There’s no question that divorce can be stressful. As a family law attorney, I often see people who are facing a torrent of emotions and feelings like anger, sadness and anxiety. Many are depressed when they come into my office. They’ve been thinking about divorce for a long time but were stuck for months, or even years, without being able to take action.
This is why if you’ve hired me as your family law attorney, you’ll hear me say, “Are you doing something every day that you enjoy?” I remind my clients of this all the time. It may seem like a tall order if you’re depressed or in mental distress, but scheduling some enjoyment into your day is going to help you in many ways.
Studies have shown that adding enjoyable activities to your life is good for your overall health. During the divorce process, deliberately including something positive in your day will be a counterweight to negative emotions and stress. You’ll be able to think more clearly and calmly. You’ll react to challenging situations in a more constructive way.
The practice of mindfulness meditation also can be beneficial. Mindfulness meditation is practiced through observing thoughts as they arise instead of reacting to them. The idea is to be present in the moment instead of dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Observing and releasing thoughts without judgment can change how you relate to them. It can help you stop ruminating and being stuck in angry or anxious mental loops.
People often start out by practicing mindfulness during a set meditation period. For instance, you could try it by sitting down and paying attention to your breathing for a few minutes. Thoughts will arise and that’s perfectly okay. Just release them by directing your attention back to the rise and fall of your breath.
The practice of mindfulness also can be extended throughout daily activities. Instead of getting caught up in a thought or strong emotion, bring your attention to your breath or the physical sensations you’re experiencing in the moment. This also can ease any unhelpful, knee-jerk reactions you might be prone to in a stressful situation, like trying to negotiate with a non-cooperative spouse.
The benefits of mindfulness are being shown in research studies and it has entered the mainstream in business and medicine. At the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, a long-running program called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction has taught thousands of people how to control stress and improve health through the practice of mindfulness and yoga.
Scientists are discovering that mindfulness meditation actually can change the brain in beneficial ways. Some studies are showing that the practice can be as effective as medication against depression and anxiety.
Could mindfulness be useful for family court systems to incorporate? University of Colorado law professor Deborah Cantrell suggests the answer is yes. Teaching mindfulness to those who appear in court and their attorneys, she says, could help foster non-adversarial thinking and more constructive problem solving.