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Psychologists tell us that divorce is the second most stressful life change, only exceeded by the death of a spouse. Feelings of sadness, loss and anxiety are the natural response. For most, time will help heal these bad feelings and get us back on the right track. But coping with the depression after a divorce is a real challenge.
Since the process of divorce can take months, and the lead-up years, we sometimes develop a kind of fantasy life in our heads about how things will be once we are “free.” Unfortunately, like many false expectations, the reality doesn’t live up to the advance press. Our divorced friends will tell us how great it is to finally be free, but often edit out the depression and other problems.
Setting realistic expectations about personal freedom, finances and other post-divorce goals is important. You’ll do much better if goals are short term and minor rather than demanding everything changes to wine and roses.
Like other depressive episodes, the condition tends to make us withdrawn and feel isolated. Breaking out of this cycle usually means seeking help. This can be formal, as with a therapist; semi-formal, like in a support group; or an informal chat with a friend and confidant. Seek out those who have experience with divorce and who are the same gender as you. Men and women both get depressed after a divorce, but in different ways.
There are good things that come with any life and now is the time to focus on those rather than the things you miss. Part of the pain from a divorce is when we are blindsided by something we didn’t know we would miss so much. Simple things can be enough to trigger a round of sadness and withdrawal. But there are also pleasant things that come with a divorce, not the least of which is being out of a toxic relationship.
Since there is now room to make your own decisions, let those be freeing instead of burdensome. Finding new living conditions, or work, or any of a number of lifestyle changes is stressful but doesn’t have to be defeating. Choices are best seen as opportunities to have things the way you prefer instead of burdens to get past. As far as possible, focus on those things that give you pleasure and a feeling of accomplishment.
Unfortunately, we tend to keep bad memories in mind and rehash them in a viscious cycle of regrets. This is especially true when the divorce is in progress and when there are rounds of accusations flying back and forth. It isn’t possible to simply forget, but abandoning old, useless memories is one path toward healing.
The most practical way to do this is to create new, positive memories to overlay the old. New experiences will also help put the divorce in perspective – a significant time in your life, but not the end of your life. Make an effort to get some excitement and establish positive memories.
Since time has to pass until the bad feelings start to subside, it’s important to pay attention to the future. Planning is a great tool. There are usually many things on offer and you will have a feeling of starting over. Embrace that and make plans. Planning also allows you to live in a happier future where you’ve already recaptured your life.
Scheduling, even for minor tasks is a tool used to get you out of bed and moving – even though you don’t feel like it. And a schedule motivates from both directions. Before you do something, it serves as an incentive; after you’ve kept up with your schedule, it serves as a record of what you’ve accomplished – something to take pride in.
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