The Best Tips for Managing Depression and Anxiety During Divorce

By: Kat Forsythe MSW
Last Update: March 01, 2018

Depression and anxiety during divorce are inevitable – but not endless. You can learn to manage these feelings, and they will eventually dissipate. Here's how to start.

When Ron left, Sally spiraled into such sadness that she could hardly bear it. She’d asked for the divorce, so she was surprised at her despair, as well as depression and anxiety during divorce. To compound her melancholy, she had trouble sleeping, and woke up each night at 3:30 with her heart beating so hard, she thought she was having a heart attack.

During divorce recovery, you won’t leave home without these feelings. Some divorcees escape the torture of these challengers, but most of us dive head long into them. They can be as mild as down-in-the-dumps or as severe as constant weeping and vomiting.

if you feel as though you’re surrounded by a curtain of black gauze and you can see happy people on the other side but you can’t get to them, welcome to the all-too-familiar signs of depression and anxiety during divorce. There may be some comfort knowing you’re in good company with just about everyone else going through divorce. Most people with divorce depression experience one or more of these signs during the divorce process.

The good news is that your depression and anxiety are usually only temporary until your brain catches up with your new life. The not-so-good news is that, for the most part: “The Only Way Out Is Through.” The only way through these two nasties is to navigate them with all the tools you can find, frequently with outside divorce coaching. You can mitigate your pain, but you can’t erase it.

Your Depression and Anxiety During Divorce are Most Likely Temporary

Here’s encouragement: In the process of facing and managing your depression and anxiety head on, you’ll hone an arsenal of treatment regimens that will serve you for the rest of your life. If you work on handling them now, you’ll be able to reach in your quiver of arrows later, and shoot these two affects down to size.

In all my work with folks journeying through divorce, here’s the #1 tip I’ve discovered to combat depression and anxiety: no matter what, keep moving.

Movement is motivating – even the smallest effort begins to balance your mood. Sitting still is stifling and stagnant (unless meditating or sleeping). When depressed, the tendency is to plant yourself in one place, not move, and obsess over the precipitating event, rehearsing it over and over in your mind. From that seated or prone position, deep despondency ensues, manifested as weeping, worry, anger, fear, or physical illness (most frequently nausea). None of these are good for your mental health!

First, ask yourself, “If I weren’t feeling this way, what would I be doing?” Then, try on that activity for size.

Take Baby Steps When Navigating Depression and Anxiety During Divorce

If you can’t get up and move, you may have lost the ability to self-motivate. In that case, talk yourself into motion by taking baby steps. For example, if you can’t get up from a prone position, talk yourself off the couch. Say, “Slide your legs off the couch. Put your feet on the floor. Sit up slowly. Lean forward. Stand up. Take three steps.” Three steps get you far enough away from the bed/couch/chaise that you’re less likely to return.

Then, do the simplest things: brush your teeth, change your clothes. While still in motion mode, put on your shoes, pick up your keys, and walk out your front door. Keep yourself in motion. Getting outside the house – even going for a mini walk is a mood booster. Keep moving at an even pace, not too fast and not too slow.

Anxiety causes erratic motion – too fast or too slow. When you feel your heart pounding, slow down. Watch for signs of agitation: yelling at other drivers on the road, or disgust with the person with 12 items in the 10 item checkout line. You”ll know when your irritation stems you’re your own sour mood. Use these incidences as a sign to put on the brakes. The old adage of “take a deep breath and count to 10” works because it gives your over worried brain a tiny but critical break.

Drugs and How They Impact Your Depression and Anxiety During Divorce

A word about drugs for depression. I believe that some depressions and many anxiety disorders are intense and severe enough to warrant prescribed drugs, usually an SSRI (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor), better known as Prozac, or it’s many cousins. These drugs require a 4-6 week adjustment period, taking the drug religiously every day, and continuing daily for months or years until it’s time to wean off. Prozac and family (Celexa, Zoloft, and others) are mood elevators, and they must be taken as prescribed, or they can cause serious side affects.

Self medicating: using over-the-counter drugs, herbal remedies, alcohol, marijuana, or stimulants (Red Bull, No Doze, as well as recreational drugs or “uppers”) are less helpful in treating long term depression/anxiety problems because the amount and regularity of taking them isn’t consistent. Don’t try to medicate yourself.

If you’ve tried the behavior modification techniques (Keep Moving is the #1 example) and you’re still despondent – and you believe you’re seriously depressed or anxious - see a doctor or medical professional for guidance and the right drug for you, immediately.

Depression and anxiety are common bi-products of divorce, and for good reason! Everything familiar is changing. Your emotions and reasoning are straining to capacity to re-calibrate and get you through the turbulent waters of change. Take time to recognize your moods and address them head on. Start with “keep moving” to keep the depression demons at bay.

Take one baby step at a time – that’s one less step you’ll have to take later. Keep going, keep moving; your depression will eventually dissipate. 

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