Tips for a stress-free divorce

Psychotherapist Paula Hall offers advice on how to cope and stay healthy when you're getting a divorce.

Divorce can cause problems such as stress, anxiety, depression and panic attacks according to Paula Hall, relationship psychotherapist at the charity Relate.

"This can affect sleep, which can cause tiredness, exhaustion and a lack of focus and concentration," she says.

"There's a lot to think about during a divorce, particularly looking after children, telling your parents and dealing with their emotions, moving house, dividing possessions, setting up bank accounts, and continuing your job."

Below, Paula identifies seven crucial steps for coping.

1. Accept the reality of your situation

Ask yourself questions about what happened and try to understand what went on beneath the surface. For example, if the other person had an affair, try to understand what led them to do that. Similarly, if you grew apart, think about how you've changed since you first met.

2. Manage your emotions

The most common emotions people experience during a divorce are grief, fear, anger, resentment, doubt, regret and guilt. At this early stage in particular you need help and support from friends. You also need to give yourself time and space. Some techniques of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can really help, such as changing negative thoughts and learning how to be optimistic.

3. Develop strategies for personal growth

Recognise your strengths and your weaknesses, and develop an action plan. An action plan involves setting goals. For example, if you know you'll struggle with loneliness, decide how you will deal with this. This will build your self-esteem and help you manage your feelings, such as missing someone.

4. Let friends and family help

Identify your support network. Think about the people who are already there for you. But also recognise that some relationships may be challenging, such as friends who will be hard to socialise with or a family member who might say: "I told you it'd never work." Think about the relationships you want to strengthen. If you're fairly good friends with someone you work with, see them more often. Or maybe you could renew contact with someone who has been through a divorce.

5. Deal with money and practical matters

Think about your financial and practical resources and challenges. This might include how to release some of the equity in your house, or how you can make money during the free time you now have. It may also include things as simple as learning how to use a lawnmower or the washing machine, or how to cook for the children when they're staying with you. It's often these practical things that make people feel like they can't cope.

6. Communicate effectively with your ex

This is another area that can cause a huge amount of stress. If you have children, learning to communicate effectively is very important. This involves trying not to get angry, managing your emotions, and entering into conversations with a clear idea of what you want to achieve without getting drawn into old arguments.

You may want to consider family mediation. This helps people facing relationship breakdown sort out practical issues, such as arrangements for their children and sorting out their finances.

Family mediation services charge for their services, but you may be able to get legal aid if you are on a low income.

Find a family mediation service near you.

7. Set goals for the future

It's important to adopt the belief that "today is the first day of the rest of your life". This could mean being single, being satisfied, dating and finding love again, as well as realising your hopes, dreams and ambitions.

"Divorce can be devastating and painful, and there will be bad days," says Paula. "But negative thinking leads to negative emotions, which lead to bad health, so it's important to try to think positively."

Paula is keen to stress the potential for a positive outcome. She says: "Divorce is an opportunity for change. There are lots of things you can't do if you're married. People compromise and put things to one side, such as hobbies or even careers. A divorce is an opportunity to think about the things you loved but might have let go of, while recognising that you can reshape your future."

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