I know I have been writing a lot about my divorce lately. It has had a major impact on my life. It affects me daily and probably will for some time. I have however found some connections between anxiety and divorce. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has been through either. Divorce inspires anxiety and panic in even the calmest individuals.
I have been attending a Divorce Care class at a local church. I am not a religious person by any means, but I have found that this group offers a lot of help and guidance. I will highly recommend Divorce Care to anyone going through a divorce and only wish I had found the group sooner. Many of the other people I have met there also say they wish they had not waited so long to attend. A guy I met the other day, who was also a newcomer to the group, put it very well. "When you get a divorce, you should immediately be taken and locked in one of these groups. It comes as a shock, and leaves you not knowing what to do. Anxiety and panic take over and you do a lot of dumb things in the wake of divorce. If I had found this group sooner, I would be so much better off."
A lot of the reading material I have read on divorce talks about panic. Divorce gives the gift of anxiety and panic to everyone who goes through it to some degree. This makes me think on how wonderfully prepared I am for this situation that I have found myself in. I, more than most who go through a divorce, am already very well prepared to deal with panic and anxiety. I have been dealing with it in my daily life, after all, for quite some time. There's always a silver lining if you know how to look for it.
There are a lot of different feelings that come up in divorce or a break-up of any kind for that matter. I felt betrayed, abandoned, shocked, sad, angry, hurt, and most of all confused. There was an overwhelming sense that I had lost control of my life. I found myself sitting and asking myself "what do I do now?". And for the first time in my life I had no answer to this. So I repeated it over and over. Still no answer. Uncertainty like this breeds anxiety. Panic begins to set in when you literally don't know what your next move should be. Worrisome questions just rain from your mind like a monsoon. Where am I going to sleep tonight? Where is SHE going to sleep tonight? Where did it all go wrong? What can I do to fix this? Each question leads into more questions. Anxiety and panic.
The first few days were stressful. There's no way around that. It's just going to be that way. Divorce is awful and I don't recommend it to anybody. But it does get better with some time if you let it. I did some dumb things that I now regret deeply in the wake of my divorce. I acted out, fueled by panic and emotion. But as time goes on I am beginning to sort out my feelings. Dealing with and understanding my feelings has become something that I am very good at. A major key to my overcoming anxiety and panic has been to identify the way that I think and feel and make changes as needed. Identify the harmful thoughts and feelings and let them go. I identify the good ones and let them shine out. Let's break it down.
Anger: Anger is a big cheerleader for anxiety. It does not do you any good to hold onto anger. You have to let it go. Find an appropriate outlet for your anger and let it out. Screaming and yelling at the person you are angry with is NOT going to make things better. It will probably lead to more anger. And in many cases, if you really examine that anger, much of it doesn't belong to that person anyway. You may find you are more angry with the situation than you are with the person. It's just easier to put a face on the anger because you can't lash out at a situation.
Physical activity can be a great release for anger. Go the gym and exercise. Play a sport or do something active that you enjoy.
You have to make a conscious decision to let go of the anger. It does you no good to hold onto it. So just let it go and forgive. I have an entire post on forgiveness, but it is an extremely important life skill, and most people have a confused understanding of it. Many people think of forgiveness as a gift that you "give" to the other person. This is not the way it works. Forgiveness is not for them. It is for you. In order to effectively forgive you must realize that. It is merely the act of taking that anger and resentment off of your back and setting it down, never to be picked up again. It must not depend on an apology or other action on their part. Do not let your healing and moving on with your life depend on the actions of another. This gives them control. By letting it go, you are keeping control of your emotional well-being. It does not even require you to tell them that you forgive them. Forgiveness is not a statement. It is a personal decision.
Now, I realize it's not always that easy. It's easy to forgive someone for eating the last zebra cake, but maybe not so easy to forgive someone who has done you serious wrong. It may take a while before your emotions will catch up with your mental decision to forgive, but it will come with time.
Sadness: No matter which side of the divorce you are on, sadness is going be there. This, again you have to let go of. But, I'll be honest with you, I've never found this to be so easy. As with any bad feeling that you want to rid yourself of, you have to first make the conscious decision to let that sadness go. Give yourself permission to be happy again, realizing that this is not a betrayal of the reason you are sad to begin with. You can still miss a person while allowing yourself some time to be happy. It will take time for the sad and lonely feelings to go away. A person needs to grieve. Do no deny yourself that. But don't shut yourself up in your room all day feeling sorry for yourself either. Let your emotions out. Talk about how you feel with someone you can trust. Then go on with your day.
Again, physical activity can be helpful. Exercise causes your body to release endorphins, which give you feelings of well-being and happiness. Although going to the gym to workout may be the last thing you want to do when you're feeling down, I promise you will be glad that you did.
I do not recommend trying to force yourself to "get out there" too soon. You may think you can force happiness by going out and partying, drinking, or simply being social. Make sure you are ready before you do this. Ask yourself what are your reasons for wanting to go out. If you want to go out simply to forget your troubles or because you think it will make you instantly feel better, it won't. I tried this shortly after my divorce. I got all spiffed out and went downtown to explore and eat out and see some nightlife. It made me feel awful. I was not ready for this yet. I ended up on the verge of tears as I left early to go home and a complete wreck once I got home. Just wait until you are ready. I recommend trying to occupy your time instead with hobbies and things you used to enjoy doing. This is also a great time to pick up that hobby that you used to tell yourself you'd like to try if you "only had the time". Whatever you do, it's important to keep busy. You will have sad thoughts, but keeping occupied will help you to not dwell on them, to not let that one, lone, small, sad thought grow into a whole story of sadness. In the moment when that sad thought comes up (it may be triggered by a song on the radio, or seeing something that's a reminder, or it may just spring up out of nowhere), you can make a simple mental "shift", as long as you're keeping your mind occupied with other thoughts to "shift" to.
Lastly, I just want to reiterate how highly I recommend attending a group such as Divorce Care immediately after divorce. I wish I had known about this prior to my divorce so I would have known to go there sooner. I would be much better off.