Divorce has many observable consequences for all involved, such as the legal, financial, and emotional. What are not always visible or talked about are the health consequences of divorce, both in the short term and the long run.
A significant number of people who have gone through divorce are experiencing all kinds of emotions and stress. Even the person who may have initiated the divorce and is experiencing elation or relief from their daily experience of negativity, will have stress related to the inevitable changes in their lives. The stress of breaking up has often been compared to the stress of dealing with the death of a loved one. The losses that come with divorce and separation can show up in milder ways as depressed mood or anxiety about the future, to extreme emotional breakdowns.
Children in the family may experience many of the same feelings but exhibit them differently. As much as parents may be left with a loss of control about their future, the children may feel even more uncertain about their lives –leading to internalized stress or externalized behavioral problems.
Health Consequences of Divorce
Common Symptoms Experienced Following Separation
There are physiological consequences of stress, depression, and anxiety that follow the initial separation. Symptoms such as appetite and sleep changes, difficulty in digesting foods, changes in blood sugar and racing heart rates are not uncommon. Not surprisingly, studies have shown a higher prevalence of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and mobility problems in people who have experienced divorce. It appears that some of these consequences remain, for some, even after people get remarried. Each person reacts to difficult situations in unique ways and there is no clear timetable that fits all individuals.
There may be gender and age differences in the kinds of stress experienced by the family members experiencing the divorce. Statistically, most people experience a drop in financial standard of living as a consequence of divorce. This change is often felt more by women. Just when people are experiencing financial difficulties and feeling the health consequences, they may also find themselves with less-than-adequate health insurance benefits. The time when they may need the support of health and mental-health professionals the most, they may hold back from reaching out for help. The common wisdom is that it takes people a year or two to regain their sense of normality after divorce. However, for children, they may re-experience the consequences of divorce at different developmental stages.
It helps if parents are aware and actively working on self-care and being mindful of the stresses on their children, both in the early stages and even after the worst is over. It is especially important for them to know that staying angry and/or sad for a long time can cost them their health.
Warning Signs That Should Prompt You to Seek Help
- You have experienced drastic changes in your appetite or sleep patterns.
- You have a sense of panic most of the day.
- You are unable to function normally at work.
- You have no time for yourself anymore.
- You are experiencing a change in the amount of headaches, heart palpitations, stomach aches, etc.
Being stressed when your life is being turned upside down is NORMAL; however, remaining at that level of stress for too long will affect your ability to function at work, make decisions, parent, and be healthy. Getting regular check-ups with your doctor and seeing a mental-health professional could help you reduce the health consequences of divorce. Also very important is to implement lifestyle changes, which can help to ensure consistency.
Lifestyle Changes to Implement
- Regular exercise
- Healthful eating
- Connecting with friends and family
- Making sure you include some fun and relaxation on a regular basis
Dr. Gitu Bhatia is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice. She has extensive experience working with individuals, couples, and families. She co-created Divorceworks, an app for people going through divorce and separation. It provides daily and weekly reminders to help you take care of yourself mindfully.