In the aftermath of a divorce, you must adjust to your new social status and lifestyle. The emotional and physical stress of the separation process can damage your health unless you take specific precautions.
Specific Health Risks
Most people experience high levels of stress during a divorce. This factor triggers many potential health issues, such as:
- Drastic Weight Change. Stress spikes cortisol levels and leads to other hormonal and enzymatic changes that in turn can affect metabolism and fat tissue regulation. Significant weight gain after a divorce is common and likely related to these hormonal effects, and it can lead to other ailments, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart attacks in the worst case. Some people respond to stress by attempting to control every aspect of their life, including calorie intake. This can lead to unhealthy dieting and eating disorders. Instead of controlling calories, work with your doctor to identify underlying hormonal or diet-related issues (e.g. high insulin levels), and work to address their root causes.
- Cardiovascular Disease. Stress leads to inflammation throughout the body, which some researches now believe contributes to cardiovascular disease. While divorced men and women both have a higher risk of cardiac events than married couples do, divorced women are even more at risk than divorced men.
- Insomnia. Depression and stress often result in sleeping disorders. Lack of sleep can cause hormonal imbalances, weight gain, attention difficulties and mood swings.
- Substance abuse. Divorced men are particularly at risk of becoming dependent on cigarettes, drugs and alcohol. While this behavior is physically and psychologically damaging by itself, the abuse or addiction adds more stress to an already problematic situation, and it can increase the risk of developing other physical conditions.
- Chronic health problems. Divorced people have 20% more chronic health ailments, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer, than married people.
Protect Your Health
How do you manage your stress and reduce the risk of developing these scary health problems after your divorce? Obviously, you need to speak with your physician – we cannot offer medical advice – but consider discussing these ideas with him or her:
- Stay social. Connect with people for support and encouragement. Humans are social animals, and we need to connect with others for our physical and emotional wellbeing.
- Exercise. The standard advice goes something like this: “Go to the gym, ride a bike, play dodgeball, or take Aikido lessons – just get moving. Physical activity reduces stress and inflammation in your body while improving respiratory and cardiac functions.” This advice probably isn’t bad, but the quality of the exercise you do may actually be quite important. For instance, when it comes to increasing insulin sensitivity, research suggests that safe weight training may actually be better than other types of exercise, such as cycling or fast walking.
- Get therapy from a qualified provider. Men are more likely to ignore their feelings and fail to address the psychological toll of divorce. However, both men and women can benefit from discussing their challenges with a trained professional.