Coping with Stress and Your Divorce

Remember what the flight attendants say about the oxygen mask when you are traveling with children? That’s right–they tell you to put your mask on first so that you will be able to help the others who need you.  When you are going through a divorce, that oxygen mask advice applies. Now is the time to take care of yourself.  The emotional stress of divorce can manifest itself in any number of ways.  One person might be more susceptible to illness than usual; another might find it hard to concentrate at work; you might have far less patience with the people you care about, particularly your children.  It is critical for you to find ways to help you relieve stress and stay centered.

Strategies for staying healthy throughout your divorce include:

(NOTE: Before engaging in a divorce recovery group, journaling, or talking to friends and family, it is a good idea to speak with your attorney about how to do this in a way that minimizes risk)

A professional therapist can help you sort through your feelings and provide a place for you to unload some of the overwhelming emotions that tend to dominate people during divorce. Many people are tempted to use their attorney as their therapist, and while many family law attorneys are good listeners, a professional therapist is specially trained to help you deal with your emotions during this time.  Attorneys’ hourly rates are usually much higher than therapists’, so using a therapist to deal with your emotional issues and using your attorney for the legal issues may be the most efficient use of fees to pay professionals. Try to consider the therapist your oxygen mask during the divorce, remembering, if powerful emotions are not directly addressed and defused, they may manifest in other ways, often unexpectedly and sometimes destructively.

  • Eat healthy food and get plenty of rest. For some people, this will be especially challenging because they cannot sleep and tend to eat unhealthy foods when they are under stress. While this may work for a short time, going through a divorce is not a sprint, it is a marathon.  You need to be able to take care of yourself and your children both during and after your divorce, so you will need all the strength you can gather from longer range strategies that include eating well and getting enough sleep. 
  • Physical activities such as exercise, yoga, and meditation are excellent ways to turn off your anxious thoughts, which may be working in overdrive (and not necessarily for your benefit) during a divorce.  Bodywork, like massage, can also be very effective for releasing emotions, encouraging relaxation, and restoring balance.
  • Divorce recovery groups are available in many communities, providing an outlet for processing emotions and a peer group that can provide many sources of support.
  • Keeping a journal can be an effective way of expressing and processing emotions.  Be careful about keeping a journal in a private place, however. 

Supportive family and friends are great resources – accept their kindness.  Those who do not support your long-term happiness, but rather want to stir up drama, are not people whose input you should be accepting. Take care, because you will surely get lots of advice from well-meaning folks.  While this is informative, you are ultimately best served by listening to your own feelings and the advice of unbiased professionals intimately familiar with the particular facts of your case.

Be gentle and generous with yourself during this challenging time. Experiencing this painful transition as deeply as you can bear may lead to greater compassion and understanding when it is over.

Divorces resolved through the Collaborative Model are frequently less traumatic than litigated divorces, but that does not mean they are easy.  Most of your divorce process requires you to make business decisions at a time when you are not thinking with optimal clarity.  Doing your best to process and handle your emotions will enable you to make the best use of joint meetings to make the process go more smoothly.