Life after divorce can be hard, regardless of how badly you may have wanted out of your marriage. Even if you know that your separation is ultimately a positive thing, you’re still grieving a loss and divorce recovery can be difficult. And it’s okay to acknowledge that. It’s really the only way that you’re going to be able to learn how to cope with divorce and overcome the loss.
Understanding first and foremost that divorce can be incredibly painful and difficult on your mental health is essential. Divorce-related depression is real, and the challenges that you’ll likely face can feel almost impossible to deal with during the divorce process.
But the truth is, there are several ways you can survive life after your divorce. Divorce counseling is an excellent option if you find that you’re experiencing post-divorce depression and you’re struggling with being able to move on. Read on to learn how you can overcome your own divorce depression.
Life During and After the Divorce
Life during and after divorce can feel overwhelming. Be patient with yourself because what you’re experiencing is a deep loss. The grief that comes after any loss is an emotional challenge that can be hard to navigate on your own.
During your divorce or divorce recovery, you may feel like you’re unsure of yourself. You might question if you’re making the right decision. You may be stressed about finances, wondering if you’ll find love again, figuring out how to help your child deal with divorce, and more.
Many people going through a divorce even have feelings of guilt or shame. They often feel that it’s their fault they couldn’t make their marriage work. You may find that you’re angry or that you’re resentful toward your spouse.
The single most important thing you can remind yourself while you’re going through a divorce is that all of your feelings are valid. And more importantly, they’re all very normal.
The mental health impact during your divorce
Divorce can impact your mental health in a number of ways. During the process, you may find that you’re:
- More tired than normal
- Unable to sleep
- Experiencing a change in your eating habits— eating too much or not enough
- Prone to be more reactionary
The mental health impact after your divorce
You might expect that once your divorce is final, you’ll suddenly feel better. You may think that you’ll feel like you have a new lease on life, or a huge weight has lifted. But in reality, many people experience post-divorce depression that’s just as burdensome, if not more so, as what they were feeling during the divorce process.
You may even find that you have similar depressive symptoms (sleep difficulties, food issues, strong emotions, etc.) after your divorce is finalized.
“Every single person I’ve treated during a divorce has been impacted in ways they had not foreseen. Coming to the decision to end a marriage is never easy. The emotional bandwidth is already limited by the time they come to therapy. The completed divorce is a means of gaining emotional stability and satisfaction, but the journey to get there can be draining. Feelings of sadness or grief are unexpected, yet typical. Managing the ups and downs of the process is a marathon. Focus needs to be consistently directed toward self-care, processing, and establishing healthy boundaries.”
Signs of Divorce Depression
There are many signs of divorce depression to be aware of. It goes beyond just being sad. The Depression is a serious medical condition that can have a huge impact on how you think, act, and feel. Symptoms of divorce-related depression can include any, or a combination of, the following:
- Sudden loss of interest in things you once enjoyed
- Loss of appetite
- Increase in appetite
- Weight loss or gain
- Difficulty sleeping
- Excessive irritability
- Sudden insomnia
- Increased fatigue
- Difficulty focusing or concentrating
- Difficulty making decisions
- Crying spells (often uncontrollable)
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Feelings of pessimism
- Feelings of guilt
- Substance abuse
- Loss of your sense of self-worth
- Thoughts of suicide
- In extreme cases, suicide attempts
Symptoms of depression can vary from mild to extremely severe. They can also present very differently in men versus women. For example, women tend to have symptoms like sadness, feelings of worthlessness, or guilt. Men, on the other hand, may become overly irritable or have difficulty sleeping. Men also are more likely than women to begin abusing drugs or alcohol to cope if they’re experiencing depression after divorce.
To be diagnosed with depression, you generally must be exhibiting five or more symptoms. However, the best way to get a diagnosis and help is to see a therapist or other mental health care provider. There are many different options for treatment, including both in-person and online therapy.
“Feelings of grief and loss are normal. But many people experience shame about the divorce itself and feelings of sadness, especially if they are the ones who initiated it. Even when the decision feels right, it’s still a very real loss.”
15 Tips for Overcoming Divorce Depression
Although it’s very common to experience depression after a divorce, you should take comfort in knowing that there is hope. There are several ways you can focus on overcoming your depression.
- Get (professional) help if you need it — Yes, it’s true that depression after divorce is quite normal. But if it’s beginning to interfere with how you function in your day-to-day life, it might be time to start thinking about getting help.
- Allow yourself time and space to grieve — Remember, your divorce is a loss and you are allowed to grieve it. Give yourself the time you need to go through the emotional stages of your divorce so you can effectively heal and move on with your life in a healthy manner.
- Don’t beat yourself up if you are feeling depressed — Be kind to yourself. If you’re feeling depressed, sad, angry, or overwhelmed…remind yourself that this is normal. Allow yourself to feel your feelings without any sort of guilt or shame.
- Get plenty of exercise — Exercise releases endorphins that can help stabilize your mood, energize you, and offer a wealth of other benefits. You may find you sleep better and feel better, and the best part is the effects of exercise may even be long-lasting, according to some studies.
- Focus on your health and what you eat — Eating a healthy diet can help with depression. When you’re eating nutrient-filled foods like fruits, leafy green vegetables, minimally processed foods, and foods high in omegas, you’ll start to feel the benefits in a very short time period.
- Socialize (even if you have to force yourself) — Even if it feels like a chore, getting out of the house and being social will be good for you. Ask a friend to meet you for coffee or go for a walk. Slowly but surely, the inclination to isolate yourself will begin to dissipate. “It’s easy to isolate yourself during this time. Perhaps you’ve lost friends to your ex, or you resist socializing because you don’t feel you’re good company. For so many reasons, many people isolate themselves. This can contribute to ongoing depression. While you don’t have to push yourself to be as social as you’ve been in the past, it is important to connect to others. Find one or two people you trust and with whom you feel good when you’re around them. Schedule time with them once or twice a month. This really does help the healing process. It gives you something to look forward to, and creates opportunities to laugh, enjoy, and focus on other things,” Cirbus PhD, LMHC said.
- Get enough sleep — Depressed or not, getting enough sleep is essential for a healthy mental attitude and outlook. If you find that you’re having trouble sleeping, try to set a schedule and stick with it. Going to bed and getting up at the same time (or relatively close to the same times) can help you break unhealthy sleep patterns, and that can help you feel better.
- Accept help — It can be hard, but accepting help when it’s offered can feel good. Not only are you alleviating some of the stress you may be feeling if you’re overwhelmed, but it’s always a good feeling to know that you’re loved, and people want to be with you.
- Create a time and space for “me time” — Carving out time for yourself is one of the best things you can do any time you’re grieving a loss, including your divorce. Self-love can offer the ultimate form of healing. Find something you love doing, and give that gift to yourself. It can be yoga, journaling, going for a run, gardening, reading a book…anything that you get joy from, make time to do it.
- Keep a journal — Journaling is a well-known way to refocus your thoughts, find gratitude, and begin to start finding the good things in life again. If you have trouble getting started, you may want to find a journal with prompts that help you.
- Be careful about the rebound — You might be tempted to get into another relationship quickly, especially if you find that you don’t like being alone. But rebound relationships can be harmful if you’re not careful. Take your time and learn to enjoy being on your own so when you do find the right person, you can have a real chance at it lasting.
- Remind yourself that you have a future — It can be difficult to see now, but you do have a future. As they say, this too shall pass. And that’s true even if you’re going through or just recovering from a painful divorce.
- Find somewhere to volunteer — Volunteering is a great way to keep your mind off your divorce. It can be a distraction that does double duty, as it’s also extremely rewarding.
- Accept what you cannot control — One of the great things you might gain from your divorce is perspective. You might learn that worrying about things you can’t control does you no good. Try to focus on the things you can control and make real changes in your life where you can. Stuck? Ask yourself a very simple question: can I control this? If the answer is no, gently tell yourself to move on.
- Keep an eye on alcohol and drug consumption — Overindulging on occasion isn’t necessarily a problem. But while having a good time every so often generally isn’t an issue, be sure that you’re not using it as a way to cope.
When It’s Time to Seek Help
In the midst of a divorce, it can be difficult to differentiate between sadness and depression. If you aren’t sure how to tell, start with our depression test to learn more.
However, if your depression is affecting your daily life or if you’re starting to have thoughts of suicide or self-harm, it’s time for you to get help. Reaching out to a therapist or someone else who’s removed from the situation can be beneficial. Especially if you are having feelings of shame or guilt, a mental health professional or licensed therapist can be particularly helpful.
Common recommendations your doctor or therapist may suggest for overcoming your divorce depression can include:
- Anti-anxiety medication
- Antidepressant medications
- Psychotherapy (talk therapy)
- Relaxation techniques
- Acupuncture or massage therapy
The important thing to remember is that if you need help with divorce depression, it’s there for you. You can heal from your divorce. If you need help, connect with a licensed therapist from Talkspace today.
1. Torres, M.D., MBA, DFAPA F. What Is Depression?. Psychiatry.org. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/depression/what-is-depression. Published 2020. Accessed September 3, 2021.
2. Craft LL, Perna FM. The Benefits of Exercise for the Clinically Depressed. Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry. 2004;6(3):104-111. doi:10.4088/pcc.v06n0301
3. Aubrey A, Chatterjee R. Changing Your Diet Can Help Tamp Down Depression, Boost Mood. Npr.org. https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2019/10/09/768665411/changing-your-diet-can-help-tamp-down-depression-boost-mood. Published 2019. Accessed September 4, 2021.