Divorce can be an emotionally traumatic and difficult time. The relationship and life structure you have established during the course of your marriage has come to an end. It can be difficult to know what the next steps are and how to get back that feeling of “normal.” But there are things you can do.
Divorce Like a Death
According to Natalie Greggs, a family law attorney in Allen, Texas, divorce is like a death. It’s comparable to a physical loss in the way you are affected by stress and grief. It’s also a 1-2 punch, hitting you both physically and emotionally.
Gregg tells her clients, ‘Imagine how you’re going to react to this death, and how it’s going to impact every part of your body – your mind, your stomach, even your ability to walk.” It’s not easy to know how to move on from this. But there is something you can try to focus us.
According to Gregg, “Self-care is the number one thing that gets you through the day.” Though she is a family law attorney, and not a therapist, she advises clients that self-care is the best method to get them through this rough time.
But it’s not only self-care that will get you through the day during your divorce, it’s also crucial that you practice self-care for your future well-being. Numerous studies have shown us that stress can be the cause of long-term health problems. Research also suggests that divorced individuals face a heightened risk for certain long-term chronic health problems. This is made even scarier by the fact that experts say that the divorce rate is 40 to 50 percent of all marriages.
Staying Sane Through Divorce
So what should you do if you are going through a divorce? Here are some tips to practice self-care.
Exercise.“If you’re not on a regular exercise routine, get on one,” Greggs says. “You don’t have to belong to a gym. You don’t have to do anything fancy. Just take a walk every day.”
Exercise is good for anyone, even people not going through a divorce. But it can be especially helpful for those going through traumatic times because exercise helps your body produce endorphins, which are feel-good brain chemicals. According to Lindsay Hunt, a certified integrative nutrition coach and personal trainer, exercise also increases self-confidence, can help improve sleep and reduces symptoms of anxiety, stress and depression. And exercise can be any form of physical movement, including: dancing, walking, yoga, swimming.
Find something you enjoy doing and you’ll be more likely to repeat it regularly and often.
You might consider finding a friend or workout buddy who can pull you off the couch and hold you accountable.
Change Up Your Diet. Emotional times can often cause people to gain or lose weight. Divorce can magnetize these ups and downs, causing them to veer out of control. You can completely restrict meals, or binge on unhealthy foods.
“I had a slender client who, over the course of a year, proceeded to lose probably 50 pounds,” Greggs recalls. “By the end of her case, she was skeletal.” It can also go the other way, a licensed marriage and family therapist, Mikki Meyer, had a client who gained close to 100 pounds.
Hunt advises being proactive and pre-emptive when it comes to diet and divorce. Diet affects your mood, which is important to remember during this time. “Eating the right foods may ease depression and calm anxiety” during a divorce, says Hunt. She also recommends eating three square meals a day that combine protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Having a variety of these items on your plate will keep your blood sugar stable, and help prevent dips that lead to cravings. Also, studies have shown that a diet high in antioxidants might ward off depression. That means fill your plate with fruits and veggies.
Try to avoid a lot of sugar, artificial ingredients, salty foods, excessive caffeine intake, and alcohol. Studies have shown that dehydration can increase cortisol (stress hormones) levels, so Hunt also recommends that people drink a lot of water.
Additional Healthy Brain Foods
Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fatty wild fish and nuts, have been shown to support brain function and elevate mood. Steel-cut oatmeal provides serotonin-boosting complex carbohydrates, and can also be a comfort food.
If you’re having trouble eating, consider drinking your nutrition. Bone broth can be made into a soup that is full of minerals, like magnesium, that the body can easily absorb and promotes healthy digestion if you have an upset stomach.
Protein shakes or green vegetable juices are another way to get some nutrition in if you’re having trouble eating. You might also want to consider small bites to help with your protein and healthy fat intake: eggs, avocados, and nuts will help ensure you don’t drop too many pounds.
“It is important to feed your body even if you are not hungry, as our immune systems become extremely vulnerable and weak during times of sadness and stress,” Hunt says. “Finding foods that are comforting and easy to get down is important for your health.”
Try to Maintain a Normal Schedule. Though it might seem hard to get back to a normal schedule, it’s important that you try to. “Consistency is important” for your emotional health, Greggs says. “Show up to work on time. Have your routine. Make [yourself] and your children go to bed when you usually go to bed. Don’t act like the divorce is ending your life.”
Sunshine. Your body needs vitamin D for its natural processes. Sunlight also boosts the brains levels of serotonin. “Aim for sunlight every day,” Hunt advises.
Be Preventative with Your Health. Researchers are taking a closer look at the long-term effects of divorce. Mark Hayward, a sociology professor and director of the Population Research Center at the University of Texas—Austin who researches these long-term health impacts has found the stress of divorce can accelerate the biological processes that lead to cardiovascular disease. According to him, divorced, middle-aged women are more likely to develop heart disease than non-divorced, middle-aged married women.
Sociologists at the University of Chicago recently did a study whose results showed divorced or widowed individuals are 20% more likely than married people to have chronic health conditions including: heart diseases, diabetes, or cancer.
Hayward advises that you do preventative work that ensures your long-term health isn’t harmed. This means seeking out preventive health education and medical care, and proactively engaging in heart-healthy habits.
Support Network. Friendships can be hard to maintain after a divorce. “When people split up, they often lose their friendship bases,” Meyer says. “Their friends usually pick one or the other; it’s too difficult to have [both couple members] in their lives.” This common “division of friends” can worsen depression and anxiety and cause social isolation.
If your old social networks are no longer available to you, Meyer advises finding new ones. There are tons of options available: support groups; Meetup.com outings; maybe a charity you’ve always wanted to become involved with. Just make sure you steer clear of social networks that might mean your ex-spouse will show up.
“I don’t care if it’s a knitting class,” Meyer says. “As long as it’s yours.”
Relax. We know stress is not good for us. Divorce-induced stress can cause any number of physical maladies. Gregg says she’s seen it all with her clients: gastrointestinal issues, hair loss, high blood pressure, crashing immune systems and more.
There are ways to combat this. Gregg advises to keep stress at bay by getting regular massages or joining a yoga group. “It helps them get grounded. They can breathe, calm themselves down and feel their body again,” she says.
If you can afford these activities, there are a number of low-cost or free options. Join a community center that offers low-cost yoga classes and programs. Ask for gift certificates to a massage therapist for birthdays and Christmas presents.
Mindfulness. The positive effects of mindfulness are at the forefront of psychological research right now. This Eastern philosophy teaches people to be continuously in the moment and aware of the present rather than worrying about the past or future. Greggs tries to integrate lessons about mindfulness in her client sessions through simple suggestions, like, “Enjoy your children when you’re with them. Or go outside in the morning, and just look at the sun rising. It’s simple things like this that keep you grounded in reality – not catastrophic thinking.”
Consider the Help of a Therapist or Mental Health Professional. If you are already genetically predisposed to clinical depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions, you might want to think about seeing a psychiatrist or psychologist. If you don’t feel open to that, consider seeing a general medical practitioner for an overall wellness checkup that includes a depression screening.
Hold the Brakes on Another Relationship. Consider the single life for a while. It’s not uncommon for Meyer to see her clients engage in impulsive behavior during their divorces. “This can lead them in a direction that is self-destructive,” she says. “They get involved in bad relationships and repeat old patterns. They’re trying to repair something from their past with this new person. And it’s not something they’re conscious of [at the time].”
Both Gregg and Meyer advise their divorcees to stay single for a little bit while concentrating on themselves.
“My clients sometimes start crying, and they say, ‘I’m never going to find anyone again,” Greggs says. “And sometimes I’ll just say, ‘You don’t need anybody. You just need you to be happy.’”
Working with a Divorce Attorney
Divorce can be a difficult and emotional process. A divorce attorney will be able to help you through various aspects, including decisions on children, determining spousal support, and dividing marital property.