Many people experience heightened stress as a result of their divorce. During times of high stress, taking care of yourself is, therefore, paramount. Most obviously, stress can affect your physical and emotional health negatively. In addition, if you are under significant stress and do not take care of yourself, you are more likely to make rash or emotional decisions, behaving reactively instead of thinking practically about what is best for you, your family, your case, and your future.
Therefore, it is critical during a divorce, especially a high-conflict divorce, to take affirmative steps to sustain and nurture your mental health and wellbeing. Fortunately, each one of these life “fixes” is within your reach, and with some attention, you can really make a difference in how you feel physically, mentally, and emotionally. Here are a few areas to focus on.
Getting more sleep and quality sleep at that is one of the most important steps you can take to help your physical and mental health. Sleep helps you to concentrate on important tasks during the day, supports your immune system, and helps you to regulate your emotions, along with many other benefits. During a divorce, these benefits are especially important, both for your socioemotional wellbeing and for managing your case with all of its moving parts.
Divorce tends to have a variety of implications for sleep. For example, separated and divorced people are more likely to be short sleepers, meaning that they get less than 6.5 hours of sleep each night, which is less than most adults should be getting. Researchers suggest that this might be because of mourning or because of the loss of a spouse, which may be physiologically disruptive to sleep patterns. Other researchers have found that marital separation before a divorce is granted can lighten sleep, meaning that your sleep is more easily disrupted and of worse quality. If these problems continue in the aftermath of your divorce, sleep problems can have adverse effects on blood pressure as well.
To experience better sleep during your divorce, experts recommend making daily adjustments that promote a healthy sleep schedule or finding new ways to relax at bedtime. To make your sleep schedule healthier, experts suggest setting a fixed wake-up time and bedtime. In addition, they suggest giving yourself time before bed to get ready for sleep, so you are more at ease.
Diet is another area of your life that can have a large impact on and be impacted by your divorce. For some people, stressful situations lead them to overeat or “eat their feelings.” Others do not eat enough. Both of these are poor coping mechanisms. Emotional eating can lead to weight gain, which can have negative effects on self-esteem, as well as potential long-term health impacts such as developing depression.
Furthermore, emotional eating is not shown to have positive long-term effects on mood. Eating may positively affect mood in the immediate aftermath. However, positive effects tend to be short-lived and, instead, result in negative emotions, such as guilt, afterward.
Undereating, on the other hand, can lead to weight loss. But you are unlikely to get the nutrients you need to sustain your physical and mental health. Likewise, your diet can positively or negatively impact your mood. Eating enough protein and planning simple, healthy meals ahead of time can help you to regulate your eating habits so you do not over or undereat and can lead to positive impacts on your mood.
If you find yourself overeating, consider planning healthy meals ahead of time or try meal prepping. This can not only help you to reduce stress about meals during the week, but it can also make it easier to make and eat healthy portions and foods.
If you find yourself undereating, consider protein shakes and simple meals to make them convenient and easy to eat even if you are not hungry. You could also take multivitamins to assist you in getting all of the nutrients you need. Physically nurturing your body can help you to tackle your divorce and reduce the potential long-term impacts of a poor diet as a result of divorce stress.
Exercise is another area that is important to consider during your divorce. Exercise can promote your physical and mental wellbeing, but many people tend not to exercise during times of stress. Researchers found that when people reported increased anticipated stress, there was a significant decrease in the odds of them exercising. During a divorce, you might be less likely to want to exercise; however, it is important that you do. Exercise can help you to combat anxiety, depression, and other emotional problems, which is crucial when you are going through a divorce.
Researchers suggest that you should exercise almost every day, either 30 to 40 minutes of moderate exercise or 15 to 20 minutes of vigorous exercise. Even just getting out on a walk for half an hour can help to reduce stress and increase your physical wellbeing.
Experts further suggest adding your exercise time to your calendar or adding miniature workouts into your daily routine. This can be as simple as getting up and walking around for five minutes every hour during the workday or scheduling time to go for a bike ride after work. Whatever works for you and gets you moving is good and can help you to keep both your body and brain healthy during your divorce.
During a divorce, negative feelings often prevent total mindfulness. Divorcés report more symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression, and social isolation and have lower levels of psychological wellbeing than the general population. When there are high levels of divorce conflict, these negative impacts are further heightened. As such, taking time to cultivate mindfulness and take care of your mental wellbeing is incredibly important to combat these effects.
Experts suggest meditation as a tactic for calming down and helping to reorient your mind. There are hundreds of meditation guides online to help you get started. If meditation is not for you, consider writing down your feelings and thoughts; this can have a similar calming effect and clear your mind of thoughts that are bothering you during the day.
Taking a break or mental health day can also be helpful. Sometimes you just need a day to reset, especially during a divorce. Taking a mental health day can help you come back to your case with a clearer head and can help you better manage your emotions.
All of the factors above are ultimately related to the stress that you experience during a divorce. From poor sleep to reduced mindfulness, pervasive stress can be a significant hindrance to your mental wellbeing and, accordingly, your case. Taking care of yourself through the steps above can help to reduce stress, but sometimes even those tips cannot address all of the stress that comes with a divorce, particularly if the circumstances surrounding your divorce are associated with anxiety or trauma.
Thankfully, there are other things that you can do to combat divorce-related stress. Connecting with family and friends can be a great way to deal with stress. When people go through a divorce, they are more likely to isolate themselves, which can negatively impact their health and relationships. Social interaction, especially with close family and friends, can help you to form better habits and to promote your mental health. This can be especially helpful during a divorce when your life might be changing in dramatic ways. Loved ones can be a shoulder to cry on or a person to talk to, which can also be beneficial. Spending time with a pet can have similar effects, though social interaction is still crucial.
In addition, consider consulting a therapist or other mental health professional. Some therapists specialize in divorce, which might be an asset for you depending on your mental health needs. Talking to a therapist can help you to process complicated feelings about your marriage and divorce proceedings in a healthy way. Doing so can protect your mental health. Your therapist can also provide you with tactics for how to handle your divorce, in a logistical sense, and for your own wellbeing. Even if you feel that you are managing your stress well, talking to a therapist can be a helpful and practical tool for helping you process your divorce and feelings.
A final word …
It is natural to experience stress during a divorce, even the most amicable of divorces. So be sure not to give yourself even more stress by worrying about how you are reacting to yours. The good news is that by paying closer attention to your habits, particularly your sleep schedule, diet, exercise routine, and how you communicate your feelings and with whom, you can make incremental changes according to your day-to-day routine and, as a result, your life.
At Farias Family Law, our empathetic and compassionate team of Massachusetts family law attorneys understand how difficult going through a divorce can be and are here to support you during this difficult time. Call our Fall River or Easton offices today.