Mental Health and Divorce
There’s no correct way to feel at the end of a marriage. While some experience relief or a new vigour for life, many others feel sadness or regrets about the partnership ending, or deal with feelings of failure. This may particularly be the case if you had a family together who you may now be seeing less frequently.
Outside any feelings about the relationship, the legal process of divorce additionally comes with pressures and tensions which may add extra stress. Negotiating with your ex, the process of court proceedings, and planning for your future as a single person can all put a lot of pressure on your mood and quality of life.
The impact of divorce on mental health
A Dutch study has shown that, on average, those who have been through a divorce feel higher day-to-day levels of depression and anxiety than the rest of the populace.
Another study in Germany suggested that men were more likely to have their well-being immediately affected by the short-term consequences of divorce. However, women were more likely to have their lives affected in the long term by losses of income or childcare following a divorce.
The Stages of Grief
The stages of grief are most often spoken about after a bereavement. However, these can also be experienced after a relationship breakdown.
- Shock and Denial
After an initial reaction, you might refuse to acknowledge the divorce is really happening.
You may experience anger towards your ex, yourself, your family, or your circumstances.
You might feel as though you can negotiate a return to the relationship, or a way to minimise the effects of your separation.
This stage often signals that you’re beginning to accept the new situation. You might feel sadness, regret, or fear. Some feel the impulse to withdraw from their friends or family.
It’s at this stage when you fully accept the breakdown of the relationship and begin to plan for the future.
Symptoms of stress or anxiety
Periods of stress are a normal part of life. However, it can take its toll over time and it’s important to notice when stress may be affecting your behaviour, wellbeing, or how you’re feeling physically.
In the long term, stress can cause medical problems, change your thought patterns, or affect your relationship with loved ones.
Some of the symptoms of stress or anxiety to watch out for include:
- Concentration difficulties
- Chest pain or a racing heart
- Stomach problems
- Eating too little or too much
- Muscle tension
- Sleeping too little or too much
If stress is starting to have a noticeable impact on your life, you might find it helpful to talk about your feelings with a loved one or a professional. You could also try making time in your routine for breathing exercises, more physical activity, and planning ahead for busy or momentous days.
If you continue to experience stress, you can talk to your GP about options including medication or counselling.
Symptoms of depression
Feelings of grief and loss are common during and after divorce. However, if your feelings of sadness or emptiness are becoming constant or you are finding it difficult to look forward to the future, you may be suffering from depression.
Other than a consistently low mood, some other symptoms of this mental illness are:
- Losing interest in hobbies or interests
- Lack of energy
- Moving more slowly than usual
- Feeling irritable
- Changes in sex drive
- Disturbed sleep
- Avoiding contact with friends or family
- Changes in appetite
- Low self esteem
These symptoms can come on gradually, making it difficult to notice how things have changed. The NHS recommends that you contact your doctor if you experience these symptoms most days for more than two weeks.
Medical professionals describe depression as mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the impact it is making on your day-to-day life. As treatment, many experts suggest talking treatments like CBT or counselling, lifestyle changes, or a prescription for antidepressants. Doctors may also prescribe you SSRIs (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) which can increase the amount of serotonin in your brain.
Managing your mental health
Whether or not you have been diagnosed with stress or a mental illness, you should be taking care of your mental health during a divorce. This will enable you to make more productive decisions during the negotiation process and build the best possible version of your post-marriage life.
Here are our best tips for caring for your mental and physical health during a divorce case.
Find the right legal team
Your legal guidance can make all the difference during divorce and separation. When looking for a family law solicitor, think carefully about what you would like to achieve in your case.
Divorce lawyers can have a reputation for being confrontational or putting winning their case ahead of what the fairest resolution may be. However, the UK legal system is set up to ensure that the wellbeing of any children is put first when their parents divorce, and that the needs of both parties are well met where possible.
Having legal help on your side can help you to know where you stand and give you confidence in your decisions. As experts in negotiation, a solicitor may also be able to help any financial settlements or child arrangements (previously known as child custody) to go more smoothly. This can help you to feel supported, remove sources of stress, and help you to view the divorce as a series of manageable tasks, instead of one large, intimidating process.
Lawyers who are members of Resolution will have also signed an additional code of practice, promising to take a constructive approach to family law cases. This means that Resolution lawyers should reduce conflict or confrontation where possible, act with integrity, and support families. You might find this an attractive option if you’re hoping for an amicable divorce, or to retain productive co-parenting relationships.
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Spend positive time with family and loved ones
Your support network will be more important than ever at the moment, so make sure you reach out to loved ones.
Divorce can be isolating, particularly when your friends are still married, or have historically been close with both you and your ex. However, you would often be surprised at who is excited to remain a part of your life.
Post-divorce can be a great time to reaffirm your connection with your own friends and family, build new dynamics with those who have only known you as one of a couple, and reach out to older friends.
Depending on the nature of your marriage, you may be missing the companionship or closeness you had until recently. Spending time with loved ones doing activities you enjoy can help fulfil your need for connection and ease any feelings of loneliness. It can also help you to picture a happy and fulfilling life post-marriage.
Hobbies and Interests
This can also be an exciting time to explore new interests or delve deeper into existing ones.
This can be particularly useful if you have a limited existing circle of support. Joining a group of others with similar interests can help you to create new connections and explore the person you can be separated from your spouse.
Building your skills can additionally help to build up your self image and give you a focus outside of your divorce. New passions can help you to look forward to the future and find sources of happiness, despite other stressors in your life.
If possible, negotiate outside the court process
Sometimes, court proceedings are necessary when one spouse will not cooperate or finds the other’s terms completely unacceptable. However, they are often entered into when other methods would not only take less time and money, but cause less stress and conflict and give both parties more feelings of control over their future.
Collaborative Practise can be one route to a more amicable divorce which will not involve court action. This can happen when both parties make an agreement not to make an application to the court and hire solicitors trained in collaborative law.
The financial settlement and child arrangements will then be agreed through a series of “4 way” meetings with both spouses and solicitors. These meetings are supported by specialists, such as pension experts, when applicable.
Court decisions can be unpredictable at times or come to solutions which are inconvenient for all parties involved. The evidence brought in during court cases can also cause rifts in families. Settling out of court keeps you in the driving seat and allows you to make legally informed decisions.
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Regular exercise can have mental and emotional benefits as well as physical ones.
Similarly to other hobbies and interests, exercise classes can help you to build new social circles and take your mind off whatever’s progressing within your divorce.
Exercise has the additional benefit of releasing dopamine and serotonin, which can help to improve your mood and put negative feelings into perspective. Exercising as part of a healthy lifestyle has also been shown to help you to manage stress, sleep better, and improve self-esteem.
Self-care during a divorce can feel like a bit of a cliche, but it’s really another way to talk about taking time for yourself and finding ways to relax during a difficult period of your life.
Depending on your interests and lifestyle, this might mean anything from spending a quiet night with friends, to taking a long walk, to treating yourself to a massage.
While you might know that there’s nothing you can immediately do about the stressors in your life, your body can respond in the same way as it would when your ancestors were faced with a predator – by flooding your body with adrenaline. While this once would have been useful, in our modern world, it can result in ongoing feelings of stress and agitation.
Calming activities, especially those involving touch, can help to activate your parasympathetic nervous system and take your body out of fight-or-flight mode. This can enable your body to rest more effectively and help you to feel calm.
If your mood or stress level isn’t improving after a little time or some lifestyle changes, it’s time to get help.
Friends and family can be effective sounding boards and offer advice. However, professional mental health experts are trained to help you to unpack your feelings and develop strategies for coping in the future. This can be an invaluable part of the healing process. You might choose to see a counsellor or therapist individually or have family sessions.
If you’re using the services of a family law solicitor, they may be able to recommend a vetted professional experienced in helping those who are going through divorce.
Legal Assistance with Care and Integrity
If you’re looking for collaborative law representation, or Resolution lawyers to help you with your divorce in Bristol or beyond, consider using Harbour Family Law.
We are a specialist firm of Family Lawyers in Clifton, Portishead, and Clevedon, dedicated to helping the individuals and families who come to us reach a respectful solution which works for them.
Contact us today to find out how we can assist you in your matter.
“Katy is unflappable and extremely determined to give her clients the best possible outcome. Always available during times of crises, always reassuring throughout times of doubt, coupled with the ability to remain calm, with a caring nature. Absolutely excellent.” – Mrs R