Besides becoming a widow, divorce is the most painful experience we can go through with our spouse. The stress endured from a divorce can feel overpowering. The limbic system, which is the emotional center of our brain, can feel overwhelmed by this stress, transforming it into anxiety and depression. Chronic and acute stress takes its toll on our physical health. A recent study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior found that those who are widowed or divorced experience 20% more serious chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease than their married counterparts. Psychological Science recently published another study that showed that as one approaches divorce one’s happiness level plummets. But if this person puts in the time and the energy to mitigate the emotional toll of divorce they can bounce back in time. So here are some ways to conquer post-divorce depression, helping yourself to recover from divorce, cope and come out the other side happy and well-adjusted. The first thing you should do is distract yourself. A hobby like knitting or crocheting, making things or taking up a physical activity such as yoga, jogging, swimming, a martial arts class or biking, or taking part in the arts like painting, writing or practicing a musical instrument can help take your mind off the divorce. Some people like to lose themselves in a great novel. Others begin taking up the hobbies they didn’t or couldn’t do when they were married.
Don’t take part in the same kind of routine during the divorce you had during your marriage. Switch things up. Start your own daily rituals and routines that help center you and focus on yourself. Listening to music that you like and that soothes you, but your ex hated, can help, as can yoga, meditation, and more. Find ways to reclaim your day and make it your own, and do the same with other aspects of your life. Roberta Temes, a noted psychotherapist and author who wrote about overcoming grief and divorce, wrote about the advantages planning had on distracting one from one’s pain. Plan out everything, your day, your week, your month even your year. Plan what you will have for breakfast and when you will pencil in time to learn the guitar. Plan everything and it will make you feel more positive and more in control of your life, and will help distract you. One way to gain a new handle on your life is to organize and clean out everything. Go through the closets and drawers. Get all of your ex-spouse’s stuff together and make plans for them to pick it up. If they don’t want these items there is always charitable organizations that will take them. Don’t put your ex-spouses stuff out in the garbage or on the curb without their notice. If you want to reduce your stress, set a tone of distant professionalism. If you don’t act like this it will induce a response or play itself out in the divorce and end up causing you more pain and stress. Instead, act maturely and your spouse will hopefully respond in kind.
Often people fight hard for what they think is right or what they deserve in a divorce settlement. But all of that fighting can also take its toll on you emotionally. It’s better to be at peace and happy than right. So know how to pick your battles. Whether or not your ex-spouse is responsible for a laundry list of transgressions, focusing on them and making yourself bitter only hurts you, not them. They only have so much access to you now, whereas you can ruminate on this hatred twenty-four hours a day. Instead, learn to fight for what’s important, to compromise, to negotiate. Of course, stick to your guns when it is something important to you. But learn to let go. Would you rather a divorce that is absolutely fair, one where you use the process to get your revenge, or do you want a divorce that is as painless as possible? Make sure to take your health, including your mental health, into consideration before you decide. Be sure to reach out to family and friends at this juncture. Reach out when you need people to help or just to talk. Let the grieving process go by naturally and focus on what you need to make yourself better and happy again. For more advice, read Releasing a Person: Fast Recovery from Heartbreak, a Breakup or Divorce by Kathryn Alice.