Every time you have to make a decision, or experience a strong feeling, your brain sends out "stress hormones" to the rest of your body. Recent research is showing that a little bit of stress is both unavoidable and good for you. Problems, including serious illness, arise when the stress hormones in your body reach high levels and stay there for extended periods. And, if divorce isn't an extended period of high stress, what is?
Of course, solving the problems which are causing the stress is important…but that will probably take some time. And, since your level of stress also negatively impacts your ability to make wise decisions, taking care of your body by lowering your levels of stress hormones is critical during divorce.
Here are a few strategies to try:
1. Exercise. Stress hormones build up in your muscles, and exercise lets them go. To keep your general stress level low, exercise in a repetitive way (like jogging, hiking, or swimming) at the same time every day. If you just need to be able to relax so you can focus, a little bit of exercise can do the trick. Jog around the block with the dog, shoot baskets in the driveway, or walk up and down the stairs 5 or 6 times. The idea is to get your heart pumping. A small amount of exercise is good for insomnia, too. Try 10 windmills, 10 situps, 10 leg-raises and then lay down to sleep. Don't do too much, though! Exercise can also wake you up.
2. Relax. Meditation is an amazing antidote for stress. I recommend the yoga breath meditation you can learn from the Art of Living Foundation (www.artofliving.org). To deeply relax, you can also take a hot bath, or sit in nature and just listen to the birds. For lowering your stress in general, finding some way to deeply relax for about 20 minutes at the same time every day works best. To increase your focus, or calm anxiety on a stressful day, try sitting in a quiet place and bringing your attention to your breath. You don't have to change your breathing, just notice it as it goes in and out for a few minutes.
Many people use video games, texting or other "screen time" to relax...unfortunately, these activities actually add to the level of stress hormones in your body. Sorry! Music can be helpful, but not if you're trying to do two things at once. So, lay down and listen to quiet music, then turn it off before you try to focus on something else.
3. Laugh. A big belly laugh is one of the best things you can do for stress. Laughter makes your immune system more efficient, lights up your whole brain, helps you to learn more, even improves your heart and lungs. Find funny videos (“Fawlty Towers” is a personal favorite!), go out to comedy clubs, or just laugh along with your kids when you tell them a knock-knock joke.
One of the cool things that all of the mind-body research has shown is that having a sense of humor is an essential life skill for both reducing stress and making friends. So, if your divorce is causing havoc, instead of complaining, try to take a step back and see if you can tell a funny story about it.
4. Stay in gratitude. Gratitude is the positive emotion which can't live in the same space as anger, grief, or fear. So, if your negative emotions are triggering negative thoughts...which trigger your stress hormone response and make things even worse...try interjecting some gratitude. Think of what you're really grateful for. Picture it in your mind and try to bring in all of your senses. You'll find the negative emotion can't compete. One great exercise to reduce your general stress level is to write down 5 things you're grateful for every night before you go to sleep. There have been many studies on this, and it turns out that it's one of the best things you can do for your stress, your relationships, and your life in general!