Health Problems after the Break Up
From Talking to Friends to Dealing with Stress, Three Tips to Help through Divorce
Somewhere in the process of ending your marriage, you may find you can barely summon the energy to leave the house, feed the children, or, some days, even get dressed.
You’re not going crazy. Nothing but the death of a spouse can compare to divorce and all its machinations as a source of pervasive stress in your life, say many experts. The anger, grief, and numbness that accompany the end of a marriage are very real. You are, after all, grieving the death of a marriage. Losing a spouse is losing years of history, with all the shared intimacies, all the hopes and dreams for the future those years represent.
So, yeah, you really are down. And everywhere you’ll see tips for dealing with that: Eat right! Join a gym! Have a dinner party! Which, when you’re flattened by depression, at home with the whiny kids, or alone in your new apartment, may just make you want to grab junk food and go back to bed. But don’t. The worst really will pass, and in the meantime, one of the most important things you can do is treat yourself well.
In her 30-year study of divorce, chronicled in the book, “For Better or Worse, Divorce Reconsidered,” E. Mavis Hetherington found that visits to the doctor in the first year after divorce tripled for women, and doubled for men. Stress weakens the immune system, producing more colds, headaches, stomach problems, sleep disorders, and even pneumonia and hepatitis, she found. So, where do you start?
(A note to readers: Although it’s natural to feel depressed, if you find that it doesn’t improve, if for weeks you have problems sleeping or eating, have lost interest in everything you care about, feel hopeless, or have thoughts about harming yourself, seek professional help as soon as you can. These are symptoms of serious depression, and a doctor or therapist can help. You don’t have to deal with it alone.)
1. RELY ON YOUR FRIENDS
Don’t worry about being a burden. This is no time to isolate yourself. Do call friends if you need a shoulder to lean on, or just someone to talk to. You will find your close friends are happy to offer support, but some may not want to intrude.If things were reversed, you’d want to help if you could; chances are, your friends do too. (Just try not to call the same one every day!) Some of the friends you had as a couple may, unfortunately, end up being either his friends, or hers. Although it’s perfectly normal to feel anger toward your partner during the separation process, it is easier for friends to be supportive if that anger is not all they hear from you.It may be best to find a professional therapist to help you deal with your most negative feelings, and lean on your friends for other things.If you are in a new city, or have lost touch with close friends, you still don’t have to go it alone. There are many support groups, in the community or online, to help those going through divorce. Contact your church if you are involved in one, or your community’s social services division, to be referred to a group where you’ll feel comfortable.
2. CUT DOWN ON STRESS
Stress is inevitable during divorce. The trick is not to let it take over. Exercise really does help cut down stress and give a feeling of well-being you really need right now. You don’t have to join a gym or train for a race, unless those things appeal to you. A simple walk around the neighborhood, or 20 minutes out on your bicycle can have great results. If you’re taking care of the kids, take them along. If that’s not possible, enlist a friend or neighbor to watch them for half an hour. You should try to get a sitter, and some time to yourself, on a regular basis anyway. You deserve it. With your spouse no longer there to help out regularly, and the kids feeling more needy, stress is clearly a problem for the whole family. But the less overwhelmed you feel, the easier it will be to help the kids deal too.
3. LOOK ON THE POSITIVE SIDE
Of course it’s painful to find yourself suddenly alone. Gradually, though, you have to find a way to see the positive side of it, to find a way out of the misery. Any married person can think of things they won’t miss about their partner. There are probably several things you always wanted to try, or do, that your spouse just didn’t enjoy. Maybe there are places you disagreed about visiting. Now’s the time to try those things. New activities you enjoy will get you out of the house, among new people, and give you less time to dwell on the hardest parts of the separation. Maybe you’ve been out of the job market, and want or need to go back to work. Community colleges are a good source of job training for those who want to start a new career, or just update skills. You may not have had a chance to think about the person you want to become when you were a couple, especially as the relationship started to deteriorate. Now you can. Take the time to think about your new life in as positive a light as possible, and decide what you want, as a single person. That might be something far different from what you considered possible as part of a couple. That’s okay. What’s important is that you can decide what happens next in your life.