Every divorce is different, but they all come with a sense of grief. Breaking up a marriage is messy and painful, even when you’ve tried your hardest to make it work and are sure it’s the right thing to do. It’s a significant loss that leaves you uncertain about what’s next.
The deterioration of marriage and the divorce process brings an onslaught of emotions all over the spectrum. You may cycle through any or all at different times—sorrow, anger, guilt, shame, blame, resentment, fear, exhaustion, frustration, confusion, overwhelm, and more.
It’s common to experience genuine mental health challenges during and after your divorce.
Writing for Psychology Today, clinical psychologist, author, and divorce specialist, Ann Gold Buscho, Ph.D., explains the toll divorce takes on mental health. “Most people suffer mental health symptoms during and after a divorce, for a year or two. Typically, it takes that long to adjust to your new life after the divorce is over. But if you are experiencing intense anxiety or depression or other mental health symptoms, or still dealing with divorce-related emotions a couple of years after the divorce is over, you need to seek support and help.”
Here are ten tips for coping with the stress, anxiety, and sadness of a divorce and supporting your mental health:
- Take it easy. You may feel like you should power through, but you must give yourself some breathing room. It takes time to process and adjust to this huge life change. Lower your expectations a bit—you won’t function at your highest right away, and that’s ok. It’s hard to think clearly and logically right now—hold off on any big decisions for a while.
- Get Emotional. You may be on a roller coaster ride of intense and conflicting emotions. Permit yourself to feel, cry, and identify and acknowledge your feelings. Know that it will get better with time.
- Reflect. You can’t change the past, but learning from it can help shape your future. Own your responsibility for what happened; how can you grow and evolve? Is there anything you’re holding onto that you need to let go of? Although the marriage did not survive, what can you be grateful for from your partnership? Forgive yourself; release guilt and remorse.
- Treat yourself well. Taking care of yourself is crucial right now. Eat right, exercise, find ways to relax, and do things you enjoy. Create healthy routines and commit to them – starting small is ok.
- Don’t go it alone. You might not feel like socializing, but isolation can make you feel worse; it raises your stress levels and makes it difficult to focus. Lean on family and close friends. Put fun plans on your calendar. Talk to someone you trust about your feelings. Find a local divorce support group. Connecting with others who are going through the same thing can help you feel less alone. Seek professional help from a mental health provider or divorce counselor if you experience severe depression or anxiety or your overwhelming feelings do not begin to ease with time.
- Do more of what you love. Dive into your hobbies, or pick up something new. Did you always want to learn to play the piano? Take lessons. Haven’t played baseball since high school? Join a local league. Ballroom dancing, pottery, painting, gardening, yoga, travel… find something that lights you up. Don’t forget to include something active—exercise can help you feel healthy, strong, and confident; it reduces stress and releases endorphins, improving your mood.
- Do unto others. Research shows that volunteering to help others improves your own physical and mental health. It reduces stress, increases positive feelings, and gives you a sense of purpose and perspective.
- Choose your battles. Do your best to avoid conflict with your ex, which may be difficult now (especially if you’re navigating co-parenting). Refrain from getting into arguments and power struggles. Take a step back if things escalate, even if the other person is picking a fight. Find a mode of communication that helps diffuse tension.
- Simplify the legal process. Your attorneys can help you work together to sort through property division, custody/visitation, and spousal/child support. When possible, collaboration saves time and money and minimizes stress for the whole family. If both parties can stay level-headed, cooperative, and fair, it is nearly always in your best interest to stay out of court and negotiate a Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA).
- Choose the right lawyer. The experienced and caring family law experts at SFLG understand how hard divorce is on your mental health. Our firm is built on trust and open communication. We help you navigate the complex legal aspects of your dissolution as smoothly as possible so you can focus on healing and getting on with your life.
By Debra Schoenberg