There’s a good reason why people cite divorce alongside death and moving house as one of the most stressful life experiences you can go through.
Whether you ended your marriage, or your other half called time, the pain, emotion, and paperwork might seem never-ending.
During this stress-filled gauntlet, it’s tempting to reach for easy – often alcoholic – fixes to buy yourself a bit of relief.
However, you need to be your own best friend and make sure to look after your physical and mental health as best you can.
Here’s some advice on how to do that.
What we’ll be deep diving into:
- Stress and how to manage it
- Using mindfulness and meditation
- Getting your nutrition right
- Creating a good sleep health
Everybody’s divorce is different
OK, so plenty of us have gone through a divorce or are in the middle of unravelling a marriage.
But every divorce is different, with the circumstances, the people, and the problems particular to that family.
If children are involved, divorce can be even more painful and stressful as you try to do what’s best for everyone.
But if you neglect yourself and your needs, supporting anyone else will be much harder.
What is divorce stress, and how does it manifest itself?
Medical experts have likened the stress of divorce to that experienced by somebody whose loved one has died.
Like grief, the stages of divorce can include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
Each one of these stages takes a toll on your mental and physical well-being.
You may experience symptoms like stress, lack of focus, panic attacks, muscular pain, insomnia, anxiety, hopelessness, a decreased appetite and more.
Therefore, divorce stress can have a significant effect on your health.
What the researchers say:
The American Psychological Association details the impact of stress on your body.
When we experience acute stress, it impacts our sympathetic nervous system, which triggers a ‘fight or flight’ response to stress.
In the short term, this is how humans have been programmed to deal with an immediate threat.
But long-term, it can be incredibly damaging to your health.
The APA says: “Chronic stress, experiencing stressors over a prolonged period, can result in a long-term drain on the body.
“As the autonomic nervous system continues to trigger physical reactions, it causes a wear-and-tear on the body.
“It’s not so much what chronic stress does to the nervous system, but what continuous activation of the nervous system does to other bodily systems that become problematic.”
How to deal with divorce stress
Don’t suffer in silence – seek the help you need to start healing.
The first port of call should be your GP, where you can discuss talking therapies and medication options.
Counselling can help you work through your feelings and process what’s happened and empower you to build new resilience strategies.
However, it can take a while to see an NHS practitioner or prove costly to go private.
In the meantime, you can turn to meditation to help you.
Why meditation helps combat stress
When the body goes into fight or flight mode, your adrenal glands release the stress hormone cortisol into the bloodstream.
The body is simply producing what it perceives to be the right amount of cortisol to help you in the face of acute danger.
If you are about to wrestle a sabre-toothed tiger, increased cortisol in the body will be very handy.
But if you are experiencing long-term divorce stress that floods the body with too much cortisol too regularly, it’ll cause a myriad of health problems.
Meditation is a tool to help reduce stress and bring down cortisol levels.
What the researchers say:
In a study called Mindfulness Practice Leeds To Increases In Regional Brain Gray Matter Density, neuroscientist Sara Lazar and her colleagues put a group through eight weeks of meditation practice.
Lazar said: “We took people who’d never meditated before and put one group through an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction program (MBSR).
“We found differences in brain volume after eight weeks in five different regions in the brains of the two groups.
“In the group that learned meditation, we found thickening in four regions:
- The primary difference, we found in the posterior cingulate, which is involved in mind wandering, and self-relevance.
- The left hippocampus, which assists in learning, cognition, memory and emotional regulation.
- The temporo parietal junction, or TPJ, which is associated with perspective taking, empathy and compassion.
- An area of the brain stem called the Pons, where a lot of regulatory neurotransmitters are produced.
“The amygdala, the fight or flight part of the brain got smaller in the group that went through the mindfulness-based stress reduction program.”
How to get started with meditation
The good news is that it’s so easy to begin a gentle meditation practice, and it doesn’t even need to cost you anything.
If you want to meditate with others, there are more community meditation sessions popping up by the day. Reach out to your local community centres or search online to find out more.
Completing small bursts of meditation regularly could significantly improve your mental well-being and ability to cope with divorce.
The importance of good nutrition during divorce
At the risk of sounding like a nag, you need to get a healthy diet in place right now.
Many people go through periods where they either cannot face food or comfort eat to deal with the difficult emotions a divorce unleashes.
However, if your body is deprived or overfed over weeks or months, it’ll have a negative impact on your physical health.
Feeling physically terrible isn’t going to make the mental challenges of a break-up any easier.
Building simple, healthy nutrition habits
We get it, you feel overwhelmed and exhausted, so start building better nutrition by making incremental changes.
Firstly, commit to eating three meals daily at breakfast, lunch and dinner, and at least one healthy snack in the afternoon.
You are aiming for meals that include protein, vegetables and fibre that will nourish your body.
We know there are trends for intermittent fasting and a gazillion other suggestions about eating best for your body.
But right now, you are in crisis mode and having regular meals will help to keep your body well-fuelled.
What the researchers say:
At Tel-Aviv University, Professor Daniela Jakubowicz and her team conducted a study to help people living with type 2 diabetes.
They wanted to assess the body weight, blood sugar control, appetite and circadian clock gene expression.
They found that eating three meals a day, according to the participants’ body clocks, was very effective.
Prof. Jakubowicz said: “Our research proposes shifting the star-rich calories to the early hours of the day. This produces a glucose balance and improved glycaemic control among [people living with type 2 diabetes].
“The hour of the day—when you eat and how frequently you eat—is more important than what you eat and how many calories you eat. Our body metabolism changes throughout the day.”
Making the changes
Although the research was aimed at helping diabetics and people trying to combat obesity, the results could be beneficial to anyone.
Having a bigger, complex breakfast and then eating more moderately at lunch and then dinner helps to keep the blood sugar levels balanced.
If you consume a lighter meal in the evening, the body doesn’t have to work as hard to digest and process the food into the evening.
By putting less strain on the digestive system as you prepare to go to bed, you can also create better conditions for sleep.
The vital importance of sleep
If you are going through a divorce, we’re willing to bet your legal fees that you’ve spent a least one night staring into the abyss during the early hours.
When your brain is turning over thoughts as you try to process your emotions and how to move forward, it’s not easy to rest.
But having the opportunity to switch off mentally and give your body a chance to heal and repair overnight is vital.
It’s time to tackle your sleep regime.
What the researchers say:
Neurologist Dr Annise Wilson, who specialises in sleep medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine, says that stress profoundly impacts sleep.
She says: “High levels of stress impair sleep by prolonging how long it takes to fall asleep and fragmenting sleep.
“Sleep loss triggers our body’s stress response system, leading to an elevation in stress hormones, namely cortisol, which further disrupts sleep.
“Creating an optimal sleep environment is crucial.
“One modern issue is the blue light emitted from smartphones, tablets and other electronics, because that particular wavelength is quite activating and can affect melatonin secretion.”
Create a sleep regime
So how do you build healthy sleep habits without resorting to medication?
Here are some tips to help:
- Go to bed at the same time every night – this helps to train your body to be prepared to rest and relax.
- Read before bed – instead of doom-scrolling through your ex’s Instagram, pick up a book and disappear into another world.
- Meditate – there are numerous deep breathing exercises to help you wind down and prepare to sleep, so try a few out.
- Have a warm bath or shower – getting clean and warm before bed can help soothe your body and mind.
- Put the device away – don’t look at anything with a screen for the last hour before bed, even gazing at Ryan Gosling can’t make screen time a healthy choice.
- Drink herbal tea – there are a few different ‘sleep’ teas that can help to cultivate a state of relaxation.
- Don’t give in – if you lay there thinking you can’t sleep, stay where you are. Resist the urge to grab your phone and just let yourself rest and breathe.
Hang in there
We promise that getting the basics right will help to make this horrible time a little easier.
Once again, we urge you to be your own best friend – even if you have a gaggle of great mates rallying around you.
By taking small but vital steps to look after yourself, it’ll be easier to manage the hard stuff.
Plus, once you are out on the other side, you’ll have a fantastic foundation to build your new life on.
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