Every divorce, even the most amicable ones, creates stress. In fact, the “Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory,” supported by the American Institute of Stress, ranks divorce as the second most stressful event that can happen to a person, second only to the death of a spouse, (take the inventory test yourself at www.stress.org.) Even if you don’t feel the stress immediately, divorce involves a grieving process and the effects may take time to fully set in. Some people begin to grieve immediately; some people have a delayed reaction and do not exhibit feelings of sadness, anger, confusion or loss right away. Wherever you are in the process, try not to over-analyze your feelings. Similarly, wherever your spouse is in their grieving or coping process, try not to judge their feelings of grief at the dissolution of your marriage by their outward display of sadness. Do not assume that because you seem to feel more or less stress or sadness than your spouse does, that they are either experiencing more or less grief or stress than you. Grief and stress are complex things and how they manifest is unique to each individual (for more about the Kubler-Ross stages of grief, click here.)
You may find that even though you feel fairly calm during the divorce process, months later, you begin feeling regret, resentment, anger, anxiety or other grief-like feelings. You may find unexpected things trigger stress or grief. You may not even know that you are experiencing feelings of stress. Stress can manifest itself as irritability, fatigue, insomnia, absent-mindedness, “mood swings” or in other unexpected ways. Conversely, you may find that although you experienced significant stress during the divorce process, once the dust settled, things improved dramatically and you were far more capable than you gave yourself credit for. You cannot know the future, but you can take care of yourself every day.
How Do You Cope with Divorce Stress?
Here are some ways to cope with stress, eliminate stress, relax and more:
- Exercise, Exercise, Exercise: Sure, it’s a cliché and we know you’ve been told this before, but it bears repeating! Any form of exercise will release endorphins and burn off stressful energy. Everyone is busy and during a divorce you will be especially busy, but if you allow anxiety or stress to become an excuse, it will serve as a detriment during this time. If you are already a regular exerciser – don’t stop! If you are not, start finding ways to incorporate small amounts of activity into your daily routine. Take a short walk at lunch, take the stairs instead of the elevator, do a few extra laps around the mall, etc. You don’t need to become a fanatic to cope with stress; this isn’t the time to make drastic changes either, but if you reduce your physical activity it will increase stress. Maybe you’ve always wondered about Zumba or yoga. Now is the time to try new things. Don’t like traditional exercise? Modern songs are usually 2 – 3 minutes long. Get out your iPod (or a comparable device) and throw 5 songs in a playlist every day; 5 songs = 15 minutes. Dance to 5 songs a day and you’ll feel better in no time. Trust us, we’re professionals.
- Stay Centered and Be Present: No matter how much you may want to, you cannot change the past and worrying about all the things that happened is nothing more than that – worrying. Similarly, trying to micromanage future outcomes by constantly worrying about them usually only makes things worse. You can make your future healthy and stable by embracing each day and making that day as good as it can be. If you feel anxiety start to take over and you find yourself either dwelling in the past (rehashing fights in your head, re-living your marriage in your memory), or obsessing over the future (how will you manage financially? will the kids really be okay?), it’s time to get centered.
Practicing mediation will help, but you can center yourself and be present even if you aren’t experienced with meditation. Take a moment to stop, put your feet flat on the floor, take several deep breaths, and possibly close your eyes. One useful method is to tell yourself to, “Be where your hands are.” Your hands are always right in front of you. Your hands aren’t in the past, nor are they in the future; they are right where you are. Reminding yourself to be where your hands are reminds you that you’re here; you made it. Look up other tactics related to mindfulness and being present.
- Meditation: You’ve probably heard this suggested already (maybe more than once) as a way to cope with stress, and you may have dismissed it. Consciously working toward ten to fifteen minutes of mental stillness and deep breathing is excellent for you, but admittedly, it isn’t easy. Beginning a meditation routine usually feels silly in the early stages, but breathing exercises, mental clarity and the art of stillness are very important. Think of yourself as having two lives, one busy, physical life and another, just as busy, “thought life.” When your physical life becomes too hectic, you know when you need to slow down, prioritize and find balance. When our “thought life” is too messy and chaotic, we also run serious risks and maintaining health perspective and clarity is just as important.
For the meditation novice there is a wealth of guided meditation available. Internet outlets such as YouTube offer hundreds of entertaining and extremely relaxing guided meditation recordings. Meditation exercises may ask you to concentrate on your breathing and then guide you through a meadow, a garden, to an enchanted waterfall or even ask you imagine yourself in a spa visit. The idea is for you to focus on something other than your racing thoughts for a fixed period of time. As you progress, you will be able to choose more abstract exercises and maybe eventually only need soothing music to spend ten or fifteen minutes on deep breathing and getting centered. For a very nominal membership fee,www.meditainment.com offers unlimited access to hundreds of guided meditation exercises; check out some free samples at their site!
- Therapy: The first thing you should do is set aside any stigmas or preconceived notions you may have attached to therapy. Attending therapy, for any reason, does not mean you are a “failure” or that you cannot handle things on your own or that you are “weak.” Despite all the conveniences of modern society, the reality is that it significantly thwarts our ability to effectively communicate with each other. Therapy, if nothing else, is a safe place where you will be taught to communicate your feelings
about divorce in a healthy way. You can ask any questions you may have about effective communication regarding co-parenting after divorce and discuss any feelings of sadness or depression you may be embarrassed about, in a non-judgmental setting. Poor communication and the inability to effectively communicate is the single biggest issue between couples and parents in divorce and grief is a proven consequence of divorce. This is an excellent time to establish a therapeutic relationship with a counselor you trust.
- Do Not Isolate: Many women who have close female friends or family members feel comfortable confiding personal information in them. It is entirely normal for your divorce to fill up your whole world, but that doesn’t mean you have to feel like the “divorce lady” every time you go out. This is another reason why therapy can be important; you should never bottle all your emotions up inside, but engaging socially as an individual is imperative. Go out and do things as an individual, connect with your friends and family to cope with stress. Do not avoid talking about your divorce, but try not to make it the central topic of your outings. Beginning to re-establish your identity will help you start to see the long-term rebuilding of your life as an individual.
- Who Are YOU?: Make a list of things that you love to do, ESPECIALLY things you don’t do any more that you used to love. They might be simple things such as listening to music while you get ready for work, or watching the news with coffee in the morning. Maybe you used to paint, or you were an amazing baker. Perhaps you won a prize in college for a short story you wrote, or people used to tell you that you were a talented photographer. It could be anything, really. Time, age, responsibilities and life in general have caused everyone to put something on the back burner. Now is the time to start doing those things again. Even if you can only fit in one small thing, choose a goal and accomplish it. You might choose something like reading one new book each month, or getting an herb garden planted this spring, or training for a 5k for charity this year. Whatever it is, reconnecting with these things will reconnect you with yourself and help you cope with stress.