As if divorce weren’t stressful enough, going to court to ligate battles over custody and other high stakes issues can drive negative emotions to new heights. When it’s your day in court, you really do want to do everything you can to be calm, cool and collected. First, it’s important for your peace of mind, and second, maintaining your composure is critical for putting your best foot forward in front of the judge.
What helps to avoid “divorce court stress”? Here are some guidelines to help you manage your emotions during this difficult time.
Educate yourself. Being thrown off-guard will spike fear and anger. Make sure you gather information about every step of the litigation process. Your attorney can fill you in on the basics of what happens in the court room, including the salient points you will make in your argument. Your attorney should be also able to tell you what your judge is like and how to behave appropriately in court, and even what to wear. A lot of court can sometimes be waiting in the hallway for your court date to begin if there is a backlog that day, which there often is. Your attorney can help you understand where you can comfortably wait during this time and what you can do to keep yourself busy and calm.
Institute a divorce curfew. There’s a lot of “homework” you’ll need to prepare for court: writing declarations, gathering records, corresponding with your attorney. Try to get this work done before 8 p.m. so you don’t activate your nervous system at bedtime. Getting a good night’s sleep will help you manage your emotions during the day.
See a divorce therapist. You may be reluctant to spend money on a therapist, but your mental health is worth the expense! A good therapist can help you learn coping skills and give you emotional support. Although friends and family are often supportive, they may actually exacerbate your fears by projecting their own feelings onto you. Talking to a professional who won’t take your situation personally, and is trained to be objective, is a smart choice.
Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of accepting life the way it is now. This doesn’t mean that you’re passive; it simply means that you stop trying to escape, or fight, reality. While the circumstances of your divorce may be painful, your reaction to them is probably making things worse. Once you accept the way things are today, you can shift your energy to managing your emotions so you can make wise choices (for instance, resisting the urge to fire off a hostile email to your ex!).
Utilize coping skills. The key to managing emotions is to learn ways to interrupt and divert negative thoughts. When you catch yourself going down the rabbit hole towards despair and anger, make the choice to do something constructive instead: exercise, journal, meditate, practice a hobby, schedule a session with your therapist, take a walk or a hot bath. Doing something other than worrying or marinating in anger will calm down your overactive nervous system.
Although you can’t control the outcome when you go to court, you can control the way you choose to respond to your circumstances.
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