How To Handle The Emotional Stress Of A Divorce

It's an understatement to say that divorce is hard. According to The American Institute of Stress, divorce is rated second on the Holmes-Rahe Readjustment Scale, a list of life's most stressful events. HelpGuide explains that ending a marriage — even a troubled one — is so difficult because it signifies a major loss. Divorce requires letting go of the myth of "happily ever after" and accepting a life different from the one you imagined with your ex-spouse. On top of the grief, there are legal issues and practical matters (such as where to live or what belongings to keep) to sort through.


Though divorce is sure to trigger some difficult emotions, it can also offer a period of rebuilding and learning about yourself. Getting through the heartbreak means, eventually, living a life of new opportunities and restored hope. Reaching the other side of divorce stress might seem like a big faraway feat, but it's one that's accomplished in a series of small, manageable steps. Here's how to start coping with the emotional stress of divorce and find peace after parting ways.

Feel your feelings

The emotions that follow a divorce can be varied and intense. Choosing Therapy compares divorce to the death of a loved one, and as a result, most people experience several stages of grief. These include feelings of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The stages don't necessarily follow a sequence — it's common to cycle through them repeatedly and out of order.


No matter which stage you might be at, it's important to accept your feelings, says WebMD. Healing can't take place until you've allowed yourself to experience negative or uncomfortable feelings. Journaling or talking to a therapist can help you process grief. However, make sure to separate emotions from reactions. For example, feeling sad or lonely during a divorce doesn't mean you should try to reconnect with your ex to cope with the discomfort.

Also, notice if your feelings are preventing you from functioning in day-to-day life. Healthline notes that this could signal depression or another condition that can be treated by a mental health professional.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.


Prioritize physical health

When working through a devastating divorce, physical health might be placed on the back burner. A 2020 study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology looked at recently divorced Danes and found that their physical health suffered compared to their married peers. The difference was especially pronounced for women who suffered high levels of divorce conflict.


You may not feel motivated or able to make physical health a priority during a divorce. But small tweaks — like eating healthy foods or going on a daily walk — can ease divorce stress (per U.S. News). Stick to three meals a day, each balanced with protein, fat, and healthy carbs. And limit alcohol intake, which might drag out stress and anxiety in the long run, according to Cleveland Clinic.

If you're not used to working out, squeeze in short at-home workouts when you can. Daily physical activity may also help you sleep at night, according to a 2015 research review published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine (via NIH) — a crucial benefit if divorce stress has you tossing and turning most nights.


Find a support system

When you part ways with a spouse, you may experience feelings of loneliness and isolation. Cherlyn Chong, a dating coach, explained to Elite Daily, "Humans are made to connect, and after losing someone who was so intimate with you, it can feel destabilizing to realize that you have no one to keep you company or do things with." You may also find that some friends and family members grow distant after your divorce, a common phenomenon according to HuffPost.


Though you might have more alone time than you did before, there's no need to become an island. Unsurprisingly, a 2017 study published in Electronic Physician found a correlation between social support and mental health. Trusted friends and loved ones can play an important role in helping you overcome the darkest days of divorce.

If you're struggling to find a support system in your friends or family, consider joining divorce groups. While you may find in-person groups in your local community, you can also join online divorce groups focusing on women, religion, and even children of divorced parents (per Healthline).

Stay civil

Besides being stressful, divorce can get messy. Research shows that most people blame their ex-spouses for their marriage ending, rather than blaming themselves, and common reasons for divorcing include infidelity, ongoing conflict, lack of commitment, and substance abuse. These issues don't usually just dissolve once one partner files for divorce — and that can sometimes lead people to argue with, or even try to get revenge on, an ex.


For the sake of your emotional and mental health, it's best to keep fighting to a minimum and leave some disagreements for your divorce attorney to sort through. Psych Central explains that setting boundaries at the end of a relationship will help you move on more easily. It might also protect you from dangerous situations and allow for better co-parenting if you and your ex-spouse have children.

To keep things civil, avoid contact except when absolutely necessary, such as to discuss the move-out dates of a shared home or the kids' school drop-off schedule. Additionally, you may want to limit what information you disclose during the divorce while also practicing clear communication — no passive aggressiveness or intentionally confusing messages.


Rebuild your identity

As you get used to a brand new life after a divorce, you may also find that you must get used to a brand new you. Bereavement blog Grief and Sympathy explains that it's common to experience an identity shake-up following a divorce. In some cases, this can make the grief of losing a marriage feel even heavier. But losing parts of yourself means you now have room for new and improved ones.


Consider bringing back an old hobby or interest that was shelved during your marriage. For example, go to that yoga class you've always wanted to try or sign up for evening French lessons. Or add a side hustle to your schedule, whether it's simple, like dog walking, or more involved, like launching an online boutique.

During this time of rebuilding and rediscovering your identity, make sure to keep decisions constructive and positive. In other words, don't start something new just to make your ex jealous. And, as experts told WebMD, don't start dating until you feel emotionally ready. You might find that losing a partner, as painful as it can be, also means gaining parts of yourself.