A large part of my practice is seeing clients who have been recently divorced. It’s painful and includes panic attacks, body aches, insomnia, and many symptoms that are similar to post-traumatic stress disorder. This is the reality of divorce even though society tries to help with post-divorce parties and friends telling you that you can do better without your loser spouse; the heart and mind react differently.
No one can escape the effects of divorce. Celebrities, such as Demi Moore, have spoken about their failing health after divorce as do physicians and lawyers. There is no “right way” to feel after a divorce, and every divorce is different. Relationship and mental health researchers at Michigan State University studied couples for fifteen years and found that those who divorced experienced a more rapid decline in their health than those who remained married. This was not the case when a spouse died. Divorce is in a category by itself and often leaves couples vulnerable and suffering.
Several studies have found that while men suffer more long-term health problems after divorce if they don’t remarry, women tend to suffer more seriously in the short term. This is often due to the sudden loss of status, financial support, emotional safety, and protection for themselves and their children.
As many as 60% of divorced people suffer physical and emotional symptoms mimicking PTSD, including flashbacks, migraines, eczema, or back trouble caused by muscle tension. Emotional stress wrecks the body’s immune system, leaving the body vulnerable to heart disease, cancer, and other serious diseases. The American Association for Cancer Research found that women suffering from stress were more likely to develop aggressive forms of breast cancer.
If you suffer from these symptoms or find yourself withdrawing from your career or relationships for more than 30 days, you need to seek immediate care.
Get into therapy. A mental health therapist can help evaluate your symptoms and get you the treatment you need to move forward and take care of yourself and your children. A well-known treatment for PTSD is EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing).
Eat healthy and make sure you’re getting exercise. This can help with stress and anxiety.
Eliminate alcohol. Although alcohol may give you a temporary calm, it hinders your progress and, ultimately, leads to more depression.
Enroll in yoga or meditative classes. These classes can help you develop a social network that’s safe, and a caring community can help alleviate stress.
Remember that divorce happens, but you have control over your actions. It’s difficult to grieve because your ex is alive and part of your child’s life. If you have children, it is in their best interest that you learn to get along with your ex. It’s your next actions that defines who you are as a person, not your divorce.
If you are a friend or loved one of someone going through a divorce, the best thing you can do is listen, remain non-judgmental, and help them seek appropriate counseling. You cannot talk someone out of depression or post-traumatic stress syndrome. Moving forward and finding happiness again is possible when you work to heal the past and accept the marriage was broken. You can continue to parent and raise healthy children together. Life goes on and so must you.