How to make divorce less stressful and remain healthier

How to prevent serious mental illness during a divorce

1st December 2016

Stressful Life Events

According to the Holmes & Rahe stress scale, based on stress caused by significant life events, divorce is second only to the death of a spouse as the most stressful life event. Marital separation is third in this league table. Clearly some divorces are more stressful than others especially when children are involved. The degree of stress experienced will also depend on the mental and emotional resilience of the person involved.

Stress

Stress in itself is part of life and only really becomes a problem when we can’t cope with it or we experience it over a prolonged period of time. Stress is like electricity, too much and we ‘blow a fuse’, too little and we do not ‘switch on’ and become motivated to deal with whatever life throws at us.

The problem with marital separation and divorce is that the existing stressors in life don’t go away whilst you are having to deal with all the challenges of such a life changing event! You still have to go to work, take the children to school, complete your domestic chores and possibly care for elderly relatives etc.

Your emotional needs

All human beings have a set of emotional needs (‘Human Givens’) such as the need for security, attention, autonomy and control, meaning & purpose, emotional connection, competency, status and friendship etc. When some of these emotional needs are not being met, life becomes difficult and you might develop unhealthy ways of coping to fill the void. The most common being drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, comfort eating and recreational drugs.

Physical & Mental effects of separation

The long-term effects of prolonged stress and unhealthy coping strategies could be catastrophic and lead to physical health problems like high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease, diabetes and Irritable bowel syndrome etc.

The insecurity and negative emotions experienced before, during and after separation from a loved one can also lead to mental health issues like anxiety and/or depression. These mental health problems may not be obvious during the divorce process as you utilise your coping skills and may not surface until sometime later on when the ‘dust’ has settled.

How to cope with the mental & emotional pressures

So what can you do to avoid these potential health problems if you are experiencing separation? Well, prevention is better than cure so here are my top 7 tips for coping with marital separation and divorce.

Diet – Time may well be at a premium and it may be tempting to skip meals and/or rely on fast food but this is a time when you need energy to cope with whatever life throws at you. Also, if you are depressed you may not have an appetite. Eat little and often to ensure a constant supply of energy and avoid ‘blood sugar’ slumps by eating healthy nutritious foods (preferably protein and slow releasing carbohydrate foods). Avoid ‘comfort eating’ and eating lots of sugary foods.

Interests – If you have interests, hobbies or pastimes that you do for fun it may be tempting to side-line them to save time. Fun and friendship are important emotional needs so make sure that you make time for aspects of life that give you pleasure especially if it involves interacting with other human beings.

Victim – Avoid the temptation to feel like a victim. Whatever the reasons for the ‘break-up,’ apportioning blame to yourself or others or feeling bitterness towards your ‘ex’ will not help you in anyway.

“Holding on to bitterness is like taking poison yourself and expecting your enemy to die from it”

Organise – You will only have the same amount of time available to you as you had before so you need to manage your time effectively by planning and prioritising your activities and by managing and delegating tasks to others which may involve colleagues at work or asking your children to help with some of the domestic chores. Asking for help and support is a sign of strength not weakness.

Relax – When computers and other technological devices stop working we are told to turn them off and then on again and miraculously they start working again. It’s called ‘re-booting’. How do you ‘re-boot’? Take regular breaks throughout the day to clear and calm the mind. Avoid nicotine and caffeine fuelled breaks because they will stimulate you instead of relax you. Meditation, mindfulness, self-hypnosis, visualisation and Yoga are just some examples of effective relaxation for mind and body.

Communicate – Don’t assume that colleagues, friends and family will understand and know what you are going through and how to help you. Burying your head in the sand or drinking excessive amounts of alcohol may provide temporary relief but won’t provide you with a solution to your problems! Alcohol is a depressant. Talk to the people who are important in your life (which may include your boss at work) and explain to them how best they can help you and if you feel uncomfortable talking to friends and family seek professional help.

Exercise – is not just for losing weight and it doesn’t mean having to attend a gymnasium! Being physically active has many benefits for your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing and if your job is a sedentary one then you do need to make time to walk, swim, cycle, run or dance perhaps. Preferably do more of whatever it is that you enjoy on a daily basis and even better if the activity is outdoors in the fresh air and/or with other people.

Professional help

If you are suffering from the symptoms of depression, have an addiction or have an anxiety disorder such as panic attacks, phobias, general anxiety disorder (GAD) or need help with managing stress please submit your question in the box below or register for a complimentary initial assessment with Andrew Spence, Life Coach & Hypnotherapist.

Professional help for Divorce

Divorce doesn’t have to be a battleground and adversarial, there is an alternative. Suzy Miller of the Alternative Divorce Directory explains.


Resources

Alternative Divorce Directory

Holmes & Rahe stress scale for life events

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