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Divorce and depression

Divorce and Depression: What to Look for and How to Cope

Divorce and depression are inseparable for almost everyone. The ending of—or even the thought of ending—your marriage is incredibly sad because it’s the death of your dreams of being happy together and basking in the love you thought you had found.

But depression caused by divorce is not the same as what we commonly think of as depression. It even has a different name. It’s called situational depression.

Situational depression is typically short-term and a stress response to a specific event or situation. Relationship problems are some of the most common causes, so it’s easy to understand how divorce and depression go hand in hand.

Another thing to keep in mind is that situational depression differs from other types of depression in that it’s never just biologically or psychologically based. There is a specific event or situation at the root of those feelings.

But knowing the technical difference between divorce-induced situational depression and other types of depression doesn’t really change the realities of either. For most people, the experience of situational depression and other types are indistinguishable from one another.

Take a look at some of the more common symptoms of situational depression:

  • Sadness
  • Hopelessness
  • Inability to enjoy normal activities
  • Crying
  • Consistently feeling stressed out or worried
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Trouble doing daily activities
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Avoiding social interactions
  • Ignoring important matters like paying bills or going to work
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts

There’s nothing in this list that is exclusive to situational depression and not to other types of depression.

But there’s one thing that’s very important to remember when you’re dealing with divorce and depression: situational depression is the result of a specific event or stress, and that means you can do something about it.

Before jumping into what you can do though, it’s also important to recognize how depression might be affecting you while you’re on your divorce journey—because it can be so easy to ignore the symptoms or chalk them up to something (or, someone) else.

Thinking about Divorce

Even before you start thinking about divorce as a solution to your marital problems, you could be struggling with situational depression.

You might have trouble connecting with or even wanting to connect with your spouse. You might constantly feel stressed out or worried. And you might be forgetting things that you normally wouldn’t. This is often how situational depression first appears when you’re having relationship troubles.

Coping with Divorce

If you’re coping with divorce, it can be fairly easy to identify your symptoms of depression from the list above. However, the symptom that is the most frightening to experience is thoughts of suicide.

For most people dealing with divorce and depression, thoughts of suicide are way outside of their normal experience. It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that something must be very wrong if you’re having thoughts like this.

What I want you to know is that these thoughts are very common. If you can easily recognize them as thoughts that you’d never act on, then there’s nothing more to do. However, if thoughts of suicide become more persistent or you start making plans, then you need to reach out for support immediately or call 911.

There’s absolutely no reason for you to struggle with divorce and depression on your own.

Recreating after Divorce

One of the surprising times people can still struggle with divorce and depression is when they’re recreating after divorce. Even in the midst of creating a life you love, you can still struggle with situational depression.  And if you are someone who never wanted the divorce to begin with, your recovery after divorce can be especially painful.

You might be triggered by hearing a certain song. You might experience waves of sadness and difficulty when the date of your anniversary rolls around. This is all a normal part of the healing journey.

How to Deal with Divorce and Depression

Regardless of where you are on your divorce journey, there are things you can do to ease the pain and struggle of your situational depression.

Here are a few suggestions for you to consider:

Exercise regularly

Exercise doesn’t have to mean hitting the gym or a yoga studio. It can be as simple as going for a walk or dancing to your favorite song. Exercise is about moving your entire body in ways that you normally wouldn’t.

Exercise helps with situational depression because it puts your focus and attention on your body. When you’re focused on keeping your balance, lifting weights, or just putting one foot in front of the other, you’re not dwelling on your pain. When you have a respite from your depression, you will find it easier to deal with the challenges of your life as you process your thoughts about and experience of divorce.

Get more rest, relaxation, and sleep

Believe it or not, it takes a lot of energy to deal with divorce and depression. Yet many people believe that the way to get through it all is by staying active and “putting their life back together.”

If this is you, then allowing yourself time to rest, relax, and sleep will help you pause and replenish your energy. Don’t use the time to dwell on the pain you’re experiencing or as an excuse to not move your body. Rest, relaxation, and sleep are about replenishing your energy, so you can move through the depression and on to making the decisions you need to make and living your life.

Eat healthy snacks and meals

Ever heard of the divorce diet? It’s common for people to lose their appetite when they’re coping with divorce and depression.

Although it’s easy to turn to junk food because it’s convenient and tasty, your best bet for helping yourself heal is to focus on eating healthy snacks and meals. When you make healthy choices, you’re providing your body with the food it needs to function well.

Talk with your doctor about medication

If your symptoms are getting in the way of you taking care of your everyday responsibilities and activities, you should talk with your doctor. She can prescribe medication to help you cope with your divorce journey.

Reach out for help

You don’t have to go through your divorce journey alone. There are plenty of people who are able and willing to help you put the pieces of your life together in a way that makes the most sense for you. Of course, these people include your family and friends. But they also include helping professionals like therapists and divorce coaches.

Consider reading: “How to Get Through a Divorce and Heal: The Surprising X Factor of a Divorce Coach”

Remember, reaching out for help isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of tremendous strength because you know what you need the most and you’re willing to bravely look for help.

Divorce and depression are inseparable for nearly everyone. That’s because relationship problems are often the cause of situational depression.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t something you can do about it. You can cope with the depression you feel by accepting it and then acting … doing some fairly simple things and securing the help you need.

 

Since 2012, SAS for Women is entirely dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while navigating the divorce experience and striving to recover and rebuild. SAS offers women six FREE months of private email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you, your family, and your future self.

“Step forth. It’s okay if you fall. Life — your life — is calling you.” SAS Cofounder, Liza Caldwell

 

Finding the true you after divorce

How to Move On and Discover Your True Self After Divorce

It’s tempting, and oh, so easy to believe that the hard work of divorce is completing the legal, financial, and practical steps you must take to officially dissolve your marriage. The black and white stuff. And Lord knows there’s a myriad of those logistical, challenges. You have to decide how you will divorce, how, or what kind of lawyer to use. You need to discover your ducks, get them in a row and hunt down papers, file, combine, fill out, let alone try to read.  You must develop your strategy and absorb stressful negotiations. All of which in total and individually is very difficult to navigate. Yet these steps have not transformed you. They have not delivered you to a place called Moved On after divorce.

To move on, to create a life worthy of you and filled with worth for you, you need to accept the invitation. It’s an invitation that is unspoken and easy to ignore. Yet, if you want what’s coming around your corner to be genuine, to be filled with meaning, discoveries, growth, joy, and peace, you must accept the invitation, and do the work.

Allowing yourself to heal after divorce

The unspoken invitation your divorce delivers is the opportunity to discover your true self.

Discovering the true you is a journey that not everyone opts for. Yet, the opportunity is there for everyone who divorces.

The reason so many decline or ignore the invitation is because accepting it first requires a genuine desire to heal. Some people prefer to remain bitter and angry, to remain the victim of their divorce, or to ignore healing in favor of beginning a new relationship as quickly as possible.

Although each of these responses is normal, none of them will help you cope with divorce or move on. In other words, these reactions to divorce won’t allow you to heal.

To heal properly, you need to deal with the emotional story, the wounds created by your divorce and the responsibility you played in bringing an end to your marriage.

Accepting that grief is a part of divorce

You lose a lot when you divorce. Obviously, you lose your spouse, your dreams of growing old together, and your lifestyle. But you could also lose your home, the ability to see your children daily, someone to help with the day to day tasks of living, friends, and so many other things you’ve grown accustomed to, both large and small.

And with the recognition of each loss, you’ll grieve.

Grief is a complicated emotion. It’s unique to each person which means your grief will be unlike the grief your friend may have experienced when she divorced. Grief is also nonlinear. You’ll feel like you’ve moved forward—like you are on your way to feeling better—but then something will happen. Suddenly, you’ll feel like you’ve been thrown back into the abyss of misery and you can’t get out of bed.

…And understanding that grief is complicated

The grief you’ll feel is also complicated by the fact that it isn’t just one emotion you feel before, during and after divorce but a range of them. And you probably started experiencing feelings of grief as soon as the possibility of divorce became a reality: back there when you were beginning the divorce process.  Or right now, after divorce, the grief ebbs and flows. It washes over you …

Thoughts of disbelief, that this can’t be happening to you—that’s shock and denial. Because your mind naturally protects you from taking in more information and pain than you can deal with at once, feeling this way is common when you don’t want to divorce.

You will probably suffer gut-wrenching pain about the end of your marriage and all the changes you must face during and after divorce as you work through your grief. Change is always painful, and changes of the magnitude required by divorce are often awful—at least at first.

As you continue coping with your divorce and grieving, don’t be surprised if you struggle with trying to understand why divorce is the answer to the problems present in your marriage. You might struggle with trying to assign blame.

At first you might even struggle to figure out what you did that caused your Ex to want to end your marriage. And when you think you have it all figured out, you may promise your Ex that you’ll change if he come back to you. But the firmer he stands in their decision to divorce, the more frustrated you’ll become.

Then, at some point, you may get so frustrated that you start blaming your Ex and feeling tremendous anger toward him because, in your eyes, he is the cause of all the pain and torment you’re feeling.

Another emotion you might encounter as you continue healing from your divorce is loneliness. You’re more likely to experience loneliness if you’ve lost friendships due to your divorce or if you don’t know other people who are divorced who are willing to support you through your healing process.

However, not all the emotions you may experience as part of working through your grief are negative. You can also feel hopeful about life after divorce. And when you do, you will begin to make plans for the future. These plans should not be the same as the logistical steps you needed to take to get through your divorce. These plans are things you want to do, things that make you smile and feel excited as you contemplate them.

Your grief is complex, nonlinear, and unique. You may or may not experience these emotions. That combined with the nebulous nature of healing from grief can make it seem never-ending. You can feel trapped in and at times engulfed by your grief.

Why leaning into (instead of avoiding) your grief is crucial to moving on after divorce

When you feel trapped and defeated by all that you’re going through it can be incredibly tempting to self-medicate yourself in order to numb the pain. Some people wind up declining the invitation to discover their true selves by over or under eating, drinking too much, looking for love through sex, or taking prescription and nonprescription drugs.

But the beauty of allowing yourself to experience your grief, so long as you maintain your desire to heal, is that you will continue to make small incremental steps toward feeling better.

It’s the compounding of these small incremental steps that will eventually lead you out of your grief with a new sense of who you truly are. It’s through the testing and trials you survive because of and after divorce that you learn to drop the BS, the masks, and the stories you used to hide behind.

When your emotional wound of grief has healed, you can finally face the world as you truly are—powerful, unique, lovable, and perfectly you.

Whether you are navigating the experience, or recreating after divorce, one thing we see making a significant difference for women is the conscious choice to not do divorce alone. Smart women around the world have chosen SAS For Women to partner them through the emotional, financial, and oft times complicated experience of Divorce.

woman's hand addressing an envelope with quill pen

Divorce Recovery: An Exercise Before Dating

You were not expecting this so soon, but here you stand, transfixed, in the doorway of a dimly lit cafe, your throat closing up and your chest tightening, watching a man who looks quite similar to his profile pictures. Could he be “The One” you wonder? You’ve had a tantalizing preamble of just the right amount of emails. He’s revealed himself, but not too much. Now, you see him in the booth in front of you. He’s wearing black, dramatic, cat-eyed reading glasses. He’s even better than you could have hoped ….

Honk. Stop thinking that way.

It is not your mission, take it from Mama. If you are looking for The One, Your Soul Mate, Your Next Mister Big, read this and consider more: What role did you play in your last long-term relationship? You know, the one you just left, with the ink still drying on the divorce papers?

It’s natural to feel a little insecure right now, to want to replace and fill the void. I did. But what I learned maybe simultaneously, in my Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde personality post-divorce, is that eventually in your divorce recovery, you have to take a hold of yourself. You have to shake off the dust, and look underneath your shirt. You’ve got to examine the wounds, the wounds that are just now seeing the light of day.

We propose the following as a start to getting to know your own story and for dedicating specific time to allow yourself to mourn:

Coaching exercise: Divorce recovery letter

Goal: To examine what you have learned and to fully experience both the dark and light of loss.

Instructions: Choose an issue, an object, a way of living, or a relationship (hint, it’s probably the last one) In other words, someone/something you consider a loss. You will need a blank piece of paper and a pencil.

Create a graph marking the highs and lows of your relationship over time. First draw a horizontal line across a piece of paper.  The space above the line represents the positive experiences. The space beneath the line represents the negative experiences. On the far left of the line, put a dot on the line and write next to it the year the relationship began. Moving right, think about the highs and lows of your relationship as they relate to memories and events.  Put a dot and a notation for each memory, either above or below the line depending on whether or not it was a positive or negative experience. For example, your marriage may represent a very positive experience so it will be very high on the page.  Continue forward through the years with each important year or event plotted similarly. Connect the dots. Your graph should take you up to your current moment in time.

Examine this line. How did this exercise make you feel?  Do you see anything differently from the story you told yourself before?

Now write a letter to the object of the relationship. If it is your spouse, then you are writing to him/her and telling him/her how the graph makes you feel.  What did you learn? What do you see when you look at the narrative line of your relationship? What responsibility did you play in the story line?

Note: If you wrote to a person (your Ex for example) DO NOT attempt to read this letter to him/her.  This is for you and is a tool to help you process your thoughts and feelings. 

Divorce recovery homework:

This divorce recovery letter and graph represent how you have internalized and now externalized your life in this relationship. You have now documented how you feel and have felt about it. Where will you keep this graph and letter as you consider moving forward? Will you keep it in a drawer under your rolled argyle socks? Will you burn it, or put it in a box high in the closet?

SAS for Women helps women pick up the pieces after divorce and move forward with their lives. If you are not ready to talk to someone about your story, consider signing up for our weekly coaching letter. Our letter, SAS Day Break, will arrive discretely in your inbox and remind you of YOU and what you need in this moment as you continue to move, grow stronger, and rebuild your life after divorce.