Stress presents itself in many different forms. Stress scales (i.e. Holmes and Rahe) cite that divorce and separation are the second and third leading cause of stress, respectively. These are stressors that can lead both physical and mental health issues.
With divorce rates high, single moms are everywhere. They are in the grocery store, in the neighborhood, and in the cubicle down the hall. They are your child’s teacher, your elderly parents' nurse, your own doctor. It might even be you. That is a lot of stress out there. But help is available and tips and techniques can be learned to cope with the hectic schedule of caring for children, a home, a career, possible elderly parents, and yourself.
Finding the balance is always a challenge but crucial in maintaining mental health. Although basic, there are a few tips and techniques to keeping stress levels down and helping to ward off disease and mental health issues in post-divorce situations:
1. Good nutrition: Eat a good breakfast and pack a healthy lunch for your children AND yourself. Many women trade good calories for bad; especially under stress. Skipping meals is also commonly seen in the busy lives of women. The goal is usually weight control but studies show that, ultimately, the pounds will creep back. More importantly, this behavior only exacerbates stress levels. Being hungry and deprived of good nutrition will not help one’s mind or body.
2. Exercise: Exercise is an excellent way to stay healthy and lower stress levels. You don't necessarily have to join a gym. Playing soccer with your children in your yard or park is not only great exercise but is loads of fun and offers an opportunity to bond with your children. While exercising, your brain releases endorphins, which promote a sense of well-being and calm. (Always check with your doctor before engaging in strenuous exercise).
3. Rest: Whether by lack of sleep or poor sleep quality, many women find themselves sleep-deprived. Adjusting to living alone after divorce, financial worries, or conflict with an ex-spouse can haunt us at night and interfere with sleep. It is important to keep a nightly routine. Create a soothing pre-bedtime ritual to clue your body in that it is time to rest. But rest isn't limited to just sleep. Rest can also mean quiet time alone, with our children, friends or family. Listening to soft music, taking a hot bath or reading a good book or magazine, although small things, can be wonderfully rejuvenating to the soul.
After the basics are addressed, keep track of your mood. Many single moms suffer from stress and don't know the signs. Unmanaged stress can lead to depression and anxiety. It is also helpful to monitor your communication styles to see if it has changed. Do you find yourself having or shorter temper or losing patience easily with your children? Are your loved ones concerned about you? Divorce is colossal adjustment. Get support from a licensed therapist, join a divorce support group, and keep lines of communication open between you and your support network.
Lastly, indulge in feeling good about your life. Whether you choose to be single or divorced, you are starting out on a new path. Choose to make it a positive experience.
Marie McMahon, LMSW, ACG