6 WAYS TO FIGHT POST-DIVORCE DEPRESSION
By Deirdre Hally Shaffer, LCSW
Divorce is a life-altering event that can result in feelings of depression even in the most well-adjusted, successful people. Grief does not discriminate and should be expected with the loss of something that was once meaningful and valuable. Some symptoms to be aware of include fatigue, difficulty making decisions, feeling hopeless, and pervasive feelings of sadness.
Activities that were once enjoyable may no longer hold interest. Feelings of guilt and difficulty concentrating can occur. A potential challenge is that the very things that help alleviate depression are things you may not feel the motivation to do (which can become a vicious cycle). The best path forward is to consider the following advice not just when you “feel like it,” but because you know that it works.
SOCIALIZE. Preventing isolation is extremely important during divorce. Some relationships with friends and extended family will change which makes room to develop new social supports. Ways to do that include contacting old acquaintances, volunteering, and planning meals and activities with friends or coworkers. Attending community events, signing up for classes, and joining meet-ups are also ways to connect with others.
EXERCISE. Perhaps the most significant way to increase endorphins (“feel good hormones”) is to participate in aerobic activity 4-5 times a week for at least 30 minutes. Walking, running, biking, swimming, and yoga are great ways to elevate mood. Try teaming up with a work out buddy for extra motivation. In addition, a healthy diet high in Omega 3 fatty Acids (salmon, tuna, flax seeds, walnuts) and folic acid (spinach, avocado) can improve feelings of well being. Avoid alcohol, which is a depressant, and will only exacerbate depression.
CHALLENGE NEGATIVE THINKING. Being mindful of the self-talk that goes on in your head can lead to the realization that you are speaking to yourself with words that you’d never dream of using with someone else. Having a critical inner voice exacerbates sadness and low self-esteem.
When you find yourself making statements like, “No one will ever love me again,” challenge the truthfulness of this thought. Replace it with, “Of course there’s someone in this world who will love me. And I have many people in my life who love and care about me now.” Then list those people.
Keeping a daily gratitude list of your blessings and gifts will help combat negativity as will creating a practice of listing positive affirmations about yourself and your unique strengths and talents. Remind yourself that feelings and situations are constantly changing and that sadness is temporary.
SELF-EXPRESSION. Studies show that acknowledging and accepting difficult emotions is more effective than resisting them. Allowing the expression of strong feelings, like having a good cry, usually lasts an average of 90 seconds in full force and then subsides. Other ways to externalize emotional conflicts are through journaling, painting, dance, and talk therapy.
SET PERSONAL GOALS. Divorce presents an opportunity for soul searching and life reevaluation. Now is the time to consider how you want to live, determine career options, and to learn new things. Maybe you’ve wanted to learn how to cook or start a business or lose weight. The simplest goals like learning how to change the flapper on a toilet can lead you to feel more self confident and empowered. When your world is turned upside down, you can “right” it any way you want.
RECHARGE. Practicing good sleep hygiene (having a bedtime routine, going to bed at the same time every night, removing computers and TVs from the bedroom, and refraining from caffeine use after noon) helps to achieve a goal of 8 hours of sleep nightly. If obsessive thoughts prevent uninterrupted sleep, try keeping a notepad on your night table to list items to “worry” about tomorrow. Guided meditations, prayer, and massage are other ways of filling your reserves, as is the often-overlooked panacea of laughter. Watching funny movies and seeing comedy shows foster a wonderful antidote to sadness.
When symptoms of depression become moderate to severe and interfere with your ability to function, it is time to seek professional help and possibly investigate the use of anti-depressant medication. Know that this is not uncommon during divorce and will likely be short lived.