Is a divorce more stressful than doing a prison term? According to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale (The Stress Test), divorce is only trumped by the death of a spouse on the level of stress experienced. And yes, Divorce scores 10 points higher than a Jail Term on the index. Not to be left behind a Marital Separation also scored above jail in terms of its stressful impact. These scores are referenced by T.H. Holmes and T.H. Rahe within “The Social Readjustment Rating Scale,” published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research in 1967. Not much has changed in the 43 years since the scale was published. Divorce is still stressful, but what can be done to navigate it more successfully, so you don’t have the negative health impact that comes with such stress?
1. Why is Divorce so stressful?
Attachment bonds with other human beings are the most significant element of our humanity, and our spouse is the most intimate relationship of them all. A divorce kills that bond and is tantamount to a death. The safety, security and bond of intimacy that was believed to have been in place is now lost.
In their book Second Chances, Judith Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee state “Divorce is deceptive. Legally it is a single event, but psychologically it is a chain – sometimes a never-ending chain – of events, relocations and radically shifting relationships strung through time, a process that forever changes the lives of the people involved.”
A divorce can also be the end of extended relationships with friends that were friends of the couple, in addition to potentially strong bonds with in-laws and extended family. Furthermore, the lost relationship is compounded when children are involved and the parent-child bond is disrupted by the separation. Divorce often results in one party arguing for complete control and access to the children, leaving the other parent essentially fighting for the survival of the relationship with their children. This can feel like a war is going on around you creating untold stress.
2. What can be done to reduce the stress levels?
We are already chronically stressed as a society, and a divorce can be like pouring gasoline on that fire. There are however, a few steps one can take to attempt to alleviate the stress generated by family law litigation.
- Compartmentalize. Our brains don’t know the difference between an invented story and a real event, therefore the unknowns of a divorce can create more stress than what is actually known. And don’t let anyone tell you that the unknowns aren’t reality, they are. If it is a source of stress its reality. Stay in the present moment as much as possible. Keep in mind that the future is unknown for us all because as you navigate this process it can feel as if you are the alone in the uncertainty of what your life is going to look like on the other side.
- Exercise. Nothing is more helpful for dealing with stress and anxiety of tomorrow like exercising today. Exercise produces endorphins which act as natural anxiety killers and also help with sleep, which in turns also reduces stress. Other options are meditation, yoga, acupuncture, or even getting a massage. The key is that science has established that aerobic exercise decreases overall levels of tension, improves sleep, self-esteem, and elevates and stabilizes mood. There’s nothing better for someone going through a divorce than to physical activity.
- Revisit a hobby or skill from the past. Marriage and children minimize margin for personal hobbies and interests that were personal to you when you were single. Take advantage of the opportunity to revisit these things (so long as those things were healthy). If you like to paint, pick up a brush. If you were into marathon training 30 hours a week, get back on the road. If you were working on that novel that was a quarter finished on your wedding day, get back to writing. The key is that you see the opportunity that is before you as opposed to the thing you’ve lost.
- Date someone. Yes, that’s right, I’m telling you to get a boyfriend or girlfriend. I realize it may be too soon, it may be the last thing on your mind, but anecdotally I think it may help. Based on experience it seems that divorces get a lot easier when both parties are dating someone. It gives them light at the end of the tunnel and an idea that life will go on after this and they will be fine. Be smart about it, and if you have questions about how to date, check out this blog post, or give me a call.
- Organize. Disorganization can contribute to anxiety levels if it is chronic and unaddressed. When you meet with me in a consult the first time, I’m going to encourage you to organize your documents for the divorce process. Know your expenses, create a budget, understand income for both parties, and maintain all pleadings and correspondence in your case. Staying organized with what you know helps eliminate one potential stressor from the process.
- Communicate. The unknown stressors can be minimized by good communication with your attorney. This is the responsibility of both parties. Lawyers must communicate the laws, what to expect in court, even what to wear and how to speak. Some of the most stressful aspects of this process are often minimized by the attorney because they do this every day, clients don’t. Therefore, what will happen the day of the hearing, where to park, how early to get there, how much time to take off work, or who’s going to watch the kids are all very stressful in the eyes of the client, but can sometimes be minimized by the attorney.
The family law attorneys at Ball Morse Lowe are going to make sure you have all of your questions answered. Whether you prefer communicating by email, phone, in person, or via our mobile app, we want to lower the barrier of accessibility for you to get the answers you’re looking for and stay informed about your case.
The health impact of divorce and separation can be significant, but it doesn’t have to be. Approaching the process with a wholistic intent to manage the stress wisely and with legal counsel that cares for your well-being will help get you to the other side of the process and ready for the next chapter of your life.
The family law attorneys at Ball Morse Lowe are dedicated to the well-being of our clients, not just in the courtroom, but in life as well. We want to see you succeed on the other side of the divorce and we’re dedicated to doing what we can to get you there. If we can help you with your family law situation, you can reach us at 405-701-5355 to schedule a consultation.