According to the noted “Social Readjustment Rating Scale” (also known as the “Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale”), except for the death of a spouse or child, divorce produces more stress than any other life event. Divorce-related stress can seem almost unbearable at times. Researchers have found that how you deal with it matters more than how much stress you’re experiencing in terms of the damaging effects it can have on your mind and body. Since how you feel physically affects how you feel emotionally (and vice-versa), you must take care of your body – but you must also learn how to adjust your mental attitude to overcome stressful periods, either through outside stimulation and activities or through your thoughts.
Here are ten stress-busting tips you can incorporate into your daily life right now.
1. Start the day right. Wake to music on a favorite CD or radio station. Allow yourself a minute or two to open your eyes, breathe deeply, and adjust to being awake. Take a precious ten minutes for quiet meditation or prayer; this can save you an enormous amount of frustration later in the day.
2. Breathe away your stress. Several times a day, slowly inhale through your nose, feel the air pass deep into your diaphragm, let your abdomen expand to greet it, and feel the invigoration of that fresh breath. Exhale slowly through your mouth and imagine that you are breathing out your stress. Many experts feel the practice of deep breathing (greatly simplified here) is the basis of the relaxation response. There are many CDs and DVDs that train you to breathe healthfully.
3. Hang on to your humor. What you’re going through now may not seem very funny, but that’s no reason to lose your sense of humor. This is the time to maintain a sane perspective, and exploring what you find funny will help. Look for the ridiculous and incongruous rather than the tragic in your life. Limit your exposure to negative/sad people whenever possible.
4. Keep in touch with those you care about. Pick up the phone and chat with a congenial friend or relative: suddenly you’re not isolated with your problems any longer. Send an e-mail or card to an old friend.
5. Don’t neglect your spiritual life. Renew or create ties with the spiritual institution of your choice – whether it be church, synagogue, or Zen temple. (Don’t choose one that doesn’t sanction divorce – or will shame you rather than support you.) Music and ritual, together with the act of group worship or meditation, can bring you peace and deep satisfaction.
6. Try a therapeutic massage. Massage therapy is the manipulation of the soft tissues of the body for a therapeutic effect. It’s recommended for general relaxation and stress reduction, back and neck pain, headaches, and athletic injuries. If you’re on a tight budget, some clinics offer student massage therapy at reduced rates.
7. Turn off the TV and computer. An evening of television or surfing the ’net can actually be stressful. Consciously limit the amount of time you spend watching: choose the shows that interest you, watch them, then turn off the set and walk away. Walking away is also a good strategy if others want to watch a show that doesn’t appeal to you. Here are some relaxing alternatives to TV/Internet:
Music. Experiment with soothing music, such as the “Music for Relaxation” collection (available on the London label), or try something like Gregorian chant (try Jan Garbarek’s “Officium”). Tired of your own CDs? Try a swap with a friend. There are also some good apps and Internet radio stations with peaceful music and sounds of nature to help you relax or sleep.
Books. Save a book for a time when you’re unlikely to be interrupted, settle down in a comfortable chair with a drink that cheers but doesn’t inebriate, and lose yourself in another world. Background music shouldn’t compete with the book for your attention. (A precocious five-year-old boy we know recently asked his family to “Be quiet, please: I can’t hear my book.”) Audio-books on CD or tape can help ease the stress of your daily commute. And read to your kids: this is a wonderful, inexpensive family activity they will never forget.
8. Take a hike. Researchers at West Virginia University have discovered that stress is more likely to be relieved by outdoor than by indoor exercise. Head for a calming, restorative environment for walking, cycling, horseback riding, golfing, or tennis. Choose to exercise when your physical energy level is at its highest – if you punish your body with push-ups when it’s tired, your mind could go into a stress-spin.
9. Garden of Eden. The healing power of gardens has long been known: a hospital in Padua has a medicinal garden dating back to the 16th century, and the Friends Hospital Garden in Philadelphia dates back to Colonial times. Stroll through a public garden to relieve stress, or become a gardener yourself – you may find that while you nurture the garden it nurtures you. Gardening brings not only solace and satisfaction but daily excitement as seeds shoot into plants and buds into flower and fruit. Allow yourself to fully enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells that you share with the birds and butterflies as you dig and water.
10. Go back to the water. If you have access to a hot tub, pool, lake, or the sea, use it. If you’re stuck on dry land, pamper yourself at home with a 20-minute bath. If your muscles are sore from exercise, throw some Epsom or sea salts into warm – not scalding hot – bathwater. For a truly sybaritic experience, try aromatherapy or herbal oils offered by retailers such as The Body Shop. Light a few candles, turn off the lights, and wash your troubles down the drain.
Dorothy Henry knows all about stress: after separating from her husband, she raised two children while teaching high-school English and math.
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