“In the event that there is a sudden loss of cabin pressure, place your mask on before assisting others.” Anyone who has ever flown on a commercial airplane has heard those very words. And for good reason: When the air supply is compromised during an in-flight emergency, you are no good to anyone relying on you for assistance, unless you take care of yourself first.

So, it stands to reason that this is true whenever the ‘air’ goes out of any extreme situation. Stressors like divorce (whether in the beginning, middle, end or after it is complete) are formidable. And, though I’ve written about this before (‘Cortisol and Divorce Litigation,’ February 8, 2017), I’m writing about it again. Self-care is the topic of this article as we approach the holiday season. But, this time, things are different.

In the “new normal” of COVID-19 operations, the probate and family court system has slowed to a crawl. It’s an open secret. The system was overwhelmed by lockdowns, short-staffing, court closures when there was a COVID exposure within the court system from staff on duty, as well as the onslaught of petitions and motions, and the chaos that ensued.  The situation is gradually getting better—by inches.

What this means is that disputes about where children will spend their holidays (read: with which parent) are unlikely to reach a judge in many, if not most, counties before the holidays. As the courts triage actual emergencies to the best of their ability, urgencies—such as parent-child estrangements—have taken a distant second position. It is extremely frustrating for lawyers and advocates, and absolutely maddening for clients.

It seems that there has been an uptick in negative mental health responses to the situation. Anyone trying to book a therapy appointment will know exactly what I mean. The psychological and psychiatric communities are booked solid. Alcohol abuse appears more common in cases these days, as well. And, then there is the incivility among parents, litigants, and lawyers. Also, truth be told, some of the judges appear to be somewhat abrupt more often. It is what it is. While we cannot control any of those issues, these will, eventually, pass.

In my practice, during COVID-19, I decided it was time to work on what I could control. I stepped up my exercise. I stepped up mindfulness meditation and I joined a martial arts program. I also get enough sleep and go home at a reasonable hour to spend time with family and friends, and try to engage in my hobbies a little bit more often.

I do get out of balance from time to time. A strained muscle or a head cold can bring in a stubborn onset of sedentary inertia. My body, at rest, really does try to stay at rest.  And, now and then, it succeeds. My business coach, who is second to none, tells me that getting out of balance is okay. Staying out of balance isn’t. So, when my figurative oxygen mask slips off and things get a little out of control, I put it back on and take a few deep, restorative breaths.

I share all of this because it works. It often isn’t easy for clients to cope well these days with the challenges they face. And holiday parenting sometimes compounds the issue when parents aren’t getting along. This blog isn’t a “how-to” about what to do when you don’t agree. Its focus is directed toward more of a “what to do for your own self-care” when a divorce situation threatens to overtake your equanimity.

Start small. Get outside. Get in nature. Take a walk in the woods or on the beach. Discover the multitude of apps that provide mindfulness meditation—many for free—and try these out. Stick with it because it takes time. As you start to develop a pattern and some stamina, up the ante and engage in some resistance training. Some gyms are $10.00 per month. Or work out at home. Yoga is great exercise, and it has a meditative component to it. Get an accountability partner (but, not a negative person who is going to commiserate with you every time you interact) with the goal of helping each other by asking, “Did you do ‘x’ today?” Your accountability partner should be your cheerleader, not your drill sergeant, and vice versa.

By increasing the consistency of self-care and exercising, you are training yourself to assist others in a difficult situation. Those ‘others’ being your children.

So, when the air supply in the cabin is jeopardized, put your mask on first and breathe normally.

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