Establishing a gratefulness practice is an excellent way to combat stress and overcome the effects of depression after divorce. A simple plan to be more thankful is likely to be one of the most profound changes you can make as you begin to adapt to your new environment as a divorced man.
Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy.
― Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
Appreciating What You’ve Got
The concept here is very easy to understand, and it really doesn’t require you have a particular faith, only that you are willing to look at your life as a gift. We often go through our daily lives forgetting to take stock and be thankful for all the wonderful things that we have. Learning to recognize these gifts and show appreciation for them is one of the keys to living a happier life, and goes a long way for overcoming the lingering effects of depression after divorce.
One of my favorite quotes concerning life is from author Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comic series, spoken by the character Death: “You get what anybody gets – you get a lifetime.”
Personally, I really do subscribe to the belief that our merely being here is a ridiculously amazing thing beyond comprehension. That we are here at all is astounding, and that we can observe this and “feel alive” is certainly something I would consider a blessing. Life is a gift, whether granted from a higher power or simply the luck of a billion years of DNA recombining; either way, learning to appreciate it will have a profound affect on your sense of well being.
The point is; in order to experience life with a sense of joy and wonder, we merely have to remember to be thankful for what we have. Learning to do so, on a continuing and very conscious level, is what I mean when I refer to having a gratefulness practice.
Taking Stock Helps Combat Depression After Divorce
What is the first thing you do in the morning? I would suggest that here, when we first awake, is a really good place to begin our practice. True, we all take a minute, sometimes longer, to get present when we come out of sleep. Some hit the ground running while others linger with their dreams as long as they can. Whichever approach to your morning applies for you, once you begin the process of assessing your day, as we all do, work to notice the good things first.
Is your bed warm and dry? Did you sleep well? Do you have running water to look forward to? Is there food in the refrigerator? Is the sun shining? Do you get to do good work today?
These are just a very few ideas of things to focus on to get your grateful, thankful self to start running the show. Take a few minutes as soon as your brain starts to focus on the day, and begin to practice gratefulness. Say silent (or spoken) words of thanks for at least five things before you even rise out of bed. I promise you that within days you will begin to feel a noticeable shift in how the progress of your week feels.
The more we focus our thoughts on what is going right in our lives, the more we experience life as positive and meaningful, even when we are dealing with some level of depression after divorce. The trick is training our minds to actively seek out the good while dismissing the bad (dealing with negativity without giving it any additional space in our thoughts). Sure, we all can get frustrated, feel like we are being maligned, suffer unfortunate events or feel we’re having a run of bad luck. The point is to try and find things that make us happy, Learn to look for the silver linings.
The Only Change is to Your Perspective
A gratefulness practice does not require you to suddenly change all the little aspects of your life you are dissatisfied with. On the contrary, the practice is best suited to just learning to reframe your experience. Instead of getting mad because you seem to be continually late for engagements, use your practice to notice that you like to take your time, and embrace the part of you that moves slowly, instead of cursing it for making you late.
Of course, we aren’t trying to excuse problems in your life or lessen the need to address them. We just want to keep getting better at looking at what IS working, and keep reinforcing those behaviors. Taking time out of your day both scheduled and impromptu, to look at the good in your life, will slowly and surely transform your entire outlook on life.
So, if you’re feeling depressed, if you’re overwhelmed or just generally stressed out; take heart. Applying a simple practice of being grateful for the gifts of life that are right in front of you, will keep you finding more.
(c) Can Stock Photo / Gajus
Holidays are quickly approaching, and if you find yourself newly single, you might be dreading what is sometimes already a stressful time of year. Rather than dwell on yet another change as a result of your newfound single status, embrace this as a time of new beginning and focus on creating happy holidays after divorce.
Be In Control…Of Your Thoughts and Emotions
Even though life has changed, and you may not have found (or embraced) your new ‘normal’ yet, do know that you can regain control…of both your thinking and emotions.
There is a direct link between thoughts and emotions. People who entertain negative thinking typically find themselves burdened with negative emotions (i.e., sadness, jealousy, anger, loneliness, etc.). Conversely, those who challenge themselves to think more positively, even through difficult times, tend to experience emotions that are more positive (i.e., happiness, contentment, joy, peace, calm, etc.).
As the holiday season draws near, be more mindful of your thought patterns and resulting mood. If you find you are more in tune with how you are feeling emotionally, start there. You can then trace back to the associated thinking patterns. Challenge irrational, distorted thoughts and change negative thinking to uplift your mood.
Avoid making decisions when in the throes of negativity (thought and mood). Your opportunity to do things differently, and take control of your happy holidays diminishes when blinded by the cloud of negativity. Taking a pause and allowing a moment to thoughtfully consider the options can make all the difference between resolving to be miserable or joyful.
Embrace the Opportunity to Do The Holidays After Divorce Differently
While married, you and your partner had to make decisions about how the holiday would be done differently from when you were single. Whose house and when. Which invites to politely decline. How to share the gift of your presence across multiple families.
Who. What When. Where. Why. How.
When those decisions were made, you may not have been overly happy, and it certainly took some getting used to, for both of you. The same holds true for holidays after divorce. You now have an opportunity to do the holiday differently…again…and with fewer details (i.e., people) to factor into the mix.
If you have children and know that you will be splitting time with their mother, determine how you will go about making your time with them extra special and amazing (see below for starting new traditions). Also, consider that the celebration doesn’t have to occur any certain day. Some families have opted to have a full-on Christmas celebration at Thanksgiving, and have admitted that while it felt strange at first, the tradition grew on them and they’ve come to enjoy their “Thanksgiving Christmas” even more than Christmas on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. The trick is to get your mind wrapped around the idea and fully embracing it so that the plan can take off. Toss aside all the ideas of how things ‘should be’ for a holiday.
If children aren’t part of your story, immerse yourself in festivities with friends and family. Assess what you might need to do for yourself, in the name of self-care, and take advantage of holiday time away from work to engage in these things. Maybe a trip with your buddies to the mountains, complete with a cabin and snowboarding is in order. Or if a tropical destination is more your style, get the trip booked!
The bottom line is there is no one way to make a holiday fabulous and worthwhile, particularly holidays after divorce. The possibilities are endless. Meditate on what will make you happy and go for it! Even if it means staying in, reading a book and having a hotdog for dinner (provided you aren’t secretly lonely and miserable) is an option. Society may try to convince you there are rules about what should and should not be done but the truth is you’ve earned your adult status.
Holiday Activities to Make Tradition with Your Kids
Most everyone can recall (most of the time with fondness) the holiday traditions from when they were young. Maybe you had hoped to carry some of your childhood traditions forward or had ideas of traditions you would have liked to have started once you married and had children of your own. Whether or not you had the opportunity to begin these traditions in your previous married life, holidays after divorce afford you the opportunity to plug in your ideas and carry them forward for years to come.
Unsure where to begin with holiday activities? Consider some of the following ideas:
- Tree Decorating: whether you seek out and cut down your very own fresh holiday tree, or opt for the pre-lit artificial variety, tree decorating, start to finish, can become a memorable activity done with your children. Allowing your kids to help gives them the opportunity to rediscover and enjoy the ornaments and decor they had long forgotten from the year prior. Tree decorating can morph into another project if you decide to engage the kids in a decor creation activity like stringing popcorn with cranberries as tree decorating garland!
- Decorating Gingerbread Houses: A pre-assembled house of graham crackers along with a table full of sugar-coated treats and frosting turns an ordinary afternoon into a marathon of creative bliss. Their work will proudly display until, over time, the candies have been picked away and consumed (hint: take pictures quickly! The decorated houses may not last long!). This tutorial will get you started on the graham cracker house build (the part of the project the kiddos may not have the patience to endure).
- Holiday Books, Movies, Cartoons and Music Countdown: The holidays bring with them books, movies, cartoons, and music treasured by all generations. Consider a schedule to introduce your children to some of your favorites from your childhood as well as squeezing in the latest and greatest in holiday entertainment. A fun countdown to Christmas (or Hanukkah, or whatever celebration is in store) can occur as movies, books, videos with cartoons, and music are wrapped up, numbered and set under the tree. Each passing day a new surprise awaits unwrapping and family fun!
- Giving Back: While need exists all through the year, there is never a more obvious time of year to give back to those less fortunate than the holidays. The timing is also never better to teach your children about giving back. Examine your options to engage in a holiday charity outreach event with your children. There are shelter meals to be made and served, opportunities to collect (sort and hand out) items for a food drive, and families with children in need of being ‘adopted’ through a secret Santa or gift giving tree program. Your generosity can also stretch over-seas with the Operation Christmas Child project.
Still in need of holiday tradition ideas? A quick internet search yields seemingly endless results and options to consider for all age groups.
Holidays after divorce, while different and something to adjust to, don’t have to be yet another reason to feel miserable. Resolve to change (and control) your thinking on the matter and set out to have it your way this holiday season. Let go of the ideas of how things are ‘supposed to’ be and avoid getting sucked into the storybook holiday scenarios. Treat this holiday after divorce like a blank canvas with endless opportunity to color it any way you choose!
(c) Can Stock Photo / VadimGuzhva
You’ve probably noticed (and unless you are completely detached from anything in life, you most certainly have) that the holiday stress season is upon us. Stores are filling with the holiday essentials and more, commercials are airing advertising holiday shows, movies, and gift-giving ideas, and people are already chattering about pending holiday plans. It’s a wonderful and stressful time of year! Stay ahead of holiday stress with these seven hacks.
Whether you are naturally a lover of all things holiday or have struggled with a case of the Scrooge’s in the past, the first holiday season post-divorce is a changed game. Particularly if there are children involved. Like learning to navigate any other uncharted territory, awareness of what you are likely to be facing and pre-planning can help make all the difference between a joyous time versus a “please just fast forward to 2019 while I pull the covers over my head” attitude.
The hustle and bustle of the holiday season brings with it stress. Stress isn’t always a bad thing. Some stress is healthy and motivating. It’s the push we need to feel energized to engage in activities we want to do and keeps us going through a busy and exciting time. But stress can also be negative and have detrimental effects on our physical and emotional well-being.
Negative stress is linked to sleep difficulties (difficulty falling or staying asleep), extreme fatigue, stomach issues, irritability, forgetfulness, and difficulty problem-solving. Prolonged stress can lead to high blood pressure and even trigger panic attacks. People feeling the effects of negative, prolonged stress are at higher risk for substance (or other addictive) issues and mental health problems.
If you feel yourself wanting to reach for the fast-forward button already, while simultaneously pulling the covers over your head, know that you are not alone and there are ways to ensure holiday stress doesn’t get the best of you.
Combating Holiday Stress: Social Settings
Set Boundaries with Social Gathering Invites:
Determine your priorities and what you can realistically handle in terms of time. There is never a busier time of year than the holiday season for social gatherings. You might even find yourself with more invitations for social gatherings now that you are flying solo. The family will surely be getting together, friends (probably from several different social circles) will be looking to host their own holiday bash, and the after-hours office holiday party will all be competing for your time and attention. If you have children, the invites for plays and concerts hosted by the school and church as well as gatherings with their friends will start flowing in as well.
Determining what you can handle in terms of time on the front end will help in knowing immediately which gatherings you can gladly RSVP “yes” and which you can politely decline. Have in mind an idea of how many days or evenings a week you want to be engaged in social activity, and which days or evenings are the best fit for you and your family. You may determine that Friday and Saturday evenings are best and that requests for Sundays or a certain evening of the work week need thoughtful consideration (based on priorities) before accepting the invitation.
Equally important is knowing your priorities. For example, if you have children you are likely to determine that, first and foremost, attending their holiday concert at school is priority one. If you’re not all the crazy about the crew you interact with daily at work, you might decide to forego the office holiday gathering (or determine a plan to “make an appearance” for a shortened period).
Whatever you decide, give yourself permission to politely decline invites for social engagements that simply don’t fit with your priorities and time. It is better to fully commit to fewer gatherings, where you can be present and enjoy yourself than it is to over-extend and feel miserable and tired at every gathering you received, and accepted an invitation.
Mentally Prepare for Social Gatherings:
If you are newly separated or divorced, those with whom you haven’t yet had contact (but who are aware of your circumstance) are going to be looking to you for cues on interaction. Some will follow these cues flawlessly while others will be more awkward, but you can certainly be <mostly> in control of the interaction. Decide ahead of time how you might respond to questions (direct or subtle). If you are willing to share information, go into the social gathering knowing what and how much you have a willingness to share. Also, have top of mind “subject changers” so when you’ve said all you are willing to say on the topic you can steer the conversation in another direction. You also are well within your right to comment very briefly and clearly communicate your preference not to continue discussion on the matter (“yes, it’s been difficult, and I prefer not to talk about it. Thank you for your concern and for keeping me in your thoughts” ….insert subject changer).
Social Gatherings and Gift Exchanges:
The holidays don’t have to be about buying extravagant gifts for everyone you know. Determine and to stick to your budget with gift buying. This goes for gift buying for your children as well. Consider DIY projects that are cost-effective, and purchasing experiences that you might be footing the bill for in the future anyway. For example, if you have children consider passes to a movie, children’s museum, water park, or other activity they might enjoy getting more bang for your buck. There is the thrill of opening a gift with a stuffed giraffe and passes to the zoo in the gift opening moment, followed by opportunity for an outing that you were probably going to pay for down the road anyway.
Check out this resource for inexpensive gift ideas for adults in your life, and these inexpensive gift ideas for kids.
If there are gift exchanges at other social gatherings that are optional (i.e., the office holiday party, or a white elephant exchange at a friends’ holiday bash), consider opting out if it just doesn’t fit your budget.
Combating Holiday Stress: Personal Wellness
Take Time for You:
Make time to participate in activities that you find to be relaxing and rejuvenating and resist the temptation to feel guilty about needing a holiday obligation break. These essential breaks will aid in your ability to better enjoy the holiday activities you have committed to and channel the holiday stress into being positive.
Even when you are feeling worn out and unmotivated, pencil in some physical activity. Doing so will lower adrenaline and cortisol (i.e., stress hormones) within the body and this is the absolute best way to fight negative effects of stress. You don’t need to log half an hour on the treadmill or train for a triathlon. Scheduling a tennis match with a friend, shooting hoops, or a brisk walk in the cooler weather can be just what your body needs to clear out excess stress hormone and leave you feeling more relaxed.
Practice Relaxation Skills:
Relaxation activities force us to slow down and help our bodies to regroup. Consider deep breathing exercises, turn on relaxing music, practice meditation, or go for a quiet drive after the sun goes down. Maybe even consider scheduling a massage. Not sure where to start? This short relaxation video will walk you through five minutes of relaxation.
Get Adequate Rest:
During times of high stress (whether positive or negative) it’s quite likely that our bodies will require more rest than is our norm. Our bodies will also let us know when this is the case, so we must be careful to listen. When you are feeling physically or mentally worn out, don’t strive to complete just a couple more tasks. Instead, call it a day and tuck in; your body will thank you for doing so.
The holiday season doesn’t have to be characterized by holiday stress, even when you have experienced significant life changes. Everyone gets an opportunity to decide, and be in control of, how they are going to approach this busy time of year. Know your priorities, set boundaries (don’t feel guilty about doing so), and don’t forget to care for yourself.
(c) Can Stock Photo / vitalytitov
Mental illness refers to some form of psychopathology that makes the mind function differently. It is a broad term that encompasses many types of diagnoses, from chemical imbalances like bipolar disorder to personality disorders like narcissism or borderline personality disorder.
Divorces carry a certain degree of stress and strife. It is inevitable. Keeping conflict and emotions to a minimum is not easy, but it reduces the cost to your emotional and financial health to make the process as smooth as possible. The less time billed by attorneys, the easier your financial recovery will be. The more civil the divorce negotiations, the less emotional damage you will have to recover from. Unfortunately, when your spouse is mentally ill, it can exacerbate the challenges to keeping the process rational and non-combative.
Mental illnesses have varying degrees of success with treatment. Many, such as chemical imbalances like bipolar disorder, are quite manageable, but only if a patient is willing to seek help and follow a program of treatment. Depression is a disorder that can be difficult to diagnose and can be hit or miss in terms of treatment. Some, like personality disorders, can be difficult to both diagnose and treat.
Many who are mentally ill have not been diagnosed, some choosing to self-medicate with alcohol or narcotics. The stigma of mental illness often keeps people from seeking help. Others are in denial, which can be a symptom of the illness itself. Most who seek treatment and responsibly manage their illness with medication and therapy can lead productive, healthy lives. How the patient manages their illness is critical to their capacity to function at a high level, or their inability to function at even a basic level.
The best bet is to find out as much information about your spouse’s diagnosis and treatment as possible. In that way, you can relate to her in a manner that promotes her optimal mental health and leads to the best outcome for you both.
The first hurdle many face when dissolving their marriage is overcoming the guilt of leaving someone they vowed to stand by “ in sickness and in health.” To make matters worse, your spouse may use her illness against you, accusing you of abandoning her when she needs you most. She may plead for you to stay, professing she cannot get better without your help. Your marriage may be trapped in a draining codependency that can be agonizing to break free from.
Living in dysfunction distorts reality, to the point where emotional abuse or coercion can become normalized. Consult a professional, or touch base with those outside of your situation, to get a sanity check. You may be surprised to realize inappropriate behaviors and responses you have come to accept as normal are dysfunctional and damaging. Organizations like Codependents Anonymous can be a valuable resource.
You may love your wife deeply and be committed to your family, but if she fails to follow a treatment plan and take accountability for her own mental health, you cannot swoop in and save her with the power of your love. She needs to want to get better for herself and be responsible for her own mental health, or it will never work.
Challenges of Mental Illness and Divorce
The stress and heartache brought on by dissolving a marriage are not easy for anyone to manage. When the impact is aggravated by mental illness, it can lead to disastrous results. Those with depression can develop suicidal thoughts, or those in a manic bipolar episode may lose all impulse control, acting out in ways that endanger themselves or others.
Mentally ill spouses may lash out with aggressive legal strategies, or employ passive-aggressive tactics that drag out or obstruct the divorce process. Diligently document every episode so you have proof that can be introduced in court. Be as specific as possible; vague statements carry less weight than examples with dates, times and detailed descriptions. It’s a good idea to find a lawyer who has experience in this area and can help advise you of what to expect and how best to deal with it to ensure a positive outcome. Expect the unexpected. Unpredictability is a characteristic of most mental illnesses. Be cautious and protect yourself and your kids. While your wife is not to blame for her illness and you want to show compassion for what she is going through, you are also obliged to take steps to make sure you and your children are safe.
Filing for Divorce
All states offer no-fault grounds for divorce. You can file under the ” irreconcilable differences” catchall, or on the basis of a separation that meets the accepted length of time. A no-fault divorce avoids putting blame on one party or the other and can help minimize conflict.
Filing on the basis of insanity, in states where it is permissible, requires that your wife’s mental condition meets a sufficient number of criteria that can be difficult and expensive to prove. Since divorce law varies by state, you must consult an attorney in your state, or do your own research, to determine how mental illness affects filing for divorce in your home state.
At minimum, most states will require that your wife’s condition is not likely to improve and that it has been present for a certain amount of years (usually no less than five). In some states, that will not be sufficient. These jurisdictions will require your wife have been institutionalized for a number of years and that she be certified mental ill by one or more psychiatric physicians, and/or be adjudicated as mentally ill by a court of competent jurisdiction. While the specifics vary by state, you will bear the burden of a substantial amount of proof, and it is a complex and time-consuming process. Should you feel that filing for divorce on the grounds of your wife’s mental illness is necessary, perhaps you fear she is a danger to your children for example, then start by gathering her psychiatric and medical records, credible witnesses (such as her family members), and even experts that can testify about her condition.
Staying Compassionate but Emotionally Detached
The more informed you are about your wife’s mental illness—the symptoms, treatment plan, and long-term prognosis—the better your ability to make decisions as to how to proceed in a way that is best for her and keeps you safe. While you want to have compassion for your wife’s struggle with her condition and assist her in being as self-sufficient as possible, it is also important to avoid getting sucked into any emotional pitfalls that can set you both back. It can be immensely helpful to seek professional help from a psychiatrist or counselor to get a handle on how to avoid resenting, blaming or harming your spouse for a serious illness that is not her fault. Don’t take actions and words flung in the passion of the moment too personally; they are likely a result of a mind aggravated by mental illness and not an indictment of you as a person. Try your best to proceed through the difficulties that arise from her condition without anger or resentment to help you both move on in as compassionate and healthy a way as possible.
Good mental health care is crucial for a man going through a divorce. It is important he is mindful of his own health and that of his children. Going through a divorce will probably be one of most the stressful events of a man’s life. It is especially important that he take precautions to monitor his stress.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) men are much less likely than women to admit they are suffering from depression, anxiety, or other stress-related mental illnesses. They are much more likely to be affected by the stigma associated with mental illness and to avoid seeking treatment.
Mental Illness Stigma Prevents Men from Seeking Help
Men may be reluctant to consider the fact that they may be suffering from depression or another stress-related mental illness when going through a divorce. Many men fall prey to society’s unspoken attitude that a man should remain strong and silent about his mental health. Doing so can have disastrous consequences for men undergoing the stress of a divorce and can create unnecessary problems for him and his children in the aftermath of the divorce. Stress can lead to depression and anxiety for both him and his children for years after the divorce is final.
Men must be proactive in monitoring their own stress and that of their children while going through a divorce. Waiting too long can worsen any mental illness and its consequences. Often, the illnesses don’t just go away. Taking preventive measures such as therapy for themselves, their children, and (if possible) involving their former spouses, is essential for maintaining good mental health during and after a divorce.
NIMH estimates that six million men suffer from depression each year in the United States. Their research has found that men are much less likely than women to get the help they need for psychological problems, and often they will simply try to hide their stress or other health problems like depression. The institute states flatly that men “may be unlikely to admit to depressive symptoms and seek help.”
Children’s Mental Health Must Be Monitored
Mental health problems are often related to stress. Divorces are stressful. Men going through divorces must pay careful attention to their levels of stress both during and after the divorce process. Children too are subject to the same stress as their dads, and dads must step up to ensure that their children’s mental health is monitored and treated as needed during the divorce process and for years after. Ideally, both parents will be involved in ensuring the well-being of their children, but the kids can get lost in the shuffle. If both parents are not willing to be involved, it is up to dads to step up and ensure that both their own and their children’s mental health needs are taken care of as the divorce process unfolds. A good first step is to seek the advice of a primary care physician.
Stress comes in many forms, and often it is not obvious to men that their stress has reached a level where medical help is needed. However, there are warning signs, and men going through divorces are well-advised to pay close attention to those signs and make sure they and their kids receive the medical treatment they need.
Recognizing When Stress Requires Medical Help
Everyone has stress, and not all stress is bad, according to experts, but long-term stress like that brought on by going through a divorce is bad stress. It is a medical problem that needs attention like other medical problems. Such long-term stress can lead to other forms of mental illness like anxiety and depression. It can also make going through a divorce all that much harder.
Men getting divorced should learn to recognize the warning signs that their stress is getting beyond the typical stress brought on by work and family issues that they may have experienced and dealt with in the past. Just like a broken leg, stress and other mental health problems are medical problems and must be dealt with accordingly.
While it would be ideal for both parents and their children to go to therapy to help to recognize and cope with stress during a divorce, it is often not possible for both parents to be involved. Many schools have programs for kids whose parents are getting divorced. If a dad cannot get the other parent involved in therapy, he should consider talking with his children’s school counselor. Stress can have a huge effect on many aspects of kids’ lives, and free help is often available at school. It may even be a good idea for a man getting a divorce to have some sessions with a therapist specializing in children’s mental health issues to help him recognize warning signs in his children and learn ways to help them cope.
Have a Plan in Mind for Dealing with Stress
Like telling your kids you are getting divorced, to begin with, it is a good idea not to wing it when helping your kids cope with stress. It is likely you will be able to help in various ways, but first, you will need to be able to recognize the signs of long-term stress and have some definite coping strategies in mind. It is a good idea at the first signs of stress to let your kids know it’s normal for them to feel what they’re feeling. However, just letting them know it’s all going to be OK and not to worry is not enough. You will need to get some experienced medical help so you can provide your children with ways to deal with their stress. Breathing techniques and talking to a school counselor about what they’re feeling can help children immensely in dealing with the stress brought on by their parents’ divorce and the new lives they will be living.
A man must be able to recognize that there is nothing wrong with his own feelings of stress and not to succumb to the stigma associated with mental illness. Men getting divorced must be able to recognize when their stress has gotten to be too much to deal with alone. A man must be able to recognize symptoms of stress in himself and admit to himself that he may need help. A man going through a divorce should be no more averse to seeking medical help for a mental illness than he should be in seeking help for any other medical problem.
Warning Signs of Stress-Related Mental Illness
Men should be particularly mindful of the following warning signs that their stress has reached a level beyond what they can deal with themselves. These are warning signs that their stress has exceeded what they have been used to dealing with day to day. These warning signs indicate that it may be time to seek help in dealing with stress.
The following warning signs are the most common ones. They are an excellent starting point for a dad going through a divorce who needs to reflect on his and his children’s levels of stress.
The National Institute of Mental Health advises men to look for the following signs that stress could lead to a long-term condition:
- Anger, irritability or aggressiveness
- Noticeable changes in mood, energy level, or appetite
- Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
- Difficulty concentrating, feeling restless, or on edge
- Increased worry or feeling stressed
- A need for alcohol or drugs
- Sadness or hopelessness
- Suicidal thoughts
- Feeling flat or having trouble feeling positive emotions
- Engaging in high-risk activities
- Ongoing headaches, digestive issues, or pain
- Obsessive thinking or compulsive behavior
- Thoughts or behaviors that interfere with work, family, or social life
- Unusual thinking or behaviors that concern other people
Once a man has identified any of these signs, a good resource for local options for finding help is the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) helpline. NAMI offers great help for a man going through a divorce who needs to find medical help for his stress, other related problems, or even just a group of other men with similar issues to talk with. Talking with others with similar challenges helps men realize they are not alone, and just sharing their stories with others can be of significant therapeutic value in dealing with mental illness.
Most often people associate grief with the loss of a loved one; more specifically, the death of a loved one. What is seemingly less understood is that grief (or bereavement) accompanies any significant loss in life and is not limited to death. Divorce certainly falls into this category. Knowledge of the stages of grief, also known as the grief cycle, is an important element in regrouping after a divorce.
Several theories exist on the grieving process. Some identify seven stages in the cycle, others combining some of the seven and calling it five. Regardless the argument of seven versus five, there are a couple of things all theorists agree on:
- The grieving process will differ between individuals: No one set of circumstances is the same. No two people have the same perception of seemingly similar events. As such, there is no one definition of how grief will manifest itself or what the process will look like for every individual.
- The grief cycle is not a linear process: The grief stages outlined in the cycle are not a step-by-step process for overcoming grief. Divorce and the grief that comes with it is full of varied, intense emotions. Grieving, and the associated emotions can ebb and flow. Do not become discouraged if you understand yourself to be in Stage Four one day, and back to Stage Two the next. As this is not a fixed sequence of events, you can rest assured that you are making progress even if it might otherwise seem you are losing ground.
The Grief Cycle: Seven (or Five) Stages
An example of the grief cycle, when broken out into seven stages includes the following:
- Shock and Disbelief
- Acceptance and Hope
If you’re wondering how stages are sometimes combined to call out five stages rather than seven, here is that breakdown:
- Shock/Disbelief and Denial
- Bargaining and Guilt
- Acceptance and Hope
Grief Cycle Stages Defined
Shock and Disbelief
Generally, the first response to an impending divorce is shock and disbelief. Even if it was somewhat clear that the marriage wasn’t destined to go the distance, getting to the point of actually separating or filing papers for divorce can throw a person for a loop. Pondering questions like, “is this really happening?” and “how did we even get here?” is quite common and representative of shock and disbelief.
Once the shock wears off (or in the moments of time that it does, again, this process is not linear), people facing significant life changes as a result of loss find themselves in a state of denial. Reminiscing about the good times that were had, or the perfect and beautiful circumstances that brought you and your <soon to be ex> wife together in the first place. Inability to believe that you can’t, somehow, make this work. Maybe even refusing to accept that this is the end because you’re from a good family in which no one gets divorced and “people who grow up in good homes, where marriages always last, don’t have marriages fall apart themselves, right?”.
Anger often encompasses a variety of emotions. In fact, it’s probably the best understood (and most readily accepted) emotion and therefore many times becomes a “cover” for everything else felt. For those of you who grew up with the teaching that “boys don’t cry,” you probably learned to channel any emotions associated with tearfulness into something that is expressed as anger. Similarly, it seems anger requires less an explanation than so many other emotions, so we’re drawn to just “go with anger.” Resentfulness, confusion, helplessness, frustration, panic, irritation and downright anger are just some of the emotions that may be experienced within this stage of grief. You might find yourself obsessing over how unfair all of this is – and, you’re not wrong! It’s totally unfair, and your emotional response isn’t wrong.
Bargaining comes into play as one fights against the inevitable end. Pleading, for example, with your <soon to be ex> wife that you will become a better person if she allows for this to blow over. Hoping against all hope that you and your soon-to-be ex can reconcile, make changes and try harder. Most often this bargaining is futile and unrealistic and comes from a place of panic and desperation as the end is certain.
Guilt can serve as a sort of defense mechanism in situations involving loss, especially divorce. Attempting to make sense of the situation and feel as though one can regain some variety of control, thoughts, and feelings of guilt emerge. Determining that it must be your fault, or that you should have tried harder, and any other variety of these types of statements are examples of thoughts linked with guilt. It’s easy to understand how guilt and bargaining are sometimes a combined stage of grief in the grief cycle. As the thoughts and feelings of guilt wash over an individual, bargaining often becomes part of the equation.
As the reality of the unavoidable end begins to sink in, and possible attempts at bargaining have failed, it is common for individuals to feel depressed. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM 5) indicates the following symptoms of depression:
- Depressed mood (i.e., sadness, emptiness, hopelessness) most of the day, nearly every day.
- Decreased interest or pleasure in formerly enjoyed activities.
- Significant changes in eating habits (i.e., eating significantly more or less, and associated weight gain or loss).
- Significant changes in sleeping patterns (i.e., excessive need for sleep, or inability to sleep).
- Fatigue or loss of energy most days.
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions.
- In severe cases, psychomotor agitation (purposeless, repetitive motions such as wringing hands, tapping of the foot, pacing the room, etc.) or psychomotor impairment (slowed physical reactions as a result of sluggish cognitive processing, for example, slow speech and walking).
- Also in severe cases, suicidal thoughts.
If you or a loved one are in need of immediate support for depression or suicidal thoughts, please access the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or go to the nearest emergency room.
Acceptance and Hope
Eventually, individuals who have experienced a significant (or impending) loss, divorce included, reach a point of acceptance. They are no longer in a state of denial or feel anger, depression or guilt and have hope for what the future holds. This doesn’t mean the moment an individual is feeling accepting of the situation and hopeful for the future that they have reached the end of the grief cycle. It is entirely possible that acceptance and hope are short-lived, and one can transition back into any of the other stages described above.
There WILL come a time when true and lasting acceptance and hope are reached, and the grief cycle is complete. Until that time comes, keep in mind the way in which emotions are connected to processing through grief. This can be a powerful tool in feeling more in control of seemingly out of control emotions. Finally, never be afraid to reach out for help. Friends and family are great resources for support. Also, working with a mental health professional who has expertise in the grief cycle can help you more efficiently sort through the mess of emotions; assisting as you achieve true and lasting acceptance and hope!
To jumpstart your journey through healing, listen to this motivational Ted Talk by Gary Lewandowski: Break-Ups Don’t Have to Leave You Broken.