Divorce is a time when you need to have every possible coping strategy at the ready because it seems that every day brings with it a new challenge.
It also seems like everyone is ready with advice – do this, don’t do that. Usually offered with compassion even when it’s off-base.
And the combination can often feel overwhelming as you’re trying to navigate your new reality and filter out the advice that works for you.
So here’s your guide –
The Three Ground Rules of Coping Strategies During Divorce
1. Do what works for you; not what someone tells you to do.
Breaking news – we are not all the same. What worked miracles for one person might be a total dud for you. When you receive advice, consider the source. Do they have your best interests at heart? Do they know you? Even if the answer to those is “yes,” you have permission to ignore the suggestion if it does not resonate with you. Remember – you are the expert on you.
2. Try many things. Keep what works.
Finding coping strategies that work is a bit like trying to locate a pair of jeans that fit after you’ve experienced a significant change in body type. If you only try on a couple, it’s easy to declare that “it’s impossible.” Gather many options with the understanding that most will be discarded.
3. What works today may not work tomorrow.
As you progress, your needs – and what works to address them – will change. Don’t be afraid to retire coping strategies that have lost their effectiveness. That is not a sign of giving up or an indication of failure. Your strategies need to adapt as you do.
Your Coping Strategy Toolkit
Strategies to Survive Financially
- Start by assessing where you stand. It’s all-too-easy to catastrophize the situation when you don’t yet have all the facts. Figure out exactly what is coming in, going out and what type of credit you have available.
- Consider low-cost attorneys or mediation for divorce. Before allocating money to the courts, make sure you research what you’re getting for that expense.
- Be ruthless in designating your financial priorities. A setback in lifestyle now is worth it for financial security later.
- Utilize these psychological hacks to help you save money.
- Find a way to keep track of your progress towards your goals. Make it visual and tangible.
- Tie a dreaded financial task with something pleasant or positive. For example, every month when I made a payment towards the debt my ex incurred, I wrote something that I was thankful for in my new life. I pretended like the payment was going towards these positive changes.
- Remember that your bank account does not determine your worth and that improving finances takes time.
Strategies For Sleep
- Make your bedroom a sanctuary as much as possible. If this was your shared space with your ex, do whatever you can to reclaim it. Move the furniture. Buy new bedding. Surround yourself with things that make you feel secure and loved and remove anything with too much emotional attachment. Refrain from using the space to look at old pictures, prepare documents for the divorce, etc.
- If you’re feeling anxious, wait to try to go to bed. If you wake up and can’t fall back asleep within a few minutes, get out of bed. Have an activity designated for those nights that’s always at the ready so that you don’t spend your time doing something that will ultimately make you feel worse (social media, looking through old pictures, etc.). Some ideas to consider – a puzzle, a book, baking, walking, journaling, etc.
- Have a routine where you prime your mind for positive thoughts and/or purge negative ones before sleep. Journaling and gratitude journals are good for this.
- Try podcasts and/or sleep stories (available through apps or YouTube) to help distract your mind as you fall asleep.
- If your bed feels empty, try a weighted blanket or large heavy pillow to help to fill the space and provide a sense of physical comfort.
Strategies to Reconnect Mind and Body
- Yoga can be a phenomenal tool to help bring you back to your body and breath during times of stress. Here’s a discussion of the benefits it can bring and what to look for in finding the right practice for you.
- Try mindfulness apps or reminders on your devices. If meditation takes your mind to bad spaces right now, try something more active – walking, baking, playing an instrument.
- Get a massage. Non-sexual and no-expectations touch can be very healing. It’s amazing how much of our emotional pain becomes stored in the body. Massage helps to release it and, perhaps more importantly, increases our awareness of this physical manifestation.
- Try a breathing strategy. There are many of these (box breathing, alternate nostril breathing, 4 7 8 breathing, etc.). They all help to calm the nervous system and interpret the “fight or flight” response.
- Play with temperature extremes. Sometimes when we’re stressed, our bodies become almost numb. Saunas, steam rooms, and alternate hot and cold pools can help to release tension and also wake the body back up.
Strategies to Maintain Energy and Motivation
- Exercise. Inertia is real. When you’ve been at rest too long, you stay at rest. So get – and stay – moving. Find the type of exercise that works for you (solo or group, indoors or outdoors, morning or evening, cardio or strength, skill-based or mindless) and do it.
- Give yourself quality fuel. You may be drawn to “comfort” foods, but those tend to drain us instead of feed us. Think of this as healing from an illness or injury. Quality nutrition matters just as much when we’re healing from emotional wounds.
- Set goals for yourself. They can be small and they don’t have to even have anything to do with healing from divorce. Make them achievable, measurable and tangible. Write them down and put them where you’ll see them. Track them and celebrate your progress.
- Build in structure and accountability. It’s normal to feel a lack of motivation during the overwhelm of divorce. When the internal is flailing, put in the external supports (here are 5 ideas).
- Allow yourself permission to rest. Build in breaks. Schedule them ahead of time and take them guilt-free. I like to see them as refueling stations on a run.
- Create two lists – “Things I can control” and “Things I can’t control.” Make sure your energy (which is a limited resource) is going to those things you can control.
Strategies to Process Emotion
- If you’re struggling with anxiety, try exhausting the body. When the body is tired, the mind tends to settle.
- Try journaling. Here are reasons why it is beneficial and here is a collection of different strategies you can play with.
- Create some distance as you’re working through a particular situation. This can be done by stripping it down to its basic facts or by considering what you would tell a third person to do in this situation.
- Connect with others that have been through similar. Share your struggles and also listen to their perspectives and experiences.
- Try therapy. Here’s what you can gain from professional help.
Strategies for Parenting
- Generate a list of what is most important to you for your children (values, experiences, feelings, etc.). Seek to ensure that those get priority and give yourself permission to relax on the rest. For example, if it’s important to you that your kids know that they are loved, expressing and showing that on a regular basis is important. Having the perfect birthday party is not.
- Outsource some of the duties. If you can, hire help with housework or transportation. Trade with another parent so that you have more flexibility.
- Have your own outlets for emotional outbursts and difficult conversations. You can’t keep it together all of the time. You have to keep it together for the kids and so you also need opportunities to let yourself fall apart.
- If you have shared physical custody, plan ahead for those times when your home is empty. Don’t let yourself wallow.
- If coparenting is a struggle, research different approaches and strategies. Consider hiring a mediator if needed.
- Focus on the positive. Here are 7 things that divorce actually teaches children. Divorce is hard, but it’s not all-bad.
Strategies for Work
- Work can be both a respite and an impedance during divorce. Here is a collection of strategies you can try if you’re struggling to keep your mind on the tasks at hand and the emotion out of the office.
Strategies to Fill the Void
- Think back to interests that you had during childhood that have been neglected. Are there any of those you want to pick up again?
- Consider what you’re really missing when you say you miss your ex – the companionship, the adult helping with the kids, the shared history? Do you have other people or things in your life that can meet that need?
- Looking for more ideas? Here are other ways that you can fill the void left after divorce. And if you’re feeling lonely, here are 52 different things you can try.
Strategies for Nurturing Self
- Try cooking for yourself. In the most literal sense, you’re nurturing yourself and saying that you are worth the time and attention.
- Set aside time to take care of yourself. If you don’t make it a priority, it won’t happen. So schedule it and set reminders.
- Here are some other tips that you can try when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Strategies for Escape
- Be mindful about the digital content you consume. Instead of mindlessly Netflixing, find a series or movies that you truly enjoy and given them your attention.
- Make a note of how you feel after time on social media. Consider blocking people, deleting apps or altering your feeds to create a more positive and uplifting environment.
- Set a time limit for yourself on how many minutes or hours you will escape each day. Escape has its place, but it’s no place to live for the long run.
- If you’re finding that you’re spending too much time escaping, confide in a friend and ask them to help by calling you out on your excessive behaviors. Often just being aware of them can help.
Strategies For Dealing With Others
- Develop an “elevator speech” about what you’re dealing with that you can use when people inquire and you don’t want to go into detail. Keep it brief and practice it until you can deliver it without emotion.
- Tell your support system what you need – and don’t need – from them. They want to help and will actually feel relieved it you can give them specific things they can do or say. (Or what NOT to say!)
- Give yourself permission to take as many time outs as you need to. It’s okay to limit time with certain people.
The more coping strategies you try, the more likely you are to find some that will work. You CAN make it through this, but it won’t happen automatically. Healing is a process that requires that you be an active participant. So keep trying and keep taking those baby steps:)