We all know that looking after your mental health should be a top priority but what happens when life throws emotional challenges like divorce your way? For example, if your spouse is moving children away from you following your split, the prospect of an acrimonious court case, or if your divorce has left you with ongoing financial worries. We look at the impact divorce has on your mental health and some of the steps you can take to keep your mind healthy.
What is the emotional impact of divorce?
All cases are different but divorce can bring about a number of negative emotions affecting your mental health. Some may be new and some may have been existing problems that resurface as you go through a stressful period. Experiencing an increased level of anxiety about your divorce proceedings can lead some people to reach for, or return to unhealthy behaviours such as drinking more alcohol or developing eating disorders. Following a divorce, some people may slip into depression, grieving for the life they once had or the reality of not seeing their children as often as they used to. However, despite these emotional side effects, there are actions you can take to reduce or eliminate adverse feelings.
How to look after your mental health during divorce
During a divorce, it’s a good idea to adopt a new awareness of your mental health. Most of us take part in regular activities that improve our mood and boost our overall well-being, like running, reading or playing music. While we may take these activities for granted, try not to remove them from your routine. Although there may be days when you don’t feel motivated to take that walk, do that yoga class, or carry on with your art project, try to encourage yourself to do just a little. You will usually feel better because of it.
Here are some other tips:
- Ensure you have a close network of people or friends around you. Although you may not always want to talk about how your childcare arrangements are going, or discuss the timeframe of your impending financial settlement, it can be good to talk when you feel like it. It can be especially helpful if you have people around you who have been through a divorce too.
- Don’t hold back your emotions. Bottling up fear, anger, guilt or even resentment is not good for your mental health. These are typical emotions associated with a divorce and can be hard to manage. Remember that addressing these feelings head-on gives you a greater chance of healing more quickly. The process of divorce is akin to the grieving process which does not happen overnight. Be patient and kind to yourself in the process.
- Relearn who you are. It’s helpful to view divorce as a new beginning and not an ending. Although you are saying goodbye to your old self, there is a new “self” waiting. Explore this more by taking part in activities you love and trying new ones too. You may just find out something new about yourself or realise you are good at something you never imagined you would be. This can provide a new source of joy and pleasure that can help you escape from the negative emotions of divorce proceedings.
- Take part in more physical exercise and eat well. Exercise is an excellent outlet for stress, even if this is for 20–30 minutes a day. Your mind is focused on the activity you are doing giving your emotions some welcome respite from worry or anxiety. Keep your body well too, as continued poor nutrition can impact how you feel on a daily basis.
- Seeking professional counselling. Therapy and counselling are no longer taboo subjects, a fact which may help you become open to receiving outside support to improve your mental health. Talking therapies or cognitive behavioural therapy, for example, can also be good ways to help you see your divorce in a new light.
Although divorce is emotionally challenging for everyone, it’s helpful to understand that your feelings are normal and that by actively staying on top of your mental health you can look forward to a healthier and happier future.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg.