Divorce is, without a doubt, one of the most challenging and traumatic events an individual can experience. As a result, your life can take on quite the transformation, dramatically affecting your habits, internal dialogue, how you live your life, your routines, finances, and basically every element. Therefore, if you are experiencing a divorce, it’s helpful to know the surprising ways divorce impacts your health and ways to cope. And thankfully, this article provides both. We’re here for you.
3 Surprising Ways Divorce Impacts Your Physical Health
1. It can increase cardiovascular conditions and more
The why: Unfortunately, the effects of divorce can be long-lasting and take years to recover. And these effects also include increasing your vulnerability to chronic health conditions. For example, one study found the risk of heart attacks increases by 24% in women following a divorce, and another discovered the risk of broken heart syndrome (it’s real) also dramatically increases. Additionally, divorce can also create changes to your weight, increasing your risk for diabetes, cancer, and other chronic conditions.
How to cope: To protect your heart and body against the aftermath of divorce, make heart-healthy foods, exercise regularly, and prioritize stress-reducing exercises like yoga, mindfulness, and progressive muscle relaxation. You can further practice a self-love exercise by placing one hand on your heart and the other on your belly and repeating, “I am safe” or “I give myself time to grieve” to regulate your stress.
2. It can weaken your immune system
The why: It’s not surprising that divorce is a stressful process. The changes in finances, legal battles, the emotional toll it creates, and the drastic change in your life can significantly affect your immune system, weakening its capacity to defend against viruses. Therefore, if you notice you get sick more often, the influx of stress hormones may be the culprit.
How to cope: To counteract the havoc stress creates on your immune system, load up on antioxidant foods, exercise regularly, and, most importantly, give yourself compassion and self-love. It’s easy to get frustrated with your body when it’s not performing to your standards, but remember to treat it kindly, especially during traumatic situations.
3. It can affect your sleep
The why: One of the not-so surprising ways divorce impacts your health is sleep. Indeed, the mind-body connection is undeniable, and when you’re going through a traumatic event, it’s not uncommon to experience stress-related sleep problems. In fact, many going through a divorce experience insomnia, nightmares, and frequent sleep disruptions. Additionally, you’re battling the new habit of learning how to sleep alone without your partner. It’s a lot to deal with.
How to cope: If you’re struggling to sleep, practice a few calming nighttime routine ideas to reduce anxiety, like unplugging from your devices, talking to yourself kindly as you wind down, spraying lavender, taking a hot bath, and sleeping with a weighted blanket to create feelings of security.
3 Surprising Ways Divorce Impacts Your Mental Health
1. It can cause anxiety
The why: As mentioned above in every tip, stress is one of the biggest culprits following a divorce. But it’s not the only one. Another is anxiety. As it relates to experiencing a living loss, it’s common to experience these effects;
- Fears of the unknown
- Rumination about the past
- Feelings of failure and shame
- Changes to your self-esteem and how you view yourself
- Separation anxiety from your spouse
- Concerns about your future, including dating again or reducing loneliness
- Further worries about your children, health, finances, friendships, etc.
How to cope: First and foremost, acknowledge your feelings. It’s okay not to be okay. Labeling how you feel (I feel sad) will help you learn how to manage your subsequent emotions. Secondly, when you notice you’re ruminating about the past or future, learn how to unhook from negative thoughts by practicing a mindful technique like breathing or another anchor that grounds you in the present moment, such as listening to the sounds of nature or feeling the sun on your skin.
2. It can cause depression
The why: According to the Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory, divorce is the second most stressful event behind death and, another study discovered it causes a 2.5 to 9.4 increase in developing depression. Therefore, it will take time to navigate each stage of the grief you’re experiencing and its effects.
How to cope: Depression can feel like walking through molasses; everything is challenging and strenuous. Therefore, give yourself patience and work through the difficulty with self-love. For example, go about your day through a series of little steps. Upon waking up, make your bed, then pause and recognize its success. Next, pick another healthy habit to complete, like a 10-minute meditation or cooking a healthy breakfast, and acknowledge each with a positive statement like “Well done. I can do this”. However, ensure you’re not overwhelming yourself with trying to achieve or do too much. It can lead to burnout which will worsen your mental state. It’s important to go slow and take small steps to improve your health.
3. It can trigger past trauma
The why: Unfortunately, we have all experienced trauma in our lives, whether on a micro or macro level. As such, our subconscious mind faces situations and events that trigger memories of that trauma. For example, post-divorce may stir up trauma from your childhood, such as attachment patterns, your parent’s divorce, the breakdown of family bonds, abuse, etc. Moreover, divorce may also trigger painful memories like infidelity, betrayal, abuse, abandonment, poor self-esteem, a sense of failure, and additional losses experienced during marriage. Therefore, it’s an extremely delicate process that requires patience and time to heal.
How to cope: Trauma affects your life in every aspect, your sleep, internal dialogue, moods, reactivity, relationships, poor concentration, low self-esteem, and feeling powerless, to name a few. So, when you increase your awareness about its impact, it will help reduce the isolation it creates. Additionally, while experiencing your divorce, surround yourself with positive forces and habits to help you heal. For example…
- Reach out to your loved ones
- Join divorce support groups
- Be gentle with yourself
- Learn how to forgive yourself to reduce shame or guilt
- Refocus on building your identity
- Practice ways to love yourself more
- Speak with a mental health professional to discover tools to help you process your childhood trauma and divorce trauma
Overall, divorce is a traumatic event and can wreak havoc on your life professionally, financially, physically, and mentally. Therefore, it can cause maladaptive coping mechanisms like substance abuse, avoidance, impulse spending, and isolation. While it may be tempting to drown your sorrows with these mechanisms, try to create a realistic and healthy routine that benefits your well-being instead. As you practice habits that uplift your mind and care for your body, practice self-compassion, and remember, any step forward helps.
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