Five things to do when it all gets too much in your divorce

Divorce is hard. There’s no two ways about it. It’s harder for some than others – no divorce is identical. I can promise you that if your marriage is no longer healthy, divorce is worth it. But that doesn’t stop everything feeling too overwhelming, too difficult, too painful sometimes. Especially if you’re in a high conflict situation and divorcing your own Donald Trump. So today we’re looking at what to do when it all gets too much in your divorce.

1. Stop

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, the first thing to do is stop. And I mean stop. Even if it’s for half an hour. Overwhelm is a sign you need rest.

Imagine you’re in the middle of a room piled high with clutter – clothes, boxes, furniture, ornaments, paperwork scattered everywhere. All merging into each other with no sense of order. Now imagine that you’re trying to sort that room out, but at the same time you’re on a rotating dance floor. Not the fun kind from the cheesy nightclubs of the 90s. No, this is your own hellish disc keeping you in a spin, trapped in your least favourite record.

Does being on that disc make your job easier or harder?

Stopping doesn’t make everything else go away. There will still be jobs to do. The housework will still be there. The divorce will still be there. That’s all true. But it does make it so much easier to deal with.

You need to get yourself to a calm place of pause before anything else. And I know what you’re thinking. “Well, that sounds great, Emma, but it’s just not that easy.”

How to stop

I know. I’m not pretending it’s easy. But I am telling you it’s essential. None of us can book ourselves into a spa break and forget the world entirely at the moment, during lockdown. But all of us can find ways to press pause. Here are some things you can try everyday:

  • Get off social media. I swear – the online world is 100 times as noisy as the real one. And you don’t usually get the best version of people either. Get out of there for a while and protect your headspace.
  • Take short cuts. Quit the guilt about this. Eat out of the freezer or convenience section for a while. Put the children in front of CBeebies. Do not sign up for that committee at work. Allow yourself to choose the easy options for a while.
  • Get outside. Even if you put the phone down, being in your home can feel claustrophobic. Especially if it’s your marital home. Ideally home is a sanctuary. But often it can be the source of stress as we notice the washing up, the paperwork, the dust bunnies. So leave it. Bundle yourself up warmly and head outside for a walk. If being lost in your own thoughts isn’t helpful right now, enlist a trusted friend or an audiobook to join you.

2. Write

Writing is a fantastic way to turn your thoughts from a tangle into something you can deal with. If it’s all getting too much in your divorce get yourself a notebook. Get it out of your head and onto the page.

Set a timer for ten minutes (you can achieve a lot in ten minutes) and simply let your pen fly. Don’t worry at this stage about whether it makes sense. What you’re aiming for is to empty your head onto the page. You may repeat yourself. You may contradict yourself. You may question yourself. It’s all good. Just write.

And once you’ve written, look over everything and see if any themes emerge. What was the first thing you wrote about? That’s likely to be playing on your mind the most, and needs dealing with – even if it’s to make a conscious decision to park it for now. Are there any watchwords like ‘shoulds’ in there? Where are they coming from? Are there emotions that come up, or key people? Reflect on your writing to see what it’s telling you about what’s important right now.

Next, make a list. Or a mind map, whatever suits you. And write down absolutely everything that’s weighing you down. All the things that need sorting, all the daily tasks, all the decisions to be made. Get as much down as possible, in the order they come to you. Again, don’t worry if you repeat yourself. Just get everything down.

Once you’ve got your initial list, take a look and see if you can get it into an order. What are the most important things on that list? What’s important but can wait? How can other people support you? Is there anything you can cross off because it’s just not worth worrying about right now?

3. Break it down

We get overwhelmed when things are too much to handle. The task ahead feels too complex, too difficult and we shut down. We tell ourselves we can’t handle it. And… we’re right. We can’t handle it all at once.

There’s an African proverb that goes: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

And that’s the only way to make progress with anything. Whether it’s climbing a mountain, navigating your divorce or simply getting through the day. The way to do it is one step at a time.

Your writing will help you with this. It’s likely that getting everything on the page has shown you some things you can just cross out, straight away. There may be some quick wins to give you that important dopamine hit of completing a task. And there may be other jobs that link together, that you can start to put in order.

The key is to remember that both you and your divorce are important. It is important to work on your divorce to get to the life you want. Otherwise you’ll be stuck in this feeling of overwhelm forever.

And at the same time, it’s important to go at a pace that suits you. To remember that you will get there. And it’s far more productive to go slow and steady than to race without thinking, creating chaos and achieving nothing.

4. Prioritise the essentials

When you prioritise think about your own needs, as well as those of your divorce. It can be tempting to throw yourself into getting your divorce done as quickly as possible. But burning the candle at both ends, charging through, is likely to mean you both make unwise decisions and get ill.

So step back and review what’s needed. Get your foundations right first. Are you getting enough sleep and decent food? (And I know I said it’s ok to short cut on food earlier! Just make sure you eat some fruit and carrot sticks as well!). Are you getting fresh air every day?

Once those are in place, decide what’s necessary right now. What can you cut back on temporarily? Can you drop some commitments to create time for divorce admin? What can you say no to so you can say yes to your own mental health? Strip back to what’s necessary and focus on that.

5. Ask for help

I know I say this often, but it is so important to ask for help. Humans are social beings. We have evolved to depend on each other. That hardwiring doesn’t disappear when you have a divorce. In fact, it’s needed more than ever given divorce is one of the most stressful life events you’ll ever experience.

So, when it’s all getting too much in your divorce, figure out who you can turn to. And don’t feel guilty about it. Your friends will want to be there for you, and chances are they won’t realise you’re struggling. You may have had plenty of support when the news of your divorce broke. But if you’re a few months down the line, life might seem normal to everyone else. They won’t see that you’re battling the emotional and administrative rollercoaster of the divorce process.

And if you need help sorting out overwhelm so you make the best decisions – that’s what I’m here for. There are a whole range of ways I can help you. Maybe you want to join the amazing, engaged bunch of women who make up The Absolute Academy. Or maybe you want 1-1 coaching as a one-off, or over a number of months.

Just book in a call and we can find the right way for you.

About Emma

Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is author of the Amazon best selling book How to be a Lady Who Leaves, the Ultimate Guide to Getting Divorce Ready. A former lawyer, Emma is a family mediator and founder of Get Divorce Ready the online self-study and group programmes. Emma has been featured on BBC Radio, The Telegraph, the iPaper and in Marie Claire Magazine. To find out more visit www.emmaheptonstall.com

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