Divorce. It’s a word right up there with death and taxes when it comes to conjuring up feelings up misery, pain, heartache, and stress. While more than 90% of Americans will marry by the age of fifty, according to the American Psychological Association, at least 40-50% of marriages will end in divorce. As one of those statistics, I can confirm the experience of those who have gone through it — divorce sucks.
But divorce need not be viewed solely as an ending, but also as the start of a new beginning. After all, change is synonymous with opportunity. Still, divorce is one of the most challenging things you may be faced with in life. Make no mistake, divorce is a trauma, and the body and mind will need time and attention to heal. With that in mind, here are six tips for making the best of it in terms of staying healthy during and after a divorce.
1. Stay Sharp and Lean into the Pain
The one piece of advice I received more than anything in the months following my divorce was to “go have fun.” To me that sounded like I should party a lot and play the field. But I also received another piece of advice from someone who helped me through my divorce, which countered the “have fun” mantra. “You must lean into the pain,” she said. It sounded like something my boxing coach would say, so I took her up on it.
Not to toot my own horn, but I didn’t heed the “have fun” advice from my friends. Instead, I didn’t drink a drop of alcohol for a year following my divorce. Thankfully, alcohol wasn’t a factor in my failed marriage, but still I recognized that alcohol is a depressant, a dulling agent, and an escape, so I chose to abstain. What divorcees need more than anything is to face trauma, not avoid it. It’s tempting to dull and mask pain. But as bad as pain is in any manifestation (physical, mental, or emotional), there is only one way through it — meeting it head on.
2. Remember to Eat, and Eat Well
In stressful scenarios, people tend to do one of two things — they gain weight or they lose weight. You might think losing weight sounds good, but neither of these scenarios is good for you. Stress manifested in the body is a bad thing. Stress causes sickness and wreaks havoc on our lives.
Food, like exercise, is one of the critical nourishing agents in the body. But eating during a really stressful time is easier said than done. When your heart is broken sometimes the last thing you feel like doing is eating. Smoothies and juicing are great way to get your body lots of micronutrients and nourishment without the chore of having to muscle down food when you aren’t hungry. Try a blend of unsweetened nut milk, spinach, avocado, natural protein powder, and a cup of fruit.
3. Find a Mind-Body Practice That Works for You
I worked extensively with a counselor, or “spiritual advisor,” following my divorce. Part of that process was exploring different chakras and energy systems in the body, and delving into the connection between emotional and physical pain.
Another part of my mind-body practice during my divorce was training in the martial arts. One rainy Saturday shortly after my divorce, I went through a muay Thai testing and literally got the crap beat out of me. It was both grueling and cathartic. In a metaphorical way, it was comforting to know I could take the hits, get knocked down, and get back up.
Understandably, getting hit or rolling around on mats might not be your thing, so the martial arts are certainly not for everyone. Other great options for mind-body connectedness are yoga, tai chi, meditation, prayer, and even simply deep abdominal breathing.
4. Find a Release for Your Rage
Suppressed rage has been linked to everything from lower back pain to mass shootings. But in our politically correct culture, hitting things is not okay. Yet, we as humans are hard wired to be aggressive beings. Regardless of your opinion on whether humans should ever hit anything or anyone, one thing is for certain — rage needs a release. I know I’m not alone in this thought based on a recent news story I saw on the popularity of “rage rooms” where people pay to go in to padded rooms armed with baseball bats and destroy old computers, etc.
Again, activities like martial arts and boxing enable you to let out some aggressive anger while connecting to the internal art of finding breath and awareness. Even if it’s just putting boxing gloves on to hit a heavy bag or locking yourself in a room and screaming for a few minutes, you must find a way to release your rage — or it will come back to bite you and will inhibit your healing process.
5. Recover and Rest Well
I am a member at a sports recovery lounge where I sit in hot tubs, compression boots, and the sauna next to the likes of professional and competitive athletes. Those athletes continuously suffer physical traumas of every sort from micro muscle tears to significant physical injury. The thing about physical injury is that it has mental ramifications and vice versa. So during a time of emotional trauma, it’s important to help your body recover, as well.
In addition to the treatments you might find at a recovery lounge, other effective modalities include massage, acupuncture, and reiki. Of course, another element to recovering well is literally resting. Without question, sleep is essential for both physical and emotional recovery.
A word of caution: Be aware if you’re sleeping too much. While lack of sleep is linked to sickness and depression, so is too much sleep.
6. Exercise Frequently, But with Balance
Exercise is always listed near or at the top of the list when it comes to stress relief. But there can be too much of a good thing. Over exercising can become a literal manifestation of “running away” from your trauma. Nonetheless, exercising regularly post-divorce is critical. Again, think of your body symbolically. That is, when you are brokenhearted and physically stressed, what your body most needs is nourishment and to get strong again.
Think about hiring a trainer to push you to get stronger both literally and figuratively. Flexibility is also a must, so consider options like yoga and Pilates. Ultimately, exercise will help you to manage stress, sleep better, feel better, and even look better.
Your Healing Is a Balance and a Process
In the end, managing your way through a divorce is a balancing act. The blend and balance of healing your body, mind, and heart is part of the journey. Exercising is good, but watch for too much. Eating right is important, so make sure you get enough but not too much. Community and social support is vital, but so is your mindfulness and alone time.
A divorce is hard, but it, like any other trauma, can make you stronger and more resilient if you have the right game plan and the willingness to face it head on.