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Dealing With the Stress of Divorce

By:  Michelle L. Searcy

Divorce can often create stress, anxiety, and even depression.   If you are going through a divorce or are even contemplating it, uncertainty about the future is bound to affect your mental health.  You may experience fear and anxiety about your income, your property, and your children.  Different people react differently to all of this stress.  The range of coping mechanisms spans healthier tactics, such as healthy eating and exercising to more risky behaviors, like excessive drinking or spending.   Regardless of your personal style of coping, you will need to make crucial, potentially life-altering decisions in the process of a divorce.  

You will need to be able to evaluate offers, determine whether and on what terms to counter-offer, or whether to present issues for the court to decide.  Stress, depression and anxiety do not only affect the way you feel, but also the way you think.  They can cloud your judgment, making it more difficult to make the best decisions possible.  Poor decisions may not only affect the outcome of your case, but increase your legal costs.  Thus, you may find it helpful to identify your level of stress, and then, determine how best to address it.  

Psychology Today published an excellent article in 2012 titled “Where are You on the Divorce Stress Scale?”   An honest assessment of the effects of divorce-related stress will help you determine how best to cope  to allow you to make forward thinking, productive decisions.  The Psychology Today article included excellent suggestions for coping with stress.  Other resources are also available, such as the Jane Collingwood article on Psychcentral.com, Reducing the Stress of a Divorce.

Reducing your stress level will not only help you make good decisions, but will also improve your health.  In addition to stress, anxiety and depression, going through a divorce may have long-term effects on your overall health.  According to “Eight Surprising Ways Divorce Affects Your Health,” by Jane Bianchi of Prevention.com, those can include cardiovascular disease and other chronic health and mobility issues.  You may even find yourself dealing with Divorce Stress Syndrome, which is more fully explained in the February 26, 2012 article from the Daily Mail by Tanith Carey.

With so much stress and so many decisions to be made, it is vital that you set yourself up for the best possible outcome for you and your family.  You cannot control the behavior of your spouse.  You can only control your own and you may not be capable of doing so if you are overwhelmed with stress, depression, and anxiety.  Your lawyer can inform you of the potential consequences of your legal decisions.  In doing so, your lawyer may help you sort through your emotions with the hope of helping you think clearly about your options.  However, the attorney’s toolbox may not have all of the tools you need to get the mental health aspects of your divorce in order.  Though attorneys are not generally therapists, I do find that a certain level of stress-relief can come with knowing you’ve hired the right divorce attorney.   That relief only grows with good attorney-client communications and making sure you have an understanding of the legal process and potentials.

If you have tried several coping mechanisms but still find yourself overwhelmed, consider talking to a therapist.  A therapist will have many more tools available to help you.  You may think that seeing a therapist could negatively impact your case, particularly regarding child custody or parenting time issues.  In reality, judges will view your ability to seek help when it is needed as a positive that makes you a better parent.  Counseling does not mean you’re weak and can actually help make you stronger for dealing with what lies ahead.

The qualifications of therapists vary widely.  Some very good therapists have a masters degree in social work.  Psychologists will have a doctorate degree.  If you need medication to address your issues, you may be able to get a prescription from your primary carebphysician or a psychiatrist.  Once you determine that the person has the right educational background and qualifications, make sure it is the right person for you.  Therapy is very personal, so you must feeling comfortable sharing your deepest thoughts and fears with the therapist.  While a therapist may ask you to face some difficult emotions, they should help provide you those tools that will help you reduce your stress and look forward to the future.  Also, it is not necessarily a lifetime commitment.  You may just need someone to help you get through the divorce process.  The stress and anxiety you may feel are likely only situational and can often pass once final orders and clarity are achieved.  While divorce is stressful, it is also an opportunity for you to strive for your best possible life, even if you need a little help along the way.