One of the most common side effects of divorce is a dramatic increase in anxiety.
Feeling anxious during divorce is understandable. The entire process can hit you like a tsunami as your life undergoes such drastic changes.
While this is a natural response and you shouldn’t feel abnormal for experiencing it, it’s also important to understand that there are serious health risks linked to anxiety that can cause long-term harm if you don’t do something about it.
Anxiety is how our body responds to being in danger. When we are in real danger, anxiety is actually healthy since it prompts us to deal with environmental threats. It causes adrenaline to rush into our blood and triggers a “fight or flight” response.
Some of the symptoms of anxiety include:
- Increased heart rate
- Rapid breathing
- Having trouble sleeping
- Gastrointestinal problems
When faced with a real threat, these symptoms can cause us to seek safety. However, far too often the anxiety we feel is due to imagined or exaggerated danger and that can lead to some unhealthy behaviors.
In addition to physical symptoms, anxiety can also trigger behavioral symptoms. These are the ways we try to cope with the unpleasantness of anxiety.
The most common behavioral symptom of anxiety is avoidance. When someone engages in avoidance behavior, they stay away from people, situations, or actions they fear will trigger anxiety.
Avoidance is a coping mechanism that might bring short-term relief, but it doesn’t improve anything over the long haul and can leave you stuck in a cruel cycle of anxiety.
Cycle of anxiety
One of the keys to overcoming anxiety is understanding how our thoughts, feelings and behaviors work in tandem.
Feelings of anxiety are initially produced by the thought that something bad is about to happen to you and you won’t be able to cope. Those thoughts trigger the physical symptoms listed above, which in turn influences your behavior and how you act.
Thoughts -> Feelings -> Behavior
It doesn’t matter whether your initial fear was legitimate or not. Once you allow it to influence your feelings and behaviors, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that prevents you from moving forward in your life.
One method to help you overcome anxiety and the avoidance behaviors that come with it is to utilize the STOPP skill.
According to getselfhelp.co.uk, STOPP is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy that can be used to help you take control of your emotions.
Stop: Pause for a moment.
Take a breath: Notice your breathing.
Observe: Pay attention to what’s on your mind, what you’re reacting to and the physical sensations it causes.
Pull back: Take a step back and put what is happening into perspective. Think about the bigger picture and take a helicopter view of the situation.
Practice what works: What is the best thing to do in this situation? (The best thing might not be the easiest thing.)
Slowing down and breathing can help you calm the physical response you have to the stimulus-inducing anxiety. That enables you to observe and really notice what is going on in your mind and how it’s affecting how you feel. Once you’ve taken an objective look at this process, you can see the bigger picture and that often allows you to gain a more realistic perspective on the entire situation. From there, you can choose a positive response that is going to help you move forward.
Some of the threats posed by divorce are very real. None of this is meant to downplay that reality.
However, a glass half-empty perspective that always assumes the worst will happen isn’t healthy or helpful. It is critical to utilize strategies that help develop a realistic outlook so that you can deal with whatever it is that’s causing your anxiety appropriately.
If anxiety is an ongoing problem for you, consider seeking professional counseling.
Divorce is a part of your life, but it doesn’t define your life and neither should anxiety.