This guest article from Psych Central was written by Therese J. Borchard.
Divorce is the second most stressful life event, preceded only by the death of a spouse. And what is stress capable of? Expediting a severe bout of depression and anxiety to your limbic system (the brain’s emotional center) if you’re not careful. Acute and chronic stress, especially, undermine both emotional and physical health. In fact, a recent study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior suggests that divorced or widowed people have 20 percent more chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes or cancer than married people.
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Another study in Psychological Science claimed that a person’s happiness level drops as she approaches divorce, although there is rebounding over time if the person works at it. That’s what these tips are: suggestions for preventing the devastating depression that often accompanies divorce, and techniques that you can use to keep your happiness level steady or maybe raise it even higher!
1. Lose yourself in a book (or an afghan).
I think the one thing that kept my mom sane the years after she and my dad split were the 75 afghans she knitted for me, my sisters, and anyone who got married between 1982 and 1985. The mundane, repetitive gesture, she told me later, kept her brain on the loop that she was making with her big plastic needles, away from all the sadness in her heart. Swimming is the same type of activity for me. I count each lap, so if I start to ruminate too much, I lose track. For an OCD gal who needs to burn calories, it’s a tragedy when that happens. A friend of mine who divorced last year said that losing herself in a juicy novel was a helpful diversion. Or I guess you could also watch reality TV, although I’d hate for you to sink that low.
2. Change your routine.
The year after my dad left, a counselor recommended to my mom that she go back to work. So she took a part-time job as a hostess at a nice restaurant downtown, working lunch hour. The job forced her to smile, meet new people, and be part of a fresh environment—all of which helped her to get out of her head for several hours of the day and gave her hope that there was new life out there, that her life wasn’t over just because her marriage had ended.
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3. Plan, plan, and plan some more.
In her book Solace: Finding Your Way Through Grief and Learning to Live Again, psychotherapist Roberta Temes suggests a few activities that are therapeutic during bereavement (and divorce is a kind of bereavement). One of them is planning. That is, planning everything. I know this works because I did it during the really low months of my severe depression. I planned when I would eat my bagel, when I would shower, and when I would relieve my bladder. I planned when I’d write my distorted thoughts into a journal, and when I would try to count my blessings. All the planning cut down on my ruminations. You think I’m crazy? Temes writes: