I’ve said before on this blog that divorce is one of the most stressful experiences you’ll ever have. It’s second only to the death of a child or spouse in the ‘stressful life events’ leaderboard. But when things get too stressful, it can have consequences for your health – which in turn make life harder. Which can layer on more stress and create a downward spiral. In this blog we look at the physical manifestations of stress, and what you can do to manage them. Read on for three practical ways to deal with divorce stress.
Divorce doesn’t happen in a vacuum
Before we get into what stress can look and feel like in your body, we need to acknowledge reality. Divorce by itself is stressful enough, but it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Life keeps on going. And, quite often, that means you get stress from all angles.
Many of the women I support have a number of these situations to deal with, on top of their divorce:
- Caring for children, and supporting them through the divorce
- Caring for elderly family members and their complex health needs
- Managing work
- Managing the emotional fallout from friends and family
- Supporting other loved ones through life crises
- Perimenopausal symptoms, or other health issues
Does any of that sound familiar? I bet you’re dealing with at least one, and can probably add your own to the list.
So before we go further, I want you to take a moment to recognise what you’re going through at the moment. Your plate is full. Your burdens are heavy. It is impossible for you to avoid stress completely. But you can aim to minimise the impact on your health. And that starts with realising just how much you’re dealing with, and giving yourself a break.
Physical impact of divorce stress
We live in a society that sees stress and being busy as a given. It’s almost wrong if you’re not stressed! But there is no prize for being the most stressed, and carrying too much, divorce stress or otherwise, can have a serious negative impact on your health. So what’s the difference between ‘feeling a little stressed’ and the sort of divorce stress that can make you ill?
Signs to watch out for include:
- Brain fog: when we are overwhelmed our brains can’t process things as easily
- Digestive problems, including diarrhea, constipation and nausea
- Tension in the body, including grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw
- Insomnia: much as you need to rest your brain is hyper vigilant and can’t switch off
- Chest pains and faster heart rate
And it’s no surprise that many of those signs also feature in the perimenopause symptom list!
Whatever the cause, these signs are all your body’s way of telling you it’s struggling and you need to listen. They won’t go away by themselves. The good news is there are steps you can take to lessen the strain on your body. Here are three practical ways to deal with divorce stress.
1. Recognise the causes and get support
When you’re under significant stress, the most important thing you can do is acknowledge it, as we saw earlier in the blog. When you pause and recognise that the load you’re carrying is intolerable you can start to strategise.
So the first thing to do is list all the things that are adding to your stress.Whether it’s worries about children, work responsibilities, perimenopausal symptoms, unreasonable expectations from loved ones, or anything else, get them all down on a list.
Next, for each of your causes of stress, list things you can do to lighten their impact. It can be helpful to sit down with a trusted friend to do this, as they may be able to offer perspectives you hadn’t considered.
There might be things you can take action on yourself – such as dropping out of optional committees at work, for example. Or there might be areas where you need to ask for support. Maybe other family members can help with the children more for the next month or two? Maybe you need to speak to your boss about working flexibly for a little while?
You don’t have to manage it all alone. If you’re still attached to the ‘I’ve got to keep going!’ mentality, think about this: every time you acknowledge that you need support you empower someone else to do the same.
You don’t have to struggle in isolation. By starting a conversation about stress, you provide a way for other people to break their silence too. Which means you feel less lonely and will have more people around you who get it.
This is important: if you notice your health is being affected, do seek medical help. You are important and your health is important. Your GP has a duty to listen.
2. Say no
One of the things my clients struggle with is letting go of people-pleasing. Often, they have an internal script in which they have to ‘handle it’ or ‘do it all’ in order to feel worthy. Sound familiar? It’s time to let that script go. You have nothing to prove.
Of all the times in your life, this is the one to put yourself first. This is the time to be clear about what you’ll take on and what you don’t have capacity for. It’s fine to let your standards drop a little. Your children won’t suffer if they have a little more TV and frozen pizza than usual. You do not have to say yes everytime someone asks for a favour.
Treat it as a game: give yourself the mission of saying no to something each week. Think of it as developing a muscle. And, remember, every time you say ‘no’ you are saying ‘yes’ to something else. And this time you are saying ‘yes’ to looking after your health.
3. Move your body
We hold tension in our body. I’m not going to pretend that going to a yoga class or booking a massage will make everything go away. But moving your body will help you feel better, and can help improve your physical health too.
So try and fit movement into your routine as much as possible. If you’ve got into the habit of eating lunch at your screen, go for a quick walk instead. If you have the resources to book a massage, do it! I bet you have no problem buying nice things for your children or your loved ones… so just add yourself to the list of people you can buy nice things for.
A massage, swim or yoga class can help you feel calmer and help your body release tension. Which will make all the stresses you have to manage easier to cope with, creating a virtuous circle rather than a negative spiral.
Get the divorce guidance you need
One of the biggest problems with divorce is not knowing what to do next. That uncertainty creates worry that keeps you up all night. And then your energy is used up getting through the day, and worrying some more.
When you join The Absolute Academy you get access to Get Divorce Ready, the ultimate guide to divorce. No more guesswork about what you need to consider, when to contact a solicitor, how to approach your finances… it’s all laid out for you. And, even better, you have me and my team on hand to answer any questions about your specific situation.
Knowing you have somewhere to turn in itself is a massive relief. And knowing you can save yourself thousands of pounds, as well as months of stress makes it even more of a must-have.
Come and join me and the women who are taking charge of their divorce today!
Join The Absolute Academy here
Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is the author of the Amazon best-selling book How to be a Lady Who Leaves, the Ultimate Guide to Getting Divorce Ready. A former lawyer, Emma is a family mediator and founder of Get Divorce Ready the online self-study and group programmes. Emma has been featured on BBC Radio, The Telegraph, the iPaper and in Marie Claire Magazine. Emma is also the host of The Six Minute Divorce Podcast. To find out more visit www.emmaheptonstall.com