Sometimes, even the best relationships have an expiration date. Divorce is perhaps one of the most difficult things you may undergo in life, but the period after a breakup can produce as much anxiety and sadness as the divorce itself. You'll probably experience a rollercoaster of emotions as you adjust to what was, what just happened, and what might be in future days.
As family law attorney Natalie Greggs tells U.S.News, the grief and stress brought on by divorce are similar to what we experience when a loved one dies; we're physically and emotionally affected. "I tell my clients, ‘Imagine how you’re going to react to this death, and how it’s going to impact every part of your body.' Self-care is the number-one thing that gets you through the day.”
Like any life-altering event, a divorce can throw your system way out of whack. Now (more than ever) is the most important time for you to take care of you. And while it's important to remember that this, too, shall pass, these five valuable self-care tips will help you pump yourself up whenever you're feeling especially down.
Eat Mood-Boosting Foods
Food plays a huge role in physical and emotional health, and eating the right ones (like seafood, spinach, and turkey) can actually lift your spirits whenever you're feeling low. Fill your plate with foods high in antioxidants, like artichoke hearts, blueberries, and walnuts, and steer clear of foods high in trans fats and simple sugars. Research also suggests that foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in wild-caught fish, even help people battle depression.
Doctors at MIT also maintain the body needs carbohydrates (and carbs alone) to stimulate the body's natural production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter known as the "happy chemical" for its role in the regulation of mood and social behavior, appetite and digestion, sleep, memory, and sexual desire and function. (Low serotonin levels are the hallmarks of depression and anxiety.) Complex carbs (aka "good carbs") such as fresh fruits and whole grains increase serotonin levels—key allies when you're down in the dumps.
Sweat It Out
It's also important to make time for regular exercise, especially when you feel particularly rough. Encourage healing by engaging in anything that gets the heart pumping, whether it's a walk, a round of tennis, or a dance class.
Here are just several of the benefits of exercise when coping with a divorce, as espoused by Divorce Magazine:
- Regular exercise triggers the brain's release of endorphins, "feel good" hormones that can quell anxiety and fight depression. (Endorphins improve our ability to sleep, too.)
- It's a stress-reliever: Physical activity reduces fatigue, improves alertness and concentration, and enhances cognitive function, which is particularly beneficial when you're stressed to the max and your energy is depleted.
- Exercise can also be a social activity. And divorce can feel isolating. Group workouts force you to get out there and meet new people.
Other benefits to exercise include its ability to slow the aging process, boost self-confidence, achieve more restful sleep, improve energy levels, and attain better flexibility, strength, and endurance.
Talk It Out
As the social psychologist Grace Larson tells HuffPo, "When you enter into a romantic relationship, your self-concept becomes really intertwined with that loved one...you start to feel like who you are is melding with who they are...that's an incredibly painful process to have to reverse."
In a 2015 study she co-authored, Larson found that one way to extricate oneself from this shared identity is by extensively discussing your feelings about no longer being in the relationship. Yes, you read that right: Subjects who openly spoke about their feelings reported that they were more easily able to reclaim their pre-breakup self-identities than did those in the control group, who simply provided their answers in a survey.
One of the most powerful things that happens when you fall in love with someone is you start to feel like who you are is melding with who they are....that's an incredibly painful process to have to reverse.
Acknowledging and airing our raw, painful feelings about a divorce (self-doubt, anger, loneliness, shame) helps us make sense of our emotions and move on gracefully. But it's equally important to avoid over-wallowing and spreading hurtful gossip; they'll only make matters worse.
Freewriting and/or speaking to a trusted friend, support group, or licensed therapist can help you address feelings of sadness and loss, accept them, and healthfully forge ahead.
Communicate and Co-Parent
Co-parenting as a married couple is challenging enough; doing so during, and after, a divorce presents an entirely new set of challenges that could affect a child's well-being.
“When parents are going through difficult times,” says Cleveland Clinic pediatrician Skyler Kalady, MD, “children perceive that, regardless of their age." To best help them deal with the fallout of your relationship, Kalady recommends encouraging open, honest, and age-appropriate conversations and keeping routines intact; both are comforting to kids.
Likewise, keep an eye out for subtle (and not so subtle) signs your child isn’t doing well, “such as not doing as well in school, withdrawing from activities or friends, or just being disinterested,” which, says Kalady, could indicate serious underlying issues, like anxiety and depression. She also recommends asking the child's pediatrician about ways to reduce the potential negative effects of divorce.
Focus on Yourself
Sure, your world may be spinning, but try to think of this solo time as an opportunity. “It’s all about you now,” says clinical psychologist Suzanne Lachmann, PsyD, via HuffPo. She also maintains that dwelling on what your ex might be doing, or how they're dealing with your breakup only hampers your potential to move on.
Instead, take that cooking class you’ve had your eye on, or finally book that trip to Europe you've been dying to take. While it's natural for your mind to drift onto topics involving your ex, better use of your energy is to focus on yourself, on what you can start learning about you, and the things that are meaningful and fulfilling as you enter this new chapter.
So what will it be? Going back to school? Diving head-first into work in preparation for a promotion? Spending more time with the kids? Whatever you decide to tackle, the possibilities are infinite.