Divorce is one of the most stressful events a person can go through, and if you’re not careful, that stress could impact your health. Once the divorce process begins, there’s not much you can do to eliminate it from your life.
You also can’t control experiencing stress, since it’s a natural byproduct of what you’re experiencing. But you do have control over how you manage the stress you experience, and if you manage stress proactively and carefully, you can end up minimizing your health risks.
Why Divorce Is Stressful
Divorce is stressful for a number of reasons. Even if proceedings are totally amicable and mutually acceptable, this is still going to be a major change in your life. The longer you’ve been married, the more stressful your divorce is likely to be. Your finances may totally transform. If you have children, you’ll need to think about custody.
On top of that, you may have to rebuild relationships with friends and family members in ways you weren’t prepared for.
Stress and Health
There’s no denying that excessive stress can impact your health in a variety of negative ways. The stress of divorce can be overwhelming at times, and in the short term, that can lead to lost sleep, higher levels of anxiety, bouts of depression, and problematic habits like overeating or drug use.
Over the long term, those higher stress levels can eventually lead to obesity, heart disease, increased risk of stroke, higher susceptibility to both infectious disease and chronic illness, and a higher mortality rate.
Stress Mitigation Strategies
If you want to get through your divorce and continue living a healthy life, it’s important to find ways to mitigate and manage your stress as much as possible. These are some of your best strategies to do so:
- Hire a fantastic lawyer. A good divorce lawyer can help you in several ways. They’ll serve as your official legal representation, making sure you get a fair deal. They’ll also help you understand the ins and outs of divorce proceedings, so you feel more informed. On top of that, a good lawyer will make you feel reassured and supported, offering sympathy and help when needed.
- Exist in the present moment. Much of the stress related to divorce is related to the past or future. You might dwell in the past, wondering what could have gone differently, or you might worry about the uncertain future, since you don’t know what’s coming next. Both of these can be highly stressful, so try to focus on the present moment. Chances are, the present moment is at least tolerable, and if you learn to focus on it, you’ll find more peace and clarity.
- Get plenty of exercise. Physical exercise remains one of the best ways to relieve stress. It’s also a great way to stay in shape and improve your health outcomes in many different areas. Going to the gym every day is fantastic, but if you can’t do that, taking a brisk walk around the block is enough to provide some stress relief.
- Eat healthy. Similarly, you should strive to eat healthy, nutritious meals. It’s tempting to resort to junk food, especially if you’re feeling down or if you’re running low on time. But spending a bit of extra time and energy on preparing a fresh, nutritive meal is going to make you feel much better in the long term.
- Meet new people. You don’t have to start dating right away, but you should start meeting new people. You’re starting a new chapter of your life, and you’re going to need a new support system in order to help you establish it. Venture out of the house and attend local meetups. Get together with other people who share your hobbies. Talk to your neighbors or reach out to old friends. Socializing is indispensable for relieving stress after divorce.
- Talk to friends and family members. Speaking of socializing, consider talking to your closest friends and family members. Chances are, they’ll want to hear about how you’re doing and will be more than happy to support you in any way you need.
- Practice meditation. Meditation is great for relieving stress, and it’s relatively easy to practice. It’s also a great way to train yourself to live in the present moment. There are many different meditation practices to consider, but mindfulness is one of the easiest and most common.
- Distract yourself. Finally, find ways to distract yourself. It’s good and important to consider and process your thoughts regarding your relationship and your divorce – but it’s bad to ruminate. If you catch yourself ruminating, jump into a new activity or change your scenery.
Active steps toward moving ahead
Listed below are a number of practical steps you can take to aid the natural healing process. All steps can help you gain a sense of movement and progress in a process that often seems to take longer than it should. All of these topics are discussed in greater depth with more recommendations and stories from those who have made the recovery process real and workable in their own lives.
Do be aware that not all of these steps may be right for you now, depending on where you are in the process, and that you should not push yourself to take a particular step before the time feels right. But if you put these ideas into effect when they feel natural, they can be tremendously empowering.
- Move from an emotional to a rational state of mind in your behavior. Decide to think, then act, rather than feel and then react. This proactive, rather than reactive, approach can be applied to all areas of your life: interacting with others, spending money, choosing a new home or job.
- Answer the questions that keep plaguing you. Do the necessary “Monday morning quarterbacking” about your marriage and divorce—including a look at why the relationship ended, and especially, what were the specific benefits you gained from the ending. There is always a positive side, ranging from “I escaped a brutal tyrant and saved my life” to “With all the stress I finally lost that pesky fifteen pounds.”
- Take stock of the changes and losses you face. Then come up with a step-by-step plan to cope with them. Give that local divorce support group a try. Make appointments with career counselors, college advisors, and financial planners, and learn about the changes you need to make, then set them in motion.
- Recognize that anger is a core emotion of divorce, and find a healthy way to release the clean, honest, natural anger before it morphs into something misdirected and pathological. Shriek or sob along with your favorite “crying in my beer” music; kick the daylights out of a football; split wood; or write an enraged letter, then tear it into a million pieces.
- Uncover the “hangover” spots. Step back and take a look at what you’re doing to mask anger that needs to be released, or other negative emotions you need to face and work through. Once you recognize what you’re fighting, you can deal with and eradicate it. Some common things to watch for are persistent sensations of feeling victimized, desperate sexual behavior, constantly saying nasty things about your ex to anyone who will listen, being unpleasant to others, workaholism, and using a new relationship with someone you don’t really care about as a shield against pain. If you’re plagued with emotions or behaviors you can’t seem to work through on your own, seek professional help now. Find out about counseling or therapy, support groups in your community, or other available mental health resources.
- Decide to take control over your life. If you have been drifting along with the flow, now is the time to grab the rudder, hoist the sail, and take charge of navigating a new course for yourself. Think about the changes you would like to make and the steps you would need to take to set those changes in motion. Do you want to finish your degree, make a career change and move to another part of the country? Consider your dreams and goals.
- Move from victim to victor. Embracing blame, guilt, or a sensation of failure distracts you from building a new life. Decide now to take care of the lingering baggage of the past so that you will be free to move into the future. If you don’t, you’ll simply drag your unresolved burdens around with you, like Marley’s ghost in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Remind yourself that living well truly is the best revenge.
- Determine that the time has come to cross the abyss. It is both terrifying and exhilarating to face the fact that the life you led and the role you filled before no longer exist. Embrace the excitement of realizing that you are a new person. Unearth any false hopes and illusions you may be hanging onto, such as the belief that things haven’t changed that much or will be the way they were before. Accept that you are in a new place, take a deep breath, and step onto the bridge to the future, however rickety it may seem.
- As you step out onto that bridge, find your sense of balance. John Gray writes about the two hands of healing. On the one hand, we give ourselves permission to feel what we feel; while on the other hand, we adopt a no victim attitude. For example, while we do feel the pain caused by the breakup of the relationship, we also recognize it is in the past. This approach is not difficult, but it requires a deliberate intention. Likewise, we need to find a balance between exploring our worries and fears and being grateful for our blessings.
- Make some decisions. A solid series of rational choices imparts power, eliminates confusion, and brings a satisfying sense of progress. These need not be earth shattering changes, and tiny steps toward a major goal usually work best. The key is to start. Set realistic goals and start moving toward them, inch by inch. Let your accomplishments along the way bolster your sense of self-worth. Take risks and make mistakes. Embrace those mistakes and learn from them.
- Turn negative attitudes into positive ones. Positive attitudes create positive behaviors. Check the vocabulary that plays in your head. Words do make a difference. Replace words like “trauma” and “failure” and “devastating” with realistic, but encouraging affirmations that reflect how you would rather view this stage in your life words such as “challenge” and “transition” and “new direction.” Managing this “mind chatter,” as Anne Walther calls it, can make an immense difference. A journal can help you keep track of this editing process.
- Create a new vision of yourself. Begin to shore up your self-esteem by taking better care of yourself and rewarding yourself. Plan meals you will enjoy, try a new form of physical activity that interests you, make time to do things you love to do. Remember that you are human, and forgive yourself your foibles. Treat yourself to a little “retail therapy” get a few new pieces of clothing that make you feel great. Go through your wardrobe and get rid of clothing that no longer fits your body or your self-image
- On the same note, refurbish your environment. Carefully choose the things with which you surround yourself. Keep things that validate your sense of self-worth and the person you are today. Savor the fact that you are now free to decorate your home according to your own tastes and preferences (and those of your children, if you have them). Begin some small redecorating projects.
- While you’re refurbishing, review your circle of friends and companions. Spend time with those who are accepting and supporting, who inspire you to take chances and encourage you to move ahead. If there are people in your life who bring you down, people who seem to enjoy your misfortune, people you’ve kept in your life only because you were lonely or felt obligated, let them go. If “friends” urge you to “get even” or to continue battling with your ex when you are ready to rebuild a civil relationship, give them firm orders to cut it out, and if they don’t, cut them out of your life.
- Connect with a source of spiritual strength. Whether your preferred form of spiritual guidance is found in a traditional church, solitary religious reflection, connection with a friendly universe, or whatever resonates for you, this can bring tremendous solace. Those whose world is in upheaval need to believe in something greater than themselves. The sense of a grace existing somewhere outside you can help restore your sense of trust.
- Forgive yourself and forgive your spouse. Recognize those things that were positive in the relationship. Practice generosity and kindness in all your dealings with others. Reclaim your power and use it benevolently. This may take time and repeated effort, but the rewards are well worth all the teeth grinding and tongue biting. Dealing with your ex can be a marvelous training ground for learning to equalize power issues and establish workable business relationships with adversaries. If nothing else, remember the old saying, “Love your enemies it drives them nuts!” Keep your sense of humor, including black humor, well honed.
There’s no way to eliminate stress entirely from your life. In fact, you wouldn’t want to even if you could. Stress is a natural part of living and it does serve some benefits, as long as it’s not overwhelming and managed properly.
Proactively following these aforementioned stress mitigation strategies should be all you need to get on the right path.