In Stress and Coping

How to deal with depression after divorce?

Divorce is a common stressor linked to an increased risk for poor long-term physical and mental health, and yet few studies have evaluated interventions that could lessen these negative health effects.

In my stress management workshops, I very often work with people that are experiencing situational depression all the time. The biggest difference between situational depression and clinical depression is that situational depression is caused by a loss like death or divorce.

Most people going through divorce experience some degree of situational depression as part of the normal grieving process over all the losses the end of the marriage brings. If not dealt with appropriately, situational depression can linger for much longer than it needs to. I don’t want that to happen to you.

A recent study finds that writing down your divorce experience as a story — a technique known as narrative expressive writing – may reduce the harmful cardiovascular effects of stress related to marital separation. According to its findings, this particular technique led to improvements in heart rate and signs of a better response to stress. Relative to other conditions, narrative expressive writing caused the changes we observed in the cardiovascular biomarkers.

A narrative expressive writing is a part of the task assigned in my book The Solving Life’s Problems Workbook” where you need to describe your situation and define your problem. Just remember that divorce (the life’s problem you need to cope with) is a cause of your emotional state – depression.

Divorce is the second most stressful life event, preceded only by the death of a spouse. And what is stress capable of? Expediting a severe bout of depression, anxiety, and anger to your limbic system – the brain’s emotional center. A study published in Psychological Science claimed that a person’s happiness level drops as she approaches divorce, although there is rebounding over time if the person works at it. I want you to recover from your divorce depression as quickly as possible. That’s why, here are some suggestions how to deal with depression that’s triggered by the loss of your marriage.

One of the first exercises I give to nearly every one of my divorce workshop participants is to write a goodbye letter. In this exercise, you sit down with a pen and paper and write a letter of goodbye to everything and everyone that isn’t the same now when you are divorcing or have recently been divorced. Some of the things you might want to say goodbye to are your role as spouse, the traditions you had of celebrating birthdays and holidays, and seeing your kids every day. Some of the people you may want to say goodbye to are your ex, your in-laws and your friends who aren’t able to stand by your side during your major life transition.

When you’ve gotten all the information from your letter you can, you’ll probably want to destroy it. I suggest that you either shred or burn your goodbye letter. I give this advice because it’s a symbolic act of no longer allowing yourself to be bound by the grief you expressed in the letter and clears the way for you to write your hello letter.

The next exercise is to write a hello letter. In this letter, you’ll write about all the things you’re happy about not having to deal with any more and all the new things you’re looking forward to. Some of the things you might be able to say hello to those things you have used to love to do that you gave up for your ex or a peaceful night not disrupted by window-rattling snoring.

The hello letter is a great way to start setting your sights on what’s good about now. By becoming more and more aware of what’s truly right about your life right now, your situational depression will start to lessen. Because it’s such a powerful tool for moving on from divorce, writing a hello letter doesn’t need to be a one-time event.

I suggest to use these both letters for completing the activity from my book The Solving Life’s Problems Workbook” where you need to examine benefits of solving your problem – divorce and live happily after.

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