Divorce ranks at the top of the list of most stressful life events, right up there with the death of a loved one, job loss and serious illness. Although there is no doubt that divorce can take a heavy emotional toll on everybody involved, how they cope with that stress can either make things better or worse.
The bad ways to deal with stress are pretty obvious: social withdrawal, promiscuity, abuse of loved ones, physical inertia, smoking, and substance abuse can all worsen a newly divorced person’s physical and mental health. And a surprising number of the recently divorced people do one or more of these.
Those who come out of the divorce process stronger, healthier and happier, however, have one thing in common: they took a potentially toxic situation and turned it into an opportunity for growth and improvement. Regardless of the circumstances of a divorce, it’s possible to deal with the anger, sadness and regret in positive ways. Almost all of these techniques will take some time and dedication, but if there’s ever a time to make your mental and physical health a priority, it’s during a divorce.
If you find yourself saying “I can’t do that because…,” realize that you’re the only person who can make your health a priority. Your reasons may be valid and difficult to overcome (job schedule, children’s demands, etc.), but if you can make your well-being the priority around which other people’s needs are met, you will find yourself far more alert, energetic and focused-all of which makes you a better employee, parent and friend.
Remember what the flight attendant says before every flight: “If you’re travelling with a child, please put the oxygen mask on yourself before putting it on the child.” That’s because we can’t help anybody if we’ve passed out.
There are multiple techniques for dealing with stress after divorce. This blog post will discuss the three most important ones. Part two will discuss several others.
THE BIG THREE
- Sleep: There’s a reason that sleep deprivation is a torture method. Without proper sleep, we can’t think straight, we eat the wrong foods, we become depressed and ill-tempered-in short, we’re a mess. Regularly getting a good night’s sleep is the closest thing there is to a magic wellness pill. If anxiety, hormones or other issues are keeping you up at night, speak to your doctor about finding some short-term solutions until you can develop what’s known as good sleep hygiene. It will probably require some schedule-shifting, but good sleep is the foundation on which almost every other good health habit is built, so it’s worth the effort.
- Exercise: Regular physical activity, whether it’s a walk around the neighborhood or an hour at the gym, is the second most important magic wellness pill (after sleep). Exercise can make us smarter, improves our mood, helps us get a better night’s sleep, and can help us live longer, healthier lives. It doesn’t take much to see real benefits (a 20-minute walk a few times a week, for instance), but most people who start a regular exercise regimen soon find that it becomes an indispensable part of their day.
- Nutrition: A healthy diet is one of the best ways to stave off illness and obesity, but it can also affect our mood and energy level. The modern American diet is highly processed, with dangerous levels of sugar, unhealthy fats and salt. One of the unsurprising results of this diet is rising rates of heart disease, diabetes, stroke and other ailments. When time is at a premium, though, it’s tempting to fall back on processed or fast foods that deprive our bodies of the nutrients we need to be at our best. Nutritionists advise a diet rich in fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, lean sources of protein, and healthy fats (in descending order of their prominence on our plate). Admittedly, keeping prepared, healthy foods in the house takes planning and organization (which we’ll cover in the next blog post), but it’s worthwhile investment in your health and well-being.