Divorce is one of the most stressful events a person can ever experience. If you’ve been diagnosed with clinical anxiety or depression, navigating divorce can only exacerbate your symptoms. But even if you’ve never suffered from mental health issues, the divorce process can certainly impact your baseline mental health, triggering situational anxiety, depression, and other issues.
Whether you are new to mental health issues or have been managing them for some time, it is absolutely critical to take care of yourself throughout the divorce process so your mental health does not suffer unnecessarily. While so much of the stress is virtually inevitable (divorces are not exactly known for bringing out the best in people), there are a few simple things you can do to keep anxiety and depression at bay.
Please note, however, that we are not mental health experts. As attorneys, we are not authorized or qualified to provide mental health treatments or diagnoses, but we are accustomed to regularly referring our clients to professionals who are. That said, please consider this article a general guide on mental wellness tips. This is not medical advice. If your mental health is suffering, please reach out to your divorce attorney for a referral to a trained, licensed mental health care provider.
Continue Taking Your Medication
If you’ve been diagnosed with anxiety, depression, or another mental health condition, continue your prescribed course of treatment. When paying your legal fees for your divorce, it can be tempting to find ways to save a buck or two, but slashing your prescriptions and/or regular therapy appointments is simply not the place to trim the fat. Stopping anti-anxiety medicine and anti-depressants often causes withdrawal and can make symptoms much worse. Be sure to meet with your doctor if you feel your medication needs an adjustment or is not working for you, or if you are facing budgetary constraints and are seeking guidance on what to do.
Feel and Process Your Emotions
When you go through a divorce, you will experience emotions that you never knew existed on any spectrum, anywhere – and in a given day, you will pass through each of them. It is important to allow yourself to feel them. When we push feelings down and deny them, we don’t have an opportunity to process the emotions. They can remain “stuck” in our bodies and minds, negatively affecting us even after the divorce is finalized. It is better to acknowledge your feelings and the reasons for them than to pretend they are not there.
Let Yourself Grieve
Whenever we suffer loss, we grieve. Divorce is the loss of your marriage and the life you had with your spouse. In many ways, it is like a little death. Let yourself grieve this death as you would an actual one. You may also find yourself mourning the loss of your physical environment if you are selling a house or moving. You may be sad to leave your marital home, neighbors, local connections, and the like. This is natural. Normalize the pain you are feeling by allowing yourself to sit with it. It will eventually pass, but only if you first process it.
Seek Support from Other Adults
To handle the anxiety and depression divorce can trigger (or exacerbate), seek out support from trusted adults, like friends, family members, a professional therapist, or a divorce support group. These people give us a safe place to talk about our feelings and how to handle the challenges of our divorce. This is particularly important if your children are going through a divorce with you. Your children should not serve as your confidantes during the divorce process; they have their own difficult emotions to process. Seek adults for your support, not only for your own mental health but for the mental health of your children.
Divorce can be an infuriating process, especially if your soon-to-be ex-spouse is not cooperative, is fighting about every issue, or is not being truthful. It is important to stand up for your rights and not give in simply because your ex-spouse is being difficult. At the same time, it is also crucial to your own mental health to not hold onto your anger after it is no longer serving any positive purpose. As Nelson Mandela once said: “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” Holding onto grudges and unnecessary (even if justified) anger will not teach your ex a lesson. It will only make you bitter.
Embrace the Lighthearted
When we are suffering from anxiety and depression, it is important to surround ourselves with positive people and engage in activities that bring us joy or, better yet, make us laugh. Spend time with people that raise your spirits. Watch funny movies. Listen to music that motivates you. Engage in creative activities such as journaling or painting. Try something new or rekindle an old hobby. Whatever makes you feel better and is healthy, do that.
Jealously Guard Your Personal Time
While divorce may be an inherently negative process of uncoupling, it can also provide an opportunity to start anew. As you navigate the process, look forward to building a new life. Take time for your own self-care by doing things you enjoy and that rejuvenate you. For example, a massage or other spa treatment, or a long hike in the woods, could be just the balm you need to alleviate some of your anxiety or depression. Also, treat yourself with compassion by recognizing that you may not be at your best during this difficult time. Do the best you can under the circumstances, and give yourself a break.
Many people suffer from anxiety and depression–both clinical and situational–throughout their divorce, but there are things you can do to alleviate some of those negative feelings to make the process more manageable. If you find yourself struggling and tips like these simply aren’t cutting it, reach out to a therapist or other qualified mental health professional. The tools available through therapy and other mental health treatments can sustain you through this challenge, as well as those to come, and lay the foundation for a healthier, more joyful future.