It’s normal to be depressed after the end of a relationship. What’s not normal is giving up on having a social life at all, not getting out of bed in the morning, or living the life of a recluse. While it’s important to honor the grief process, it’s crucial that you keep the blues in check.
“Depression is a natural part of the grief cycle that people experience as a result of the loss of an important relationship,” explains Jennifer Coleman, a life transition coach at Rosen Law Firm in Raleigh, NC. “People reflect on what they are missing, experience feelings of sadness and loneliness, perhaps even self-doubt, and question whether they were ever truly loved or whether they will be loved in the future.”
For most people, the depression lifts naturally. But for others, it’s tougher to beat the blues. Coleman says it’s much harder to overcome post-divorce depression when you:
Can’t focus on the future and instead become stuck in reliving the past and acting out a conversation with yourself about what went wrong.
Don’t define yourself in new ways and instead see yourself as only part of a person (defining yourself by the old relationship).
So here’s wise advice on how to snap out of that mindset and move forward.
- Make time. Allow yourself some time each day to do the work of “getting over it,” Coleman notes. “This might include private time to find expression for your worst thoughts, time to vent with friends about your sadness and frustration, time to go for a walk and notice all the little things around you that you don’t always notice or time to invest in an activity you truly enjoy.”
- Don’t withdraw, engage. “The easiest way to accomplish this is by scheduling at least three pleasant or reinforcing activities each day,” counsels Andrea Macari, a New York-based Ph.D. in clinical psychology. “Examples might include engaging in a hobby, having lunch with a close friend, or even indulging in an ice cream sundae. By making a proactive attempt at increasing the enjoyment in their daily lives, they will slowly re-engage with the world and their depressive symptoms will decrease.”
- Accentuate the positive. Start looking for good things that you got from your marriage or will come from your divorce. “I wrote down a bunch of positive results from my divorce on scraps of paper,” recalls Tom Meisner of New York. “Everything from having a second chance at love or learning how to scuba dive (something my ex loved) to funny things like not having to share that tiny bathroom again or being able to get a dog (my ex was allergic). I put the scraps in a box and whenever I felt bad, I pulled one or two out. It was simple, but it helped me put things in perspective.”
- Create a nurturing environment. “My friends made sure I was taking care of myself,” says Sonja West of Sarasota, FL. “We took a healthy cooking class together, went on weekly fitness walks and even had a couple of spa getaways. We also repainted my apartment and went to yard sales for cheap new furniture. They also helped make sure I got enough sleep—but not too much.”
- Consider additional support. Friends and family are crucial during this time, but you might want to get additional support to help you deal with complicated or extremely painful feelings. A mental health professional can help point out distorted or negative thoughts exacerbating your depression. “A psychologist can help guide the individual back into the world,” Macari notes. “It’s the equivalent of having your own personal cheerleading team and coach wrapped up in one highly educated person.” Ask your doctor for a referral to a qualified professional. You might also consider seeking counsel from your religious leader.
Following these tips will help you deal with the natural feelings accompanying your divorce so you can get ready for a better relationship the next time around.
North Carolina-based writer Margot Carmichael Lester’s advice appears in the anthologies How to Survive Your Marriage and How to Survive Your Divorce (Hundreds of Heads Books).