Divorce: You are not going crazy!
Divorce can make you feel like you’re going out of your mind. And it’s not surprising. In terms of stress levels, it’s second only to bereavement of a close family member. Divorce is officially a big deal. In Divorce: You are not going crazy! We look at how what you’re feeling and recognise what you’re feeling isn’t because you’re crazy – I promise!
I want you to remember that the feelings you’re experiencing are actually very normal. They’re a normal response to an extraordinary situation. They are a way of coping. That doesn’t mean they’re always the most healthy way of coping – there are other ways.
I also want you to reflect on when these feelings actually started. You see, when you step away from a dysfunctional or abusive marriage you often see that the craziness started long before you left. It’s not you that’s crazy, it’s your situation. (I’ll be talking more about this in next week’s blog).
So what are the signs of stress and what can you do about them? Read on!
The signs of stress
Stress tends to show itself in three main areas – you may experience some or all of these:
Your body is a good indicator of what’s going on with your stress levels, letting you know something’s wrong before the thought occurs in your brain. Do you experience tiredness or low energy, headaches, changes in your appetite, trouble sleeping or loss of libido? These can all be signs of stress. Even if you tell yourself that you’re managing your stress well, your body will let you know if you aren’t. Are you listening?
Our mood changes when we are under stress. We can find our emotions flying all over the place as we try and cope with everything. You might have low moods, feel irritable, teary, unfocused or be more prone to angry outbursts. Often we can tell stress is affecting us if everyday setbacks (running out of breakfast cereal, children playing up or bad traffic, for example) trigger a reaction more readily than usual.
We act differently when stressed. You might withdraw from social life, or, on the other hand, throw yourself into every social situation going to distract yourself from your stressful divorce. You might engage in self-harming behaviours, which can be as obvious as cutting, but could also be misusing food (over-eating, or not eating enough), or simply neglecting yourself so you don’t look after your body or home.
These three areas can flow into each other. Low energy can mean you withdraw socially, which in turn can mean you feel isolated and down. Your stress symptoms will be unique to you, and most likely they will have crept up without you noticing.
The impact of stress
Stress is not a bad thing. We need a little stress to get the blood pumping and adrenaline flowing, to help us perform well. We are all used to experiencing that feeling before a job interview, exam, or audition. It’s there to help us, it’s a sign to our body that something important is happening and it’s time to act.
The problem is when we live with it over a long period – when stress becomes the norm. When that happens, stress has a negative impact on our physical and emotional health. It can cause chest pains, heart palpitations, digestive problems and weaken your immune system. Psychologically it can put you at risk of long-term depression, anxiety and break down.
So it’s critical we recognise the signs of stress and act.
How to handle divorce-related stress
The first step is to accept you’re feeling stressed.
The second is to act and seek help.
We have been conditioned to think it’s weak to ask for help and we need to just push through. Asking for emotional support can be really tough – particularly if your head is ringing with unkind words from your ex that ‘you’re useless’ ‘weak’ or ‘pathetic’. You want to show them, and the world, that you can do this and you don’t need anyone.
The reality is that divorce is flipping hard. As I said at the start, it’s in the top two of traumatic life experiences. You lose a partner and possibly become a single parent too. Asking for support is the smart thing to do. It’s a sign of strength and of self-worth.
Seek the support you need
If you only remember one thing from this blog, please let it be this: seek the support you need.
You may be able to make lifestyle changes yourself to reduce your stress levels: be deliberate about getting enough sleep, exercise (preferably outdoors) and eating well. Do something that makes you feel good, for at least an hour each week.
You may need to ask friends for practical or emotional help as you navigate divorce on top of your life responsibilities.
You may need therapeutic help from a counsellor or a G.P.
Medication may be needed to support you temporarily or longer-term (let go of any shame-based thoughts around this please)!
You may need someone to walk your divorce path with you so you’re not doing it all alone.
All of this is perfectly legitimate and sensible. You are your biggest asset and you need to look after yourself.
A divorce coach can help you understand your emotions and plan a divorce that meets your values, goals and plays by the legal rules. Remember, your lawyer is not your therapist (and it’s expensive and unrewarding to expect them to be!). It’s their job to act on your instructions once you know what it is you want and need.
I can help you do divorce your way. In The Absolute Academy, you access my coaching support and legal know-how alongside other women, so you’re part of an amazing community who get exactly where you’re coming from. I also work 1:1 with you to get things moving in a way that’s tailored to you – either over a day’s intensive or more regular support.
Divorce: You are not crazy!
Divorce is stressful. That’s a fact. You are not weak if you seek support – you are strong, and you are setting yourself up for a brighter future. Re-read Divorce: You are not going crazy! as often as you need to keep reminding yourself that you can do this and it is okay to get support for your struggles.
Contact me to chat about how I can help today.
Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is 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 practising 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. To find out more visit www.emmaheptonstall.com