A good friend of mine, Sally (whose real name has been changed to protect her identity), had recently signed the divorce papers. It was devastating to see her in such agony. Before deciding to get a divorce, during the process, and after divorce—it was all an emotional roller coaster. It takes weeks, months, or sometimes even years to feel ‘normal’ again. You may not see it now because of the debilitating depression, but there is always a future after divorce, and you have the power in your hand to decide how good it gets. Read on to find out how you can regain control of your emotional well-being in this difficult time.
Maybe your spouse told you that he/she wanted a divorce; maybe you decided on the split; maybe it was a mutual decision. Whichever route that brought you here, divorce is still a gut-wrenching experience. It is only normal to feel depressed during and/or after the divorce.
Experiencing depression after divorce is called “situational depression.”
What is situational depression? And how is it different from clinical depression? (1)
They share the same symptoms such as
Losing interest in activities that you used to enjoy
Disturbed sleep or having difficulty falling asleep, or feeling tired when you wake up in the morning
You couldn’t care less about work or paying bills
Experience suicidal thoughts
The difference is that situational depression is brought on by a traumatic event, such as divorce, the demise of a loved one, physical assault, and so on. Whereas clinical depression may not have an identifiable cause.
Whether you are in the process of getting a divorce or you have finalized the paperwork. Almost everything can trigger a sense of sadness in you—songs, watching other couples, rainy days, you name it. Sometimes through no fault of your friends or family members, because they do not know what else to say, they tell you to ‘snap out of it’. It makes you feel worse, as you would very much want to snap out of it, but you don’t know how to do so. Or maybe you need time to grieve over the loss of the relationship, you don’t want to snap out of it just yet.
Here are ways to manage depression after divorce:
Know that it is normal to feel depressed at this difficult time.
Know that it is only human to feel deeply saddened by the end of a close relationship (even when you are not on good terms). Let yourself feel the pain of those emotions, and do not try to stop or hide them, but do not wallow.
Set boundaries to the grieving of your divorce. Set a time every day to allow yourself to feel the pain. You are free to cry, wail, shout…during this time. Once the timer is over, do something that changes how you feel, you could take a shower, you could watch a funny movie, anything that makes you feel differently.
Know and trust that this will be over and you have an exciting future to look forward to.
Maintain good habits
It is hard to get out of bed and start your day like how you used to when you are in an emotional storm. You may not feel like eating as depression has flooded all your senses and you don’t feel hungry. You don’t feel like going to work. You much prefer to stay asleep until this nightmare blows over.
Take baby steps to get back into your routine. I know it is easier said than done. Every small step is getting you closer to regaining control over your emotion and life. For example, if you have difficulty getting out of bed, after you wake up in the morning, set a timer to stand, walk around the bed, sit on the floor for five minutes, or take a shower. If you still feel like going back to bed you can do so, but know that your victory of the day is getting out of bed for five minutes.
Try to get enough sleep
Insomnia is strongly correlated with depression. Depression increases the risk of insomnia and vice versa. Research showed that getting enough sleep decreases the risk of depression. (2)
You may be ruminating in bed and that makes it difficult to fall asleep. When you check the clock, it’s already 1 a.m.
Create a night routine for yourself. A relaxing bath, a cup of chamomile tea, read a fiction novel. Most importantly, avoid screen time one to two hours before bedtime.
Don’t stay in bed when you find it hard to fall asleep. Go to a different room, go to the kitchen for some water or milk, read a book until you feel tired. Only go to bed when you feel tired. That way you slowly train your brain to associate the bed and bedroom with sleep.
Regular exercise is good for your physical health and it is good for your mental health too. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins. This triggers a good feeling in your body. In fact, the effect is similar to morphine! Research shows that exercise not only improves your mood, it also helps you to sleep better at night. (3)
Join a support group
Look for support groups for divorcees, they provide wonderful support systems for individuals. Knowing that you are not alone in this sometimes gives great comfort to oneself. You can learn from one another on how to cope in this difficult time. It also gives you a reason to socialize with others and may give you hope when you meet with others who are further along in the journey to regaining peace.
Divorce is almost always messy and leaves you in pieces. It may even consume you. Seeking help from a mental health professional can help to process the plethora of emotions that you experience and assuage your pain in time.
Disclaimer: You are encouraged to use the content from this site to improve your mental health. However, this is not a substitute for professional help (be it medical and/or mental health care, treatment and/or diagnosis).