In my profession as a divorce coach, I work with people experiencing situational depression all the time. The biggest difference between situational depression and clinical depression is that situational depression is caused by a loss like death or divorce.
Most people going through divorce experience some degree of situational depression as part of the normal grieving process over all the losses the end of the marriage brings.
If not dealt with appropriately, situational depression can linger for much longer than it needs to. I don’t want that to happen to you.
Because I want you to recover from your divorce depression as quickly as possible, here are my top 5 tips for how to deal with depression that’s triggered by the loss of your marriage.
One of the first exercises I give to nearly every one of my divorce clients is to write a goodbye letter. In this exercise, you sit down with a pen and paper and write a letter of goodbye to everything and everyone that isn’t the same now that you’re divorcing. Some of the things you might want to say goodbye to are your role as spouse, the traditions you had of celebrating birthdays and holidays, and seeing your kids every day. Some of the people you may want to say goodbye to are your ex, your in-laws and your friends who aren’t able to stand by your side during your major life transition.
Here’s a good-bye letter based on one that a client wrote:
Goodbye to everything I thought my life was and everything I thought my life would be. Goodbye to perceived financial and emotional security. Goodbye to my home — the place that I brought my babies home and thought we would send them off to college. Goodbye to thinking that marriages can last forever and faith in love. Goodbye to trust and the belief that a man can be faithful and unselfish. Goodbye to trusting my heart fully to someone else. I will forever be skeptical of love. Goodbye to feeling so lucky that my kids would grow up with a “real” family. Goodbye to walking my kids home from school, being homeroom Mom, and being close friends with their teachers. I thought you were someone you weren’t — loyal, respectful, proud of me. Goodbye to excusing your annoying habits, and condescending behavior. Goodbye to shopping for cars and the other toys you spent more time with than me or your kids. You broke my heart, and my dreams and now I will use the broom and dustpan to gather them up, see what’s left, pick out what I want of what’s left and mosaic them with something new.
As you can probably tell from this example, writing a goodbye letter takes courage. It requires you to come face-to-face with what you’re losing with the end of your marriage. BUT the reward for doing this is a catharsis. You’ll know exactly what it is that you’re grieving and begin to have a better idea of how to deal with your situational depression because you’ll be able to see what you can work on to put your grief behind you.
My second tip for how to deal with depression associated with divorce is to write a hello letter. In this letter you’ll write about all the things you’re happy about not having to deal with any more and all the new things you’re looking forward to. Some of the things you might be able to say hello to now that you’re divorced are those things you used to love to do that you gave up for your ex, a peaceful night not disrupted by window-rattling snoring, and no more watching your ex pick their teeth (or nose) at the table.
The hello letter is a great way to start setting your sights on what’s good about now. By becoming more and more aware of what’s truly right about your life right now, your situational depression will start to lessen. Because it’s such a powerful tool for moving on from divorce, writing a hello letter doesn’t need to be a one-time event. As you discover more things that are good about your life now, you could write a new hello letter or add on to your original one.
My third tip for how to deal with depression caused by divorce is to start paying attention to the conversation you’re having with yourself. If you’re like most people, your internal conversation is probably something less than complimentary. A great way to change your internal conversation is to start name calling. No, I don’t mean calling your ex and their attorney names. I mean calling yourself positive, uplifting names. You can read more about it in an article I wrote for Your Tango, Want to Get Over Your Divorce? Start Name Calling.
My fourth tip for how to deal with depression caused by divorce is to get more human touch. One of the things that most people I work with are surprised by is how much they miss just the casual contact of marriage — the hugs, hand holding, arm around the shoulders and even bumping into each other in the kitchen or bathroom. Some of the things I’ll recommend to clients who are missing casual physical contact with another person are get a massage, become known by your friends as a hugger, get a mani and/or pedi, and hug yourself.
Now I’ll bet that you’re thinking they’re all great ideas except for hugging yourself which seems kinda lame. The thing is that giving yourself a hug is a wonderful way to treat yourself well and goes hand in hand with learning to call yourself positive, uplifting names. Now when you give yourself a hug, I find the kind that feels the best is to wrap your arms across your chest so your hands are touching just above your armpits. You’ll want to hold the hug for a bit and focus on it. Before you know it, you’ll probably sigh which is a pretty good sign you’re enjoying the hug. But, don’t just take my word for it. Try it yourself!
My fifth and final tip for how to deal with depression resulting from divorce is to imagine the two of us are meeting for lunch one year from today. As we get seated, I can see that you’re doing great — much different from the person who was struggling with divorce depression. I say to you, “You look wonderful and I can tell you must be feeling great. What’s life like for you now?”
Really think about my question. What would you ideally like your life to be like one year from today? Write it all down and include all the details. Where will you be living? What type of work will you be doing? What will you be doing for fun? How will you be feeling? Include everything in as much detail as you can. In fact, the more detail you can include the better.
This exercise helps you set the stage for what’s next in your life. What’s next can be absolutely amazing and the more you are able to focus on creating exactly what it is you want from your life the sooner you’ll be able to stop grieving so deeply for what you’re losing.
Each of my 5 tips for how to deal with depression resulting from divorce is meant to build one on the other. Start with writing your goodbye letter. After you’ve had a chance to really grieve (aka cry or sob) over what you’re saying goodbye to, write your hello letter. Start noticing what is good about now. Then you’re ready to start hearing what you’re saying to yourself and make sure you turn up the volume on the kindness and support. Once you’ve got your internal dialog tuned to a positive note, you’ll want to be sure and take care of your need for casual human contact which could be as simple as giving and getting more hugs. Finally, when you can start to imagine how wonderful your life could be a year from now, start painting that picture and taking the steps to make it a reality. By the time you’ve completed all 5 of my tips, you’ll be well on your way to making the rest of your life the best of your life instead of being stuck in the quicksand of divorce depression.
Your Functional Divorce Assignment
Write your goodbye letter. I know it may seem weird that I specified that you need to write this letter by hand, but for most people the act of writing helps with getting all the emotions out much more than typing away at a keyboard. Because I know you’ll want to get the most out of this experience as possible, please take some time when you won’t be interrupted or distracted and allow yourself to write your goodbye letter by hand.
After you’ve written your goodbye letter, read it to yourself and note where you might start to get over your grief. It’s often easiest to do this with the help of someone who can listen to you in silence. A professional can even help you figure out where you might want to start focusing attention to get over your grief.
When you’ve gotten all the information from your letter you can, you’ll probably want todestroy it. After my clients share their goodbye letter with me and we identify what where to start focusing our attention so they can more quickly get over their grief, I’ll suggest that they either shred or burn their goodbye letter. I do this because it’s a symbolic act of no longer allowing yourself to be bound by the grief you expressed in the letter and clears the way for you to write your hello letter.
Write your hello letter. The same rules for writing the goodbye letter apply to writing your hello letter. You’ll want to write your hello letter fairly soon after destroying your goodbye letter to start focusing your attention on the positive aspects of your life and set the stage for moving past your divorce depression as quickly as possible.
Continue with the rest of the tips as you feel ready and I know you’ll find yourself moving through the worst of your divorce depression more quickly.
This guest article from YourTango was written by Dr. Karen Finn and appeared as: How to Deal with Depression After Divorce: 5 Actionable Tips
More great content from YourTango: