On a list of the top 10 stressors in life, divorce usually ranks as number two—right after the death of a loved one.
This is not surprising when you consider that a divorce involves a lot of stressors all at once.
Loss of a marriage. Loss of identity as a married couple. Sometimes loss of the family home. Loss of income and savings to pay lawyers. Loss of children even, or full-time access to them. Loss of friends, and sometimes, even family members. Loss of stability, a sense of well-being, as well as mental, physical, and emotional health.
In some cases, those health losses were part of the cause of the divorce in the first place.
That’s a lot of losses at once.
As the storm of stressful losses swirls around and inside you, learning how to center your thoughts in the moment is extremely important and enormously helpful.
Mindfulness is a powerful stabilizing and calming practice you can easily learn and experience the benefits, but what exactly is mindfulness?
There are numerous definitions of mindfulness.
Most of them agree on these basic concepts. Mindfulness is a state where you have a moment to moment awareness of your present experience without judgement. It means tuning into your body, your beating heart, your emotions, breathing deeply, and focusing fully on the moment you are in.
You do not judge your mood, your thoughts, your body. You simply become aware of all of these. In a sense, you become an observer of yourself. You step outside of your to-do list, your regrets, or hurts that just occurred or occurred in the past.
You step outside your worries and fears of tomorrow and the future. You pay attention to yourself. Now. In this moment. Everything else falls away.
As someone going through a divorce, you will immediately recognize how these benefits of mindfulness help you with what you are currently facing.
Here are the five key benefits of mindfulness during a divorce:
1. Regain control of thoughts and mental activity
If you are constantly thinking anxious thoughts and letting your mind play out tapes of the past, fears of the future, and negative self-talk, then mindfulness can help you stop these mental loops and find your way to a place of mental focus and rest.
Staying in those mental loops can lead you down the road toward depression. Managing your thoughts is critical to your sanity, mental and emotional health.
2. Decreased Anxiety
When you are able to step back from the tornado of thoughts, you are more able to calm your emotions as well. You will discover that mindfulness will help reduce your anxiety as in that quiet, centered place, you can regain composure and objectivity about your own behaviour (and that of your ex-spouse).
You can manage your emotions. If they are whizzing around beyond your control, you will never regain your footing to manage them—instead, they will manage you.
3. Increased Focus
Because you have the ability to focus on the present moment—not the past or the future—you will experience a greater ability to focus and concentrate on tasks in your life.
You will be exercising your focus muscle with the daily practice of mindfulness, and this will help you throughout your day—and your divorce.
4. Relaxes mind and body
Most of us are not aware of how stress builds upon our bodies and the damage it is doing there.
If you have ever had a massage, you probably recall how painful it was at times when your therapist discovered all the hard muscle knots in your neck, shoulders, and back. You had no idea they were there until the therapist worked to remove them.
Likewise, we carry stress in our organs, and this is where the most damage from stress occurs. Mindfulness helps in lowering blood pressure, and this improves your heart health. It also improves your sleep as you become better at controlling your emotions and your thoughts.
If you are lying in bed at night with racing thoughts, mindfulness practices can help you quiet your mind and relax into sleep.
5. Decreases emotional reactivity
When we are stressed, we have adrenaline and cortisol flowing at levels that should be reserved for fight-or-flight responses. Our bodies and minds were never intended to be in fight-or-flight mode constantly.
This is actually what happens when we are experiencing high levels of stress. Particularly in a divorce, this is the case as we experience stress on multiple levels simultaneously. This affects our sleep, our heart, our stomach, our mood, and all negatively. Being in stress overdrive also makes us less able to control our emotions.
Mindfulness decreases our emotional reactivity so that we are more centered, calmer, and more receptive. You are better able to truly hear what the other person is saying and not overreact.
Can you think of times when you were so stressed out, you overreacted and said or did things you later regretted?
This happens a lot for individuals who are in the divorce process. And it could have extremely detrimental consequences if your inappropriate behavior contributes to your ex’s argument that you are imbalanced, irrational, out of control, or similar.
How to practice mindfulness
Mindfulness is a practice usually associated with meditation. Buddhists practice mindfulness through meditation, and the same is true in the Christian tradition going back to the early Christian mystics.
Other practices which can assist with mindfulness include Yoga, Tai Chi, and Qigong. We will focus on meditation.
When your thoughts are all over the place or tied up in knots, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and bring your awareness back to the present moment you are in.
Mindfulness enables you to experience your life as you live it through all five of your senses.
We often think of meditation as a person sitting with crossed legs on the ground, holding their palms upward, and closing their eyes. That is an excellent way to meditate. However, you can meditate while standing, singing, with eyes shut or open, or even while listening to music.
The point is living in the present moment and quieting your noisy, cluttered mind. You are also getting in touch with your body through awareness of your breathing and using your breathing to become more centered in the present moment.
Here is a mindfulness meditation from Diana Shepherd that helped me to apply this:
>> Sit comfortably, your spine reasonably straight but not ramrod stiff, and close your eyes.
>> Focus your attention on your breathing.
>> Become aware of emotions, thoughts, sounds, smells, or physical sensations that break your concentration. Acknowledge they are there, then let them drift past like a cloud—without passing judgment or getting emotionally or mentally involved with them. Bring your attention back to your breathing and continue the meditation.
>> Try counting your breaths if you’re struggling with intrusive thoughts. Think: “One inhale, one exhale. Two inhale, two exhale,” and so on up to 10 or 20. Then start again at one.
Using guided meditations is highly recommended. On YouTube, Spotify, and iTunes, you can find a huge number of guided meditations to listen to.
Once you have embarked upon training your mind and body with mindfulness meditations, you will begin to see the benefits.
Be patient with yourself and be persistent as you are learning a new practice. It will be worth the effort and help you to become more centered, more in control, and more at peace within yourself.
All of these qualities enable you to handle the challenges and stresses of life with greater clarity, balance, and strength.
As a divorce coach, I highly recommend mindfulness and meditation as a crucial part of your life practice to move through the process and not just barely survive it—but to pursue health, healing, and wholeness while you are on your journey toward freedom.