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    Coping with Stress During a Divorce: A Practical Mental Health Guide

    Friends listening to crying woman at home on the couchAccording to the Office of National Statistics, 34% of marriages fail before reaching the 20th wedding anniversary. Along with moving house or the death of a family member, divorce is one of the most stressful events that life can throw at us, along with the death of a loved one, job loss or a major illness. Much like having a rug pulled out from under us, breaking up with a life partner is a traumatic experience.

    Time Heals

    It may seem glib to those undergoing a painful or messy breakup, but time really is a great healer. Given time, your mood will eventually stabilize and you will be able to move on (despite this seeming like an unthinkable prospect at the time). But for those in the throes of a marital split this news may seem little comfort. Of course, being told to just ‘keep your chin up and put a brave face on it’ when your world is falling apart is an unproductive attitude and one that men are far more likely to encounter from their peers during a divorce.

    Of course it takes more than time to get over the trauma of a divorce. If you do feel like your mental or physical health is badly suffering during this time, then it’s important to know that there are ways to tackle things head on and people out there who can help.

    Stress

    Stress, as the word suggests is about being under pressure. Stress makes you feel unable to cope and can have a whole raft of psychological and physical symptoms. The most obviously apparent of these include trouble with sleeping patterns, sudden weight loss or weight gain and a feeling of low self-esteem. Physical problems can include raised blood pressure, headaches and extreme mood swings. All these sensations can lead to a further increase in stress levels and form a negative feedback loop that is constantly being reinforced. Coping with stress is as much about recognising the need to break this negative spiral, and wresting back control of your mental wellbeing.

    Talk to friends, family members and medical practitioners, as help is readily available for those who ask for it. Many people, especially men, feel as if their condition isn’t worthy of medical attention but stress can be a real medical problem if ignored for long enough. Whether in the form of a comforting chat or a short course of prescribed medication to help you through those darkest days, there is a lot of help out there. You just need to go and seek it out.

    Anxiety

    Stress has all sorts of side effects and anxiety is a common one, gnawing away day and night following a divorce. Again, it’s important to get a handle on these feelings before they start to get out of control and affect your life. Those butterflies in your stomach are a sure-fire symptom and a classic hallmark of anxiety. Don’t try to deny or suppress these feelings, as anxiety is a perfectly valid emotional response for both men and women undergoing a divorce. It only becomes a more significant problem when it causes you to alter your behaviour in an attempt to reduce the feelings — for example, you may start to avoid going out or meeting up with people, leading to an increased sense of loneliness and isolation and further reinforcing the negative feedback loop of stress which we’ve already discussed.

    Relaxation, counselling, meditation or even medication can help deal with anxiety and help you to regain control. Although your GP should be able to advise you in this area, there is a wealth of advice out there for coping with anxiety, including the charity Anxiety UK.

    If ignored, anxiety can eventually tip over into full blown panic attacks.

    Panic Attacks

    Most sufferers of a panic attack believe that they are experiencing a heart attack, and it’s no wonder. Symptoms include tightness in the chest, difficulty in breathing, a pounding heartbeat and general sense of doom, often accompanied by a sensation of choking. Sufferers often resort to avoidance behaviour, steering clear of places and situations where they have experienced an attack in the mistaken belief that this will prevent another attack.

    Frightening as a panic attack may feel, it is simply the body’s systems trying to help you by preparing your body to run away. This is a leftover trait from our early prehistoric ancestors, when a scary or fearful situation usually involved a big, hungry predator. Of course you can’t run away from the effects of a divorce.

    The key, ironically, is not to panic. Seek medical advice, from a doctor or counsellor, who can offer you a range of therapies that will enable you to deal with future attacks. You will find that once you understand what a panic attack is from a medical point of view, it is often far easier to control them. In some cases, medication can be used as a temporary measure to help you learn to control your responses until such time as you feel more able to cope.

    Depression

    If panic attacks, weight loss or weight gain are the visible outward signs of stress, then depression is the underlying slow burning consequence that can result. Depression is a very misunderstood illness (and it is an illness, not an emotional response or feeling). Hopelessness, inwardness, insomnia, negativity and a sense of isolation are all symptoms of this crippling condition. Depression can plague some people for years or even their whole lives but it’s important to know that there are ways of coping and addressing it.

    Fortunately, help is readily available, and there are a huge number of treatments to help you to conquer your depression and develop a more positive mindset. Medication has become increasingly sophisticated, with far fewer side effects than even a few years ago, and the effects can kick in within just a few days in some cases. The real means of dealing with depression though is through opening up to people you trust about it. This is easier said than done and often the skills of a trained counsellor or psychotherapist are needed to really drill down and address the root cause. It may seem to you that this would be divorce but depression can often result from deep seated problems you may have carried around with you for years.

    Remember that plenty of other people have gone through all these emotions and have successfully rebuilt new lives. Given time and distance, you will climb out of this negative cycle of feelings, emerging ready to face the world again and even to find a new love to share it with.

    Author Bio: Muna Saleem is an associate solicitor with Family Law Firm, Crisp & Co and an accredited member of the Law Society’s Family Law Panel. She practices in all areas of private family law including divorce and financial remedy applications, financial settlements, cohabitee disputes, as well as children matters such as Child Arrangement.

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