Divorce stress is well documented and can affect people in different ways. Whether you are the initiator of the divorce or you received a notice from your spouse out of the blue, you are likely feeling at least some degree of stress.
These feelings – which can turn severe, in some cases – can affect you mentally and physiologically.
Symptoms of Divorce Stress Syndrome
If you are experiencing shallow breathing, insomnia, lack of appetite, and weight loss, just know that you are not alone. Millions of people just like you go through a divorce every year, and right now you are experiencing dire stress from that situation.
However, there are ways you can manage your feelings so that your divorce isn’t so hard on your mind and body. Calming yourself down and easing your mind about the future is also important for any children you and your spouse share.
Divorce and Stress – Where Are You on the Divorce Stress Scale?
Endocrinologist Hans Selye first formally studied stress in 1935 by introducing various stimuli to lab mice. The more stimuli were added, the more physiological responses the mice presented. The mice had shallow breathing, their digestion stopped, and their blood flow was diverted from their skin and organs to their adrenal glands.
In 1967, two psychiatrists by the name of Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe carried on that research as a means to find a connection between stress and illness. The doctors developed a scale known as the Holmes-Rahe Scale, which determines how likely you are to develop a stress-based illness.
Scoring 150 or less on the scale meant that you were at a slight risk of illness, while a score of 150 to 300 showed a moderate risk. Those scoring 300 or more faced a significant risk of illness.
According to the Holmes-Rahe Scale, the death of a spouse shows up at 100 while divorce scores in at 73. However, the more difficult your divorce, which would be the case if you are arguing about alimony, child support, and if there is abuse in the home, the higher your score will be. Before you know it, you may be at a level on the scale that indicates illness, and that’s when the health problems may begin.
Just to put those scores into perspective, a vacation shows up at 13 on the scale while receiving a personal outstanding achievement can present a stress level of 28. Yes, even positive life events can present some level of stress on the human body.
How Does Divorce Cause Stress?
Those who have never gone through a divorce really don’t understand how splitting from your spouse can wreak such extreme havoc on your nervous system.
Imagine you are comfortably sitting in your home, surrounded by your loving family. You feel good about your situation in life and have a major support system, which contributes to your happiness and quality of life.
All of a sudden, a major earthquake rocks your house and everything in it. You flee outdoors only to watch your home – and comfortable lifestyle – dissolve into a crevice in the earth. There you stand, all alone, with everything you thought was stable crumbling all around you. Where do you go from here?
That horrible scenario is the pain of divorce in a nutshell. At some point, you pledged your undying love to your spouse. But now, for whatever reason, your marriage is dissolving, and suddenly you are left to wonder – what will your life look like now? What will other people think? What will your future hold?
California Divorce Stress Statistics
According to ongoing studies of divorcing men and women, both genders deal with divorce stress both during and after a marriage dissolution. Couples with children see women filing for divorce 70% of the time, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. This leaves many men broadsided with the shock of their marital breakdown. Thus, men are more likely to feel rejection and anger while women stress about financial support and loss of social status.
Can Divorce Cause Post-Traumatic Stress?
Absolutely. Divorce is difficult for everyone, regardless of your station in life. The act of divorce is much like a bereavement when mourning the death of a close family member.
With divorce, the stress is compounded by two factors. There are the “real” stressors of having to start over and making a decision to keep the house or move, for example.
Then there are the “imagined” factors – or unknowns – such as wondering if the divorce settlement will be a fair one and fearing the struggle of making ends meet with a one-person income.
Divorce is downright frightening and can be made even worse if your spouse is less than cooperative. If your soon-to-be-ex is hostile, divorce can be the stuff of nightmares.
When you are faced with fear of the future pending your divorce, PTSD can develop, and illness can follow.
What is Post Divorce Syndrome and What are the Symptoms?
Studies prove that you don’t need to be a war veteran to experience post-traumatic stress. Experts put divorce at one of the highest factors for developing PTSD.
You may be experiencing PTSD as a byproduct of divorce stress if you exhibit these common symptoms.
Sleep disruption is incredibly common during a divorce, as are nightmares. You might have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, or both. Insomnia can make you feel tired during the day, which can be dangerous if you have a job that requires strict attention, such as an airline pilot.
Extreme nervousness is a common symptom of divorce stress syndrome. Both during and after a divorce, your anxiety levels can shoot to mind-scrambling levels. You feel unstable, you feel lost, and your body is reacting by kicking your fight or flight mechanism into high gear. Anxiety can cause you to engage in uncharacteristic behavior, such as sending hundreds of emails to your spouse or divorce attorney or emptying your bank account to take control of your finances.
In an effort to alleviate the extreme stress caused by the split, many people turn to cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs to calm their nerves and ease their minds. While the stress may be alleviated somewhat and in the moment of taking these substances, the problems that result may lead to even more stress in the future. An example is getting an expensive and life-changing DUI in the middle of a contentious divorce.
Divorce can cause you to feel as though you have failed, particularly if events leading up to that point serve to reinforce your beliefs. An example includes feeling as though you didn’t work hard enough to fix the marriage, and that’s why it fell apart. When the self-blame compounds, depression can develop, which can negatively affect every aspect of your life.
You are said to have this condition if you have several dangerous conditions occurring at one time, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, excess belly fat, and high blood sugar. Metabolic syndrome can increase your risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
Drastic Weight Loss
Divorce stress and weight loss go hand-in-hand. You can’t eat and you’re not hungry, which causes the pounds to drop off fast.
Divorce Stress and its Effects on Health
Along with all of the above, chronic health problems and mobility issues can develop after a divorce. You may find it more difficult to eat well and exercise regularly on account of the depression and lack of sleep. Developing unhealthy habits can lead to diseases like diabetes and cancer.
After your divorce is over, it is recommended that you get a physical once per year to combat any symptoms you may be feeling from your lingering stress condition.
How to Cope with Divorce and Stress
1. Recognize That Your Intense Feelings Are Normal
Going through divorce can cause a roller coaster of emotions. Write down what you are feeling and realize that your emotions will soon calm once the storm is over.
2. Find a Routine and Take Time to Recuperate
Slipping into a routine at work or with hobbies can help you more easily cope with divorce stress. Find something to get your mind off things and your mind and body will eventually find calm.
3. Find a Support Group
Get friends and family involved to help you see that the days ahead don’t have to be so dark and lonesome. An actual therapy support group is another idea that could bring your stress levels back to a healthy baseline.
4. Care for Yourself
Get a massage, see a hairstylist, and go to the gym. The better you treat yourself, the calmer and more content you will begin to feel.
5. Avoid Arguments & Conflict
Divorce can bring out the worst in people, causing explosive quarrels with words that cut deep. Engaging in all that arguing will only exacerbate your extreme stress. Turn the other cheek as best you can and try to remain friendly with your spouse, even during disagreements.
6. Be There for Your Children
Try your hardest to maintain a positive attitude through it all and focus all of that good energy on your children. Show them that life goes on and that you are hopeful for the future. By being close to them and putting effort into their well-being, you may find that some of their youthful energy rubs off on you, helping to alleviate the stress of divorce you may be feeling.
Are Your Children Dealing with Divorce Anxiety?
If your children are struggling with you and your spouse splitting up, it is important to make them realize that it is not their fault, nor does it have to be a frightening time. Let your kids know they can rely on you and that they can follow your example of taking things calmly. Truly convince yourself that this difficult time will soon pass, and life for both you and your children will soon become normalized.
Tell your kids what is going on, but don’t involve them in the gritty details. Let them know that everything will be okay, and really believe it, because it’s true. If you believe in a hopeful future, your kids will, too.
When talking about the future with your children, always make and keep realistic promises. Your children need to know that their future is in good hands, even if mom and dad will no longer be together.
Your children will fare better with the stress of divorce if you help them maintain a routine. Dinner, teeth-brushing, and bedtimes should be strictly enforced. If both parents can get on board with setting the appropriate boundaries, your children will eventually cope with divorce just fine.
Try your best to keep your kids from any shouting matches or otherwise disagreements between you and your spouse. Never treat them as spies to find out how the other is living. Kids should never take sides and will fare better with divorce stress if both parents love and nurture them equally while handling the divorce as amicably as possible.
The Divorce Stress Adjustment Model May Be Helpful
The best way to ease divorce stress is to start on the path to reinventing yourself right away. As soon as possible, look for ways to allow yourself to mourn and work through your feelings. A therapist might help. At the very least, surround yourself with positive people who can help you see the good in everything.
Most importantly, in order to rediscover who you used to be, or to reinvent yourself entirely, you must learn to like yourself. You may be experiencing an overload of self-rejection following your divorce. Work on getting your confidence back by setting small goals and completing them, even if it’s just to go out and get the mail after a long time in bed. You can then move onto getting dressed, heading out, and treating yourself to help you feel good about yourself once more.
If you find yourself handling the bills or taking on some new kind of responsibility that your spouse formerly handled, take pride in your new role. Embrace the changes that come, and your stress will eventually subside.
Finally, look to the joy of sometimes being alone. You can do whatever you want, or what you and your children want, without having to listen to anyone else. If you wish, a transitional relationship could help to take your mind off things. This isn’t to be thought of like a rebound, but more like dipping your toes into the water to see what dating might be like post-divorce.
Whatever happens, keep a positive attitude through it all, and your divorce stress will soon become a thing of the past.
If you are thinking about divorcing your spouse, contact the experienced family attorneys at Griffith, Young, and Lass in Carlsbad, California. We can help you during this difficult time to keep any divorce stress you may feel to an absolute minimum.