Post-Divorce Depression: Do less, not more

Are you so devastated by all of the divorce-related changes in your life that you honestly can't imagine having to do even one more thing?  When people talk about self-care, does it literally make you angry?

Divorce depression often doesn't respond well to, "Come on, get back on your feet!  Keep busy!  It's, your job to get over him!"

Sometimes, our inner voices can be much harder on ourselves than the advice everyone else is offering.

PLEASE NOTE:  This blog post is written for women who are experiencing feelings of depression as a result of events surrounding divorce.  If you have a history of chronic depression, this information is not meant to replace medical care.

Make doing less your first priority

Your mental state is trying to tell you something:  It's exhausted.  So why not try honoring that inner exhaustion by stopping the mental struggle to do more.  Instead, do fewer of the things that are keeping you stuck.

Ask yourself:  What things are hurting you that you can stop doing right now?  Give yourself a few moments to think about it, because this may be the most powerful question you can answer.

I'm talking about thoughts, relationships, or activities that always make you feel worse in the end.  I call them "feeding the monster."  The monster isn't truly real, but we can make it real by continuing to nourish it with our attention.

Instead of adding things to your to-do list (which makes your day seem even more overwhelming), consider the relief you'll get by subtracting rather than adding.

To get you started, here are a few things you might want to stop feeding:

  • Habitual thoughts you have that always make you feel bad (and you're not even sure they're true).
  • Scary thoughts about your new life that tend to paralyze you into inaction (and, again, you're just focusing on the worst things that could possibly happen -- and that probably won't happen).
  • Focusing on everything wrong that everyone else is doing, and what they should be doing instead (your ex, his family, his new girlfriend, your family and how they're not helping . . .).
  • Listening to everyone else's divorce horror stories and imagining that they apply to you.
  • Engaging in self-destructive, self-medicating activities such as drinking way too much, or eating a mostly high-fat and high-sugar diet.
  • Spending most of your free time with whiners, complainers, and downers.
  • Worrying about things that you know you can't change right now.
  • And anything else that you want to have less of in your life.  If you want less of it, stop giving it your attention.

Does it make sense that when you stop feeding the monster, it will quiet down, eventually give up, and go away?  You don't have to do anything special for this to happen -- just consciously undo at least one thing. 

How to start undoing the pain

From the bad-feeling list you came up with, choose no more than three items you want to stop doing.  Just one item to focus on is excellent.  I'd pick the one that hurts you the most.

I ask my clients to write their "undo" item on a postcard -- colored ink and doodles a plus : ) -- and there's also a strange magic to laminating the card (somehow it makes it more real). Here's my favorite source for self-adhesive DIY "lamination" without the machine.  

Have your card with you, in view, as much as possible.  For the first week, you'll probably have to keep reminding yourself that you are choosing not to do ______________________.  

Check in to see if it's working

If you don't check in with yourself at least twice a day, you might not realize how well this undoing exercise is working.  You might even want to make a second postcard that says, "Don't forget to see if it's working."  

A couple of times a day -- at lunch and before bed -- check in with your feelings and see whether you're feeling a little better than you did when you started the undoing.  If you're not feeling an improvement, check in to see if you are keeping your postcard in mind and truly not doing the thing that's hurting you.

This really works.  But.  It takes a little bit of time to change a habit that you've been relying on.

Remember, we've been trying to comfort ourselves with these hurtful thoughts, low-vibe people, and too much of other activities that don't give the reward and solace we think they will.  

Don't make this a struggle, just gently keep bringing yourself out of the thought or behavior.  Leave the negative conversation a little earlier than you would have before.  Have one cocktail fewer.  Eat just half the container of ice cream.  Put aside the tormenting thought just some of the time.

By undoing these things, space will be created in your life for new, different influences to come in and cheer you up.  If you need some help with deciding what to undo, and feeling safe to try it, please get in touch with me.

What to do while you're undoing

So far, we've been talking about the kinds of thoughts that hurt rather than help.

Curious about what sort of thoughts will help you heal and feel more powerful and beautiful? 

I've made a little 6-minute audio for you, called Divorce Healing Morning Affirmations.  I talk you through a quick morning meditation that sets you up to create and experience your day the way you decide it should unfold.  You can get the free download here.