The 5 best ways to manage your anxiety when negotiating custody arrangements
- September 19, 2017
- Jennifer Hetherington
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Today’s guest blogger Sarah Tuckett psychotherapist and counsellor at Sarah Tuckett Psychotherapy and Counselling in North Brisbane talks about how to manage anxiety when negotiating a custody agreement.
Custody and anxiety
You’re dealing with a broken heart, a divorce and on top of that you’re now negotiating custody arrangements. This is a tough time and you’re going to have feelings. Plenty of them. I think of anxiety as ‘fear of the future’. It is natural and human that you’re going to have feelings of apprehension and anxiety when you’re faced with a new and uncertain future. So please be gentle with yourself and don’t judge yourself for being fearful.
However, it’s not going to help your custody negotiations if you vent those feelings in angry or abusive text messages to your ex. Neither will it help if you criticize your ex’s poor parenting skills in detail via email. It may feel good at the time, but there are more helpful ways to manage your feelings of anxiety.
Here are the 5 best ways to manage your anxiety when you’re negotiating a custody arrangement
Be around other people (that you like) to calm your nervous system
As tempting as it may be to hide out and lick your wounds, humans need other humans around for psychological well-being. In Western culture we praise independence and self-sufficiency. However, loneliness and isolation can cause your levels of anxiety to sky rocket. Instead, reach out to friends and/or family for support and company whilst you go through this custody process.
Our nervous systems don’t exist in isolation, they are influenced by nervous system of people around us. It’s a concept called limbic resonance and scientists can show that your brainwaves synchronize with the people you are around.
Moran Cerf, a neuroscientist from North-Western University in the US says that:
“The more we study engagement, we see time and again that just being next to certain people actually aligns your brain with them,” based on their mannerisms, the smell of the room, the noise level, and many other factors, Cerf said. “This means the people you hang out with actually have an impact on your engagement with reality beyond what you can explain. And one of the effects is you become alike.” (To read more on this click here).
So if you have high levels of anxiety, being around your chilled bestie or getting a hug from your mum will help lessen your feelings of anxiety and help regulate your nervous system.
Go for counselling (for your own wellbeing and to reduce conflict)
The couples counselling may have failed to stop the divorce, but the more you work on your own ‘stuff’, venting your feelings to a therapist rather than to your ex, the better you’re going to feel in yourself and the easier it will be for you to deal with the custody arrangements. Do you want to go into the custody negotiations ready for combat? Or for collaboration? What will benefit your family the most?
It doesn’t have to be a long-term thing and you don’t have to tell anyone you’re doing it. And you there are heaps of different types of therapy out there, you just have to pick one that appeals to you.
One thing that is made very clear in therapies like Acceptance and Commitment therapy (ACT), is that you can’t stop negative thoughts and fears from popping up. You have no more control over your anxious thoughts than I have over the weather. However, what you DO have control over is how you handle these thoughts. Therapies like ACT help you learn how to distance yourself from your thoughts. As a result, your anxiety will decrease because your thoughts have less power over you.
Find a family lawyer that you can trust
I recently had the misfortune to meet a rather distasteful solicitor at a networking event who told me that he got pleasure out of writing inflammatory letters to the other party, knowing that the content would upset them. This person was the lawyer equivalent of an online troll. So use your gut instinct when you look for a Family Lawyer. Is this person a specialist family lawyer? Are they going to mediate or inflame the situation? Does this lawyer want you to end up in court or do they state that they aim to avoid court? Interview potential family lawyers until you find one that you like as a person and can trust has your best interests at heart.
Exercise to reduce your anxiety levels
You can make a dent in your anxiety and down-regulate your nervous system through movement. Anxiety is a high-energy state. Depending on what’s going on for you, you may need to vent some of that excess energy in a more active class, or calm yourself down and focus your mind. Here are my top tips, but obviously please choose something that appeals to you:
To discharge excess pent-up energy:
- Circuit class
- Martial arts
- Cross fit
- Power yoga or vinyasa yoga.
To Chill out:
Yoga, meditation, Qi gong, Tai chi, simple breathing exercises all have an impact on the pre-frontal cortex of your brain (the part of you that is your observer self, the rational, thinking, socialising part of your brain).
They help you increase your capacity to master your own emotional experiences by becoming master of internal impulses and feelings. You learn to observe yourself, and put a pause between a thought and the emotional reaction to that thought. Which means you’re less likely to get emotionally hijacked or ‘activated’ by an event/person. Slow breathing also helps you soothe the amygdala (the ‘alarm bell’ in your brain for the fight-flight response).
Why not try:
- Qi Gong
- Tai Chi
- Yoga Nidra
- Tibetan Bowl meditation
- Meditation classes
- Download the Headspace app
Ground yourself before and during the custody meetings
Grounding just means becoming more aware of the contact between your feet and the ground. It’s a way of bringing yourself into the present time (as opposed to a state of anxiety where your thoughts are in the future). In grounding, we are bringing your attention to the bottom half of your body, away from your overactive mind. There are many ways to do this, here are some easy techniques that can be done in public without bringing too much attention to yourself:
- Bring your awareness down to your feet. Press your feet down into the floor. Perhaps rolling through your feet from your toes to your heels, or rocking from inner blades of your feet to the outer edges. Concentrate on the sensations of your feet on the floor. It’s better if you can take off your shoes, but if you can’t, focus on the sensation of your feet inside your shoes.
- Bring your focus to the parts of your body that touch the chair. What does it feel like? Become aware of any differences in temperature, pain, tension, or pleasure even.
- Stamp your feet on the ground. (Probably best not to do this in the middle of the meeting!) But if you can, find a space outside where you can stamp your feet and feel the strength in your legs.
- Squat against a wall (again not one for the meeting room) but if you can find a quiet spot, kick off any high heels and squat against the wall for a few minutes. You’ll feel a charge building in your legs. It’s going to take your attention away from your anxious thoughts down into your lower body.
As they say on airlines: “fit your own oxygen mask before you help others”. Make negotiating your custody arrangement easier for yourself, your family and make it easier for your family lawyer to help you, by working on your anxiety levels outside of the meeting room.
Sarah Tuckett is a psychotherapist and counsellor at Sarah Tuckett Psychotherapy and Counselling in Shorncliffe, North Brisbane. She focuses on body-orientated psychotherapies to help people recover from anxiety