Adjusting to life after a divorce can take anywhere from a few weeks to many years. During that time, you may experience a range of emotions. You may also be more susceptible to certain conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and various physical conditions.
The depression that occurs due to traumatic life events such as divorce is different from clinical depression. It’s called adjustment disorder or situational depression. Both clinical depression and situational depression manifest in similar ways.
In some people, depression following divorce can occur with other behaviors, such as:
- ignoring responsibilities
- avoiding family and friends
- performing poorly at work due to a lack of focus
If you’re experiencing any of these behaviors or you’re feeling depressed after divorce, talk to a counselor who can recommend a course of action or suggest a support network.
Most people associate sadness with depression. Sadness is only one of several symptoms of depression. Other symptoms that are common in both clinical and situational depression include:
- a loss of appetite
- a loss of interest in activities you previously enjoyed and hobbies
- trouble sleeping or insomnia
- crying spells
- difficulty concentrating
- feelings of hopelessness and pessimism, as well as a lost sense of worthiness
- suicidal thoughts and even attempts
A diagnosis of depression requires that at least five of these symptoms be present.
Men and women experience depression differently. Depression in women often manifests as sadness, worthlessness, and guilt. The symptoms of depression in men range from irritability and difficulty sleeping to binge drinking or using drugs. In general, women are more likely to experience depression after divorce than men. However, men are less likely to talk openly about their depression.
If you’re having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255). It can be easier to open up about your feelings to a non-judgmental person who you don’t know over the phone than to a person you do know. This person can help you get past the thought of giving up.
Call your doctor to schedule an appointment if you have the symptoms of depression for more than two weeks. When preparing for your appointment, bring a friend along if you need support. Write down your main symptoms and bring this list with you. Also, write down any medication or supplements you take.
Your doctor may prescribe:
- anti-anxiety medication
They may also recommend:
- art therapy
- alternative treatments, such as acupuncture or massage therapy
- relaxation techniques such as yoga or a sports class
The risk of a couple divorcing is two times higher if one partner has a form of mental distress, such as clinical depression. If both partners share a similar level of mental distress, they’re less likely to divorce, It’s possible that they’re less likely to divorce because they understand each other better and can relate to each other’s health challenges.
A relationship between two people who both experience mental distress is more at risk for divorce than a relationship between two people who don’t experience mental distress. This has prompted researchers to conclude that pre-existing mental distress can lead to divorce.
- Seek help if you’re feeling depressed. Talk to your doctor, but also consider talking to friends and family members, or joining a support group.
Divorce affects more than just the partners. It also affects any children of the people divorcing, the larger family network, and family friends. Having a support network as you go through this process is important.
You’ll have many feelings, and processing them can take a lot of energy. This can leave you feeling more tired than usual. Here are some tips for getting on a path to recovery:
Write in a journal.
Even if you have a support network, it’s good practice to write down your thoughts. You don’t need to hold back. If you need closure of some kind, consider writing a letter to your ex-spouse as another way to purge your feelings. You don’t have to send the letter to them.
Exercise even when you don’t feel like it. Research shows that between 20 to 40 minutes of brisk walking three times per week helps to ease the symptoms of depression.
You may be drawn to comfort foods or alcohol more than usual. Keep healthy foods around. Rather than having unhealthy foods or alcohol, treat yourself to wholesome snacks, such as dark chocolate.
Pamper yourself by taking a long, uninterrupted bath or watching a feel-good movie. If you have children, arrange for an hour or two of babysitting so that you can have the time to do this.
You may have less energy during this period of adjustment. If people offer to help you with preparing meals, watching your children, or household chores, say yes. You can return the favor later.
Being around people may be the last thing you want to do, but it can help you cope with any emotions you’re having. Spend time with people who can provide a listening ear but who are also willing to help change your state of mind when necessary.
Depression increases the risk of insomnia and insomnia, in turn, increases your risk for depression. If you have trouble falling asleep, adopt a night routine that will help calm your body and mind, such as having a cup of chamomile tea, taking a bath or shower, or reading a book. Avoid using electronic screens because they can prevent you from settling to sleep.
You’ll have many feelings and thoughts to process after a divorce. You can get through it and find a new normal without your spouse. Setting small goals every day helps.
Not giving up is the most important thing. On the days when nothing seems to work, remind yourself that you’re worth it. Make that your starting point for the days to come.