Divorce is said to be the second most significant grief event that many of us will ever experience. It’s therefore no surprise that the stress experienced during divorce can at times feel overwhelming. Stress is a normal part of life and sometimes stress is actually a good thing. The right amount of ‘stress’ can give us the energy or the alertness we need to meet challenging situations. The difficulty occurs when stress doesn’t go away or takes over our ability to cope. It’s important to remember that stress during divorce is normal and natural, but it shouldn’t control your life. Some of the signs that the stress you’re experiencing is becoming too much might include:
- Ongoing difficulty properly eating or sleeping;
- Having ongoing trouble concentrating;
- Withdrawing from friends, family, work or even fun activities;
- Feeling like you can’t cope, when even small things are getting you down.
We all experience stress in our own and different ways. When we’re stressed, our bodies react by releasing chemicals into our blood that can give us more energy and strength, which was a great thing in the days when we were being chased by sabre tooth tigers! But when our bodies continue to release those chemicals over a long period, those chemicals themselves can negatively effects on our body’s ability to function.
So what do we do? How do we cope in stressful situations, particularly when our hearts are breaking and our marriages are falling apart?
Of course I’m a family lawyer, I’m not a psychologist and I’m not a counsellor. But I’ve had plenty of opportunity to work with people during divorce and with specialists, such as psychologists, on the human aspects of divorce and separation. And at the end of the day, I’ve been in many stressful situations myself, as no doubt you have too.
So here are five things that I’ve found can help reduce stress during divorce (and sometimes just generally in life)-
1. Slow down.
I say this over and over, and I am sorry if you feel like I am becoming a broken record! This is a piece of advice I give myself all the time (and have been giving myself every day this week!)
Slowing down is, for me, the best thing to do in any difficult situation. When we’re stressed, worried or anxious, our mind starts to run. Our thoughts become cloudy and sometimes very busy which makes it really hard to work out what decisions we need to make right now, versus the ones that perhaps can be made when things are a bit more settled.
When it comes to divorce, you’re going to be asked to make some really significant decisions about the future of yourself, your family, your children – things like where you might live, what you might do. These are decisions that can’t be made quickly. Slowing down, taking time and thinking carefully can really help to both make the right decision and also to release some of the stress associated with the decision making itself.
2. Write it down.
Is there anything better than a good old list! If you are in the middle of a divorce there is a good chance there are a lot of things running through your mind, keeping you up at night. Have a pen and paper next to your bed and write them down- it will help you to get back to sleep, to not worry so much and the next day you can review that list and perhaps start to get some of those questions answered.
Keeping a journal to record your thoughts and feelings can also be a really powerful way of identifying and managing some of the stress that you’re feeling. Using that journal to record some of the good things that have occurred can also be a great way of reminding ourselves that even in the middle of such a significant challenge, we can still find a few silver linings. Taking the time each night to record one or two things that you’re grateful for can also be a really powerful way of keeping your mind focussed on a few positive things in your life.
3. Seek help.
You don’t have to go through this alone. Friends, family, professionals are your ally during any difficult situation, but particularly during divorce. Find friends & family that will listen and support you- they should be positive, helpful and kind. You need people around you at the moment who can be calm even when you are not and who you trust to offer support (and even perhaps tell you when they think you are going too far!)
And don’t be afraid to find professionals too- Lawyers, financial planners, and other professionals will help but don’t overlook having a psychologist or counsellor as well. Having someone to talk to that knows little about you but can offer professional tools to manage how you’re feeling can be invaluable at these difficult times. Services such as Relationships Australia and Lifeline offer counselling free of charge, and it might just be all you need to get through the worst of it.
4. Educate yourself.
A lot of the time the stress that we feel is associated with uncertainty and fear- with not knowing where life’s taking us. When we’re married, we’re focussed on the future. We have a clear path. We make plans. When we’re divorced, all those plans are suddenly upside down. As human beings, we thrive on certainty and structure. We like routine, we like to know where we’re going. And of course divorce turns all of that on its head.
So to help reduce some of the stress associated with this, arm yourself with as much information as you can. Seek advice about the legal aspects of your divorce. If your financial future is worrying you, speak with your bank, a financial planner or accountant and start to put in place a plan to get yourself back on track. It might be that you need to get back into the workforce or change jobs so you might speak with a recruitment specialist.
Gain as much information as you can and remember that good old saying – knowledge is power. It’s important to gather as much information as possible as it will enable you to make decisions that are best for you in the long term. Take your time doing this, find professionals that are right for you and above all focus on learning as much as you can.
5. Allow yourself to grieve.
Divorce is said to be the second most significant grief event that any of us can experience, second only to the death of a loved one. When we’re in grief, we experience a whole range of emotions from shock to anger, to deep feelings of despair. That grief can take a long time to process and pass, sometimes many years. But the intensity of the grief can reduce quickly if we allow ourselves to feel the feelings that our body needs to experience. Don’t be afraid to cry, to be angry, to be sad, but try each day to focus on something small, something good and something positive. Be active and be healthy. Eat well, go outside, walk, run, skip, dance – do whatever it takes but you need to look after yourself and your body. And most importantly, make time for the things and the people that you love, even when you feel like you can’t.
During divorce, you will experience a whole rollercoaster of emotions – ups and downs, and then more downs before the ups again- and all of this can make for a lot of stress! But remember, we all experience stress at different times in our lives but it shouldn’t control our lives. The one thing I have learned in my many years in this job is that these stressful feelings, ‘the heartbreak’ will pass, but we have to look after ourselves along the way.
What do you do to reduce stress? Have some tips to share? Well drop me a line or comment below!
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