Skip to main content
Parents   »   Self care in a crisis

Self care in a crisis

It is common to go through a life crisis when separating, whether the separation was desired or not. You may feel confused, vulnerable, angry and scared. There are things you can do to take care of yourself. Here you can learn more about what a crisis entails and how to handle it in a wise way.

A summary of this article below.

What is a crisis?

In a crisis, our usual strategies may suddenly become inadequate. That means we can’t just rely on everything to keep rolling along. We need to consciously influence our thinking and behaviour. Basic functions like eating, sleeping, and remembering can all be affected when we’re in a crisis. The worse we sleep and eat, the harder it can be to get our thoughts and our lives in order. That’s why routines can be helpful. Remember that grief reactions and crises are processes that change shape over time. There’s no universal truth about how to manage crises, or how long they’ll take. We’re just as different in such situations as we are in everything else in life.

For how long?

For the sake of your children, I usually set a six-month limit as a time frame for when you need to get your day-to-day life and routines in order. That doesn’t mean you can let go of everything for six months or that the wounds will be healed afterwards. It means that, for the sake of your children, you can have an idea of the pace at which you need to move forward, find a functioning daily life and cooperation with your co-parent. The six months are a guideline to work towards in the darkest of times. Establishing routines and parenting also contributes to healing.

Be patient

Have patience and compassion with yourself. You are reacting because you are human. No matter what you feel today, it will be different a year from now. Losing yourself for a time does not mean you have lost yourself forever. There is another life ahead.

Hard truths

Some people have strong defense mechanisms against accepting difficult truths. Perhaps you completely avoid thinking about the separation and deny or downplay your feelings. That doesn’t mean you will always deny what you are going through. Your defense is a way to protect yourself and to take in the truth gradually.

Keep busy

Find ways to distract yourself. Look for activities or situations where you become absorbed in what is happening. Cherish moments to laugh and relax. Such breaks both strengthen you and help you to keep going.

One step at a time

Take on manageable tasks to reinforce your self-confidence and sense of control. Even though the situation at large may seem unmanageable, it is composed of a multitude of small individual parts, which each can be possible to solve. Taking on one small thing at a time gives a feeling of being able to make a difference.

Be observant of your thoughts pattern

Are you helping to make the situation understandable or are you stuck in thought loops that increase your frustration and fear? By being aware of your thought patterns, you can prevent yourself from getting caught in a constant rumination. For some, a kind of mental stoplight works, for others, fantasies or pictures of how they would like life to be in a year can help to calm the mind.

Anger and disappointment

Being angry and disappointed with your co-parent is an inevitable part of most separation processes. Accept those feelings and limit contact between the two of you if it makes you feel worse. Later on, your contact may become less regulated. Hold it together when the kids are around and try to say something positive about the other parent every now and then. This is a way to show respect for your child’s love for both of you.

Talk, but be mindful

Talking about what you are going through can help you move forward and sort out your thoughts and feelings. It is healing to have a cohesive and understandable picture of your experiences, but be mindful of talking about your coparent’s bad sides – even if it feels good to have your experience confirmed. The risk is that such conversations will reinforce your image or reach the child.

Be open about your feelings

Strong emotions can’t be hidden from children. Let them know that you’re sad and angry and that it’s how people react when they go through big changes. Explain that things will feel different later on.

Eating habits

If you don’t have an appetite or constantly feel hungry, it’s a good idea to stick to basic meals. Go for pre-made meals or fresh pasta when you’re out of ideas – you can survive on a one-sided diet for months. Maybe it would help to eat lunch with your colleagues at work. The social aspect of eating can help you to get something down at all or to just stick to one portion.

Try to avoid shopping when you’re hungry, and make sure you don’t have chips and unhealthy snacks at home if you’re prone to snacking. If you lack appetite, on the other hand, make sure to buy things that are easy to nibble on, like eggs, cold cuts for those who are not vegetarian, and ready-made meals. Make sure it’s easy to get something to eat if you have a hard time eating.

The important sleep

Getting enough sleep is often one of the most difficult things during times of crisis. Your sleep needs may be unusually high due to stress and anxiety, or as a way to escape from difficult situations. Even more common is difficulty falling asleep or waking up during the night and not being able to fall back asleep. Take care of your sleep by going to bed at the same time each night. Avoid screens, work or strenuous exercise in the last hour before bedtime. Focus on activities that help you wind down, like music, podcasts, taking a bath or reading a light novel. Write down your worries, problems and tasks you need to take care of, so it will be easier to let them go. If you wake up during the night, get up instead of lying in bed tossing and turning. Make a cup of tea and repeat the winding-down routines you did earlier in the evening. Setting the alarm clock even on weekends can prevent you from sleeping in too late. Maybe it will feel safer to fall back asleep if your child is sleeping in the same bed as you.

Alcohol and nicotine

It is common for many people to turn to drinking when life gets tough and they are in a crisis. Whether it’s long talks with friends or as a distraction and comfort when alone, it’s important to be aware of how alcohol is affecting you. If you find yourself losing your inhibitions and messaging or calling your co-parent, taking a break from alcohol might benefit your co-parenting team. Pay attention to your alcohol consumption if you notice it increasing. A drinking log on your phone can help you break habits you don’t want to establish. Make plans that don’t involve drinking and have an alcohol-free routine on the first day of your child-free week, or on special occasions that require extra care. Alcohol can also interfere with your sleep quality.

Many newly separated people also turn to cigarettes or snus to cope with their situation, and it’s understandable if it helps them feel a bit better during a crisis. However, if you don’t want to get stuck in an addiction, it’s important to be aware and gradually reduce your consumption once you regain your footing.

Physical activity everyday

The truth is that physical activity can be more effective than psychopharmaceuticals. So make sure to keep moving! Create a routine that you can stick to and stay consistent. The important thing isn’t how you move, it’s that you do it. Rather a little bit regularly than big efforts that don’t last over time. It’s easier to keep up the habit if you treat yourself to fun or social activities, and thus make it a joint activity with friends.

Anxiety and worry can make us restless and it can be hard to stay focused. Taking a lunch break to exercise can help you perform better at work. Even your children would benefit from physical activities, so find something to do together. You can also treat yourself to something that feels good and boosts your mood, such as a massage, eyelash extension or a skiing trip with your friends – all of these things are important when you’re feeling low.

Do not isolate yourself

It can feel difficult to talk about the divorce, you might feel sad or even embarrassed. Maybe it feels like you no longer have any friends now that you are no longer a couple. It can be okay to step away from social situations – if it helps. But if it leads to isolation and you become too alone with your thoughts, then you need to be socially distracted. Even though not everyone around you is as good to talk to or provide support during a crisis, it can help to do something to take your mind off it.

It can be a relief to tell and talk about what has happened, so you don’t have to carry everything by yourself. Many testify how others suddenly open up when you are open about your situation and how relationships can deepen. Comfort and help along the way can come from the most unexpected places.

Ask for help

You also need support from others in a practical and concrete way. A separation means that you have to handle things that you are not so good at. Suddenly you have to cook or get the car inspected yourself. A lot of economic and legal turns also appear in the wake of the separation. Get knowledge online, through your bank or from a lawyer. Ask friends and relatives for help, both with the children and with practical things. When you lose your partner in a death, the neighbors often come with ready-made dinners in foil boxes. When you separate, you rarely get that support, even though your life changes in a similar way. Therefore, you need to ask for help to get it.


  • A crisis is when we are physically and emotionally affected by a tumultuous situation that causes us to not function as usual.
  • Set a deadline for yourself
  • Have patience and show yourself kindness and compassion.
  • Keep living your life but give yourself space to take it easy when you need to.
  • Get moving your body, preferably every day. Eat healthy and take it easy with alcohol and nicotine.
  • Interact with other people in a way that works for you and ask for help. Help can come from the most unexpected places.
Malin Bergström
Child psychologist