Divorce ranks as one of the top two most stressful life events. Only death of a spouse ranks higher on the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, which lists 43 life events that can contribute to illness.

In fact, a study conducted by the University of Chicago and Johns Hopkins University found that divorced men and women have 20 percent more chronic health conditions—such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer—than married people, or divorced people who remarry.

Managing your stress level and protecting your long-term health when you’re going through a divorce is crucial. Consider the following strategies to help cope with the challenges of divorce in a healthy way.

Get Support

Divorce causes seismic changes in your life on many levels, and these changes often lead to stress. Not only must you deal with legal and financial issues, but divorce can also affect self-identity and basic safety. It alters a web of relationships, not just the relationship between you and your spouse. Children and in-laws may be directly affected, and divorce may cause changes in friendships as well.

You shouldn’t tackle such a series of stressors alone. Seek support from a variety of sources to help you get through the initial months and years of transition that follow a divorce. Consider joining a divorce support group, so that you can talk to others who understand your situation firsthand.

Family members and friends may also be able to support you. However, keep in mind that those who are affected personally by your divorce may be biased. Be sure to work on building a support system that includes objective listeners as well as those who are closer to the situation.

Practice Self-Care

When you feel the worst, you need to treat yourself with extra care. The stress of divorce can lead you to neglect basic self-maintenance, such as eating healthy foods and getting enough exercise and sleep. Shortchanging yourself in these areas will make you feel worse and may hinder your mood and decision-making.

Divorce disrupts routines. Be sure to establish a framework that includes:

  • cooking nutritious meals with ample whole grains, vegetables, and fruits
  • exercising several times a week for around 30 minutes per session
  • getting a solid eight hours of sleep each night

Challenge Negative Thinking

Going through a divorce can affect your self-esteem. You may feel like you failed at something that was important to you, or that you let others down. However, divorce is never about just one person or thing. Challenge any negative thoughts you have about your role in the sequence of events that led to the divorce.

You don’t need to deny feelings of disappointment and grief, but avoid guilt and self-flagellation over what you could have done differently. If you start falling into a pattern of negative self-talk, visualize a red stop sign and think, “STOP!” Then redirect your thoughts toward a more positive future.

Work toward forgiving yourself as well as your former spouse and focus on moving on with your life.

Take Steps to Move Forward

With so much attention focused on divorce logistics, it’s easy to get stuck in the past. To combat this tendency, make an effort to take steps in a new direction. Consider moving if there are too many reminders of your previous marriage in your current surroundings. If that’s not an option, work on paring down belongings that are painful symbols of the past. Pack up these items for the Goodwill or Salvation Army.

Put finances in order to reflect your new situation. If children are involved, help them adjust to the changes in their lives by setting a healthy and positive example. There’s no way around the fact that divorce is stressful. However, the changes that it creates can provide opportunities to know yourself better, and to create a new life full of promise and possibility.