As a Family Lawyer, I often see clients at their lowest points, particularly when they are feeling the most vulnerable, anxious and stressed. These negative feelings may be felt during a parenting dispute, relationship breakup, family violence, death of a loved one or when someone important to them has lost mental capacity. Even if you are not going through one of these struggles the events of the past year and a half as well as the lead up to the silly season may lead you to feel increasingly fatigued and worried about the future. For this reason, I have compiled a list of top tips I use and often tell my clients about to keep myself mentally well and prepared for my next challenge.
Recognise and Acknowledge your Feelings
An important step in taking care of our mental health is to recognise negative emotions before they get out of control. Stress can negatively affect a person’s mental health to a point where they create interpersonal and relationship issues. For this reason, it is important to recognise when we are struggling rather than ignoring the problem, sucking it up and carrying on.
Stress is our body’s reaction to demands of life such as relationships, parenting, work or financial pressures. Some stress may be beneficial as it can motivate you into action. However, when negative emotions such as stress or anxiety become a part of everyday life this is more problematic. Effectively managing your mental health involves identifying that you are experiencing negative feelings and acknowledging them, rather than shoving them to one side.
Surround Yourself with Coaches
“A problem shared is a problem halved” is a motto that I often live by. It is key that when we are feeling down within ourselves, we can reach out to other trusted people who can support and guide us. Talking to whanau, a trusted friend or mentor about what you are going through may help you find a solution to a problem, or alternatively give you the strength you need to help you find someone who can help.
It is important however that these people offer independent guidance rather than enable or exacerbate negative emotions. There is nothing worse than telling someone our problem only to have them respond with “oh, I’ve been through worse and here is my story…” or “you are right to feel the way you are feeling and if I were you, I’d be even feeling worse…”. For this reason, it is important to talk to a coach, rather than an enabler. It is also important that you choose to confide in people that will call you out on negative behaviour, as too often I will see well-meaning whanau often encouraging poor behaviour from a loved one in a family dispute.
A coach is someone who has our back in times of trouble, who will help us work out our problems without judgement, and may be able to provide us with a solution that we had not thought about. Importantly, coaches will also hold us to account if we act up, and put things into perspective when we are too overwhelmed to see the bigger picture.
Become your own Cheerleader and send your Inner-Critic to the Sin Bin
Before a client enters a courtroom I will always make sure that I give them a pep talk in order to boost their confidence and to take away some of the fear and intimidation. It does not matter to me whether a client is struggling with addiction issues, is mentally unwell or just wants to sort out contact with their kids. Every single client deserves respect and positive encouragement. This is important as I know that they are all going to be out of their comfort zone in a courtroom.
If we take this practice and apply it to ourselves taking the time to give ourselves positive affirmations and putting things into perspective is important when we are feeling vulnerable. Too often when we are anxious and overwhelmed, we let our worries get the best of us. Our inner critic becomes our enemy, sending us negative thoughts and often turning situations into nightmare scenarios. What I have learnt in my five years of practice is that the worst nightmare I can dream up never actually occurs. When we are experiencing negative self-talk it is important to close this down and think about all of the positive aspects of the situation.
Call a Time-Out.
Chill your boots by taking a breather and walking away. When we feel overwhelmed it is important we take a break and get ourselves away from what is causing our stress. Studies have shown that when we experience anxiety, we need at least 20 minutes away from the situation in order for our body to calm ourselves.
The moment you feel that you are overwhelmed it is important to pull yourself out of the situation and do something completely different. This may include going for a walk, getting a coffee or going to the gym. It is important to do something that is enjoyable to you. In the Eastern Bay, we are blessed with numerous beaches, fishing spots, hunting, cafes, shops and clubs. Take advantage of the perks of the Bay when you are feeling overwhelmed and get out amongst it.
Eat, Breathe, Sleep and Exercise
The importance of a good diet, plenty of sleep and a regular amount of exercise cannot be overestimated. When you fuel your body with nutritional food and regularly engage in exercise you will find your energy levels will increase. This means that you will be better able to deal with challenging circumstances as they arise. Furthermore, a good night’s sleep of 7 to 8 hours a night gives your brain an optimal amount of rest to be able to properly function the next day. Turning off your device before you go to bed to enable positive sleep hygiene is key.
Breathing techniques such as deep breathing, as well as meditation apps can be helpful to those that are feeling overwhelmed. One App I recommend and use myself is Smiling Mind which was developed by leading Australian psychologists to help people practice mindfulness thereby reducing anxiety, worry and creating a sense of calm.
When Things Get Tough Bring in the Big Guns
If you are feeling overwhelmed, to a point where you are finding it difficult to cope, it is extremely important that you seek professional guidance. Speaking to your GP may be a good option as they will be able to give a proper diagnosis. This does not necessarily mean that medication will be prescribed, as GPs may be able to refer you to other resources such as professional counselling.
Depression.org.nz also has a large number of resources available to help you through a difficult period, even if you feel that you are not suffering from depression. This includes information for whanau members who may be seeking help for a loved one. They also offer telephone support on 0800 111 757 or text support on 4202. Lifeline Aotearoa offers 24/7 support and can be accessed on 0800 LIFELINE (0800 543 354).
Finally, if you are experiencing a family dispute and require legal advice, please do not hesitate to contact our team of Family Law Professionals on (07) 307 0680, or firstname.lastname@example.org or email Nicole Gordon directly on email@example.com
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