pandemic when social distancing and isolation were the norm. Being able to meet a friend for coffee, having family over for the holidays, or having dinner with a colleague were things I had taken for granted, and are now something I cherish. Remember to take a beat and connect, especially when life is uncertain, as those connections can be grounding and revitalizing.

[1] The Grateful Disposition: A Conceptual and Empirical Topography, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2002, Vol. 82, No. 1, 112–127. Copyright 2002 by the American Psychological Association, Inc.

[2] The Psychology of Gratitude, 2004, Oxford University Press. Copyright 2004 Oxford University Press, Inc.

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