Those amongst us who are divorced or widowed could suffer 20% more chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes or cancer than those who are married. This statistic comes from research published in the September 2009 issue of the Journal of Health & Social Behaviour.
The research of 8,652 men and women in their 50s and early 60s in the US, found that the physical stress of marital loss continues long after the emotional wounds have healed. While this does not mean that people should stay married at all costs, it does show that the soon to be and newly divorced need to be especially vigilant about stress management and exercise.
In my practice as a family and divorce solicitor in Bath and Bristol, UK, I witness the enormous stress clients suffer as their broken marriages come to an end. Aside from the many negative emotions surrounding the breakup like fear and anger that cause stress, there is the alternative accommodation that has to be found, the finances resources that must be stretched, the contact with friends and families that is strained or lost, and the disturbed sleep, poor diet and reduced exercise that creates the unhealthy lifestyle, all adding to stress levels. Divorce is one of the most intense stressors.
To try and reduce that stress, I encourage clients to consider choosing a non-adversarial approach to divorce, like Collaborative Practice or Family Mediation. Not only might that approach help them achieve reasoned settlements but it could be healthier for them, than a positional, adversarial Divorce Court hearing.
But away from the divorce court clients still need to be good to themselves by developing habits that reduce their stress. In her Nine Tips for Dealing with Divorce Stress Cathy Meyer relationship coach and divorce mediator suggests ways in which, during the process of divorce, stress can be handled. They include:
- Making sure you pay attention to your emotional needs
- Keeping yourself physically fit
- Participating in activities that will nurture you emotionally and physically
- Letting go of problems that are beyond your control
- Giving yourself permission to feel
- Charging your expectations
- Giving yourself time to make decisions
- Making time for fun
- And letting go
Her article Nine Tips for Taking Care of Yourself During and After Divorce also contains some useful information.
As the research above highlights a divorce can be bad for your health. But by taking care of oneself, by focusing on keeping active, healthy and moving forward and not stuck in the past, by choosing a process like collaborative practice that focuses on settlement and reduces conflict , it is possible to minimize the damaging effects of divorce and move on with life.