Divorce is one of the most stressful events that can happen in a person’s life, and it can have more than just emotional consequences. You might experience sadness and loss, but divorce can take a toll on your physical and mental health as well. Lack of social support, lower income, a reduction in access to healthcare, and other factors can put a strain on your well-being. But knowing what lies ahead can help you cope with the changes to come.
What are the health effects of divorce?
Because of the stress associated with divorce, people can often suffer physical and mental health consequences as a result of separating from a spouse. Men who don’t remarry tend to suffer more long-term effects after a divorce, while women typically suffer more drastic short-term effects.
- Cardiovascular disease: If you’re a woman, divorce contributes to your risk for heart disease, typically because women suffer higher levels of emotional stress and economic hardship, resulting in higher stress levels, than men do.
- Weight change: If you’re a man, you’re more likely to experience a drastic weight gain (20 pounds or more) after a divorce, especially if you’re older than 30.
- Metabolic syndrome: Divorced women are more likely to have metabolic syndrome than women in satisfying marriages. Metabolic syndrome encompasses a group of risk factors for heart disease, diabetes, stroke and other health problems. These risk factors include excess belly fat, low levels of good cholesterol, and high blood pressure, among others.
- Risky behavior: Men have significantly higher risk of abusing alcohol and drugs after a divorce. They also have a 39% higher suicide rate than married men.
- Insomnia: While it’s normal to have trouble sleeping after a divorce, insomniacan lead to more serious physical and mental health problems, including higher blood pressure and anxiety.
Mental health consequences
- Anxiety: Being divorced increases your risk for anxiety and panic attacks, especially if you’re a woman. And anxiety can continue even if you remarry. Anxiety is also linked with blood pressure spikes.
- Depression: More serious than just feeling sad, depression can result from divorce. Divorced men, for example, undergo psychiatric care 10 times more often than married men.
Where can you turn for help?
Your family and friends will be an asset during this stage of your life. They can offer support and comfort as well as helping you manage your physical needs. You can also become involved in a formal support group to help you deal with your emotions. If you need professional help, seek out a psychologist to talk to about your feelings and ways to move forward, including medication if necessary.
Other ways to take care of yourself include:
- Reducing your use of alcohol and other substances
- Improving your diet and exercise routine
- Getting adequate sleep
- Talking to a cognitive behavior therapist and preventing negative thoughts
- Joining a support group
- Getting involved in social activities
- Taking medication, such as antidepressants and sleep aids
How can you have a healthier divorce?
- Don’t beat yourself up over the situation. Instead, give yourself a break and take time to heal.
- Consider mediation rather than going to court to settle the details of your divorce.
- Communicate and avoid power struggles with your ex. Use a psychologist as a mediator to reduce conflict, or handle communication over email if an in-person meeting is too hard emotionally.
- Prepare your thoughts in advance by creating a list of topics you want to discuss.
- If you have children, minimize shock as much as possible by giving them advance warning of the changes ahead, such as transitioning to a new home.
While divorce is emotionally taxing for everyone involved, taking care of your physical and mental wellbeing can help you handle the situation more successfully. Many times people can rely on self-care and their support network to make it through the biggest challenges of divorce. More serious concerns, such as depression, risky behaviors, or potentially dangerous health problems may require a physician’s help to overcome.