Anxiety, Depression and Divorce

Dealing with Anxiety as you Navigate through Your Divorce

Many divorcing spouses experience some degree of anxiety, sadness, depression or anger.

Contested or not, divorces are among the most stressful events that anyone experiences. Problems develop when divorce-related anxiety or depression is ignored and not treated properly. Anxiety and depression may impair your ability to participate in the divorce process and make sound decisions – you may end up making decisions that are not in your best interest. These issues must be identified and dealt with appropriately and immediately from the beginning of your divorce. If not, you may have bigger problems down the road. The question remains though: "How do I deal with divorce-related anxiety and depression?"

In his book, "The Feeling Good Handbook," Doctor David Burns states that distorted thoughts can lead to unhealthy negative emotions like anxiety, anger, and depression. When going through a divorce, these "distorted thoughts" are the product of a variety of stimuli. "I can't believe this is happening to me." "My husband took this." "My wife did that." "He thinks he's a suitable father." "She's just getting back at me!" "I'll show her!" You feel like a pinball machine. Your mind is racing, bouncing all over without any direction. What makes it worse is that there is little time for you to properly process any of it and take the appropriate action to correct it.

Identify the Bigger Issues: A Three-pronged Approach

Do you eat a steak in one big bite? Presumably not; you cut it up and eat small bite-sized pieces. The same idea can be used to resolve anxiety issues when they appear. As previously stated, when you are going through a divorce, particularly when it is contested, there are a number of things going on at the same time. They all compete for your immediate attention.

But there are ways to deal with these issues. First and foremost, you need to take a break, take a deep breath, and calm down. It may be easier said than done. But, with some willpower, you can do it. It is helpful to visualize some of the more important things that are going on. Generally, as a society, we tend to appreciate and understand things better when it can see them. Remember, it is not the anxiety that you are trying to see -- after all, that is pretty obvious. Rather, the underlying issues causing the anxiety must be identified and resolved. Then you can start to feel better.

Generally, when thoughts are racing and floating aimlessly in your head, they wreak havoc. Some people describe the feeling as if they are in an endless spiral of gloom -- no beginning, no end, and nothing but a big, dark mess left to show for it. This is what causes the feeling of being overwhelmed and the feelings of anxiety, sadness and anger. However, when you can visualize these issues, you slow everything down. If you break up all the chaos into manageable pieces, more likely than not, you will be on the road to feeling better.

To visualize your thoughts, take a piece of paper and draw three columns, left to right, numbered one through three. Then, in the first column in a bulleted format, write down a general, one- or two-word description of issues that need resolution. In the second column, briefly list sub-issues that may encompass the greater overall issue. For the time being, leave the third column blank. Continue this exercise until you feel that you have hit the most important issues that need to be addressed.

In the third column, numerically rank the importance of the listed issues. What you have created is a plan that will help you work through concerns and issues that need attention. During times of confusion and chaos, it is important to try and maintain level of control, or at least get a better handle on it. This three-pronged approach can help you do that. This exercise, as simplistic as it may be, will help you achieve some clarity regarding important issues. Generally speaking, whenever you can break down your issues into manageable pieces, you slow the process down. This, in turn, will help you put things into a better, and perhaps a more appropriate, perspective. Perspective equals control, which equals a more calming effect. Basically, it allows you to see the forest through the trees, though it may not seem like it at the time. This exercise is not limited to big issues. It can also be repeated for less urgent issues once the higher priority ones have been resolved or better managed.


The process described above is merely a guide to help you work through the tough road that divorce may take you down. This is by no means to be used as a substitute for appropriate mental health treatment when or if it is indicated or necessary. If you are experiencing anxiety or depression, you should seek professional treatment, such as counseling or therapy. If you feel that this may not be an appropriate treatment option for you, do not hesitate to consult with your physician.

No one can deny that divorce is a hectic and chaotic time. You may feel anxious and angry and say or do things that are ill-advised. In addition to getting help from a mental health professional or a doctor, you may want to discuss divorce-related legal issues (such as, child custody and support, alimony and division of property) with an experienced family law attorney who can advise you of your legal rights and responsibilities and help guide you through the decision-making process.

Yes, the road may seem lonely and bleak, but you do not have to go it alone. Get help if you need it and speak with a family law attorney if you have questions about your legal rights or the divorce process. Feeling better starts with you. You can and will make it through this painful time. Your feelings will by no means go away tomorrow, next week, or next month. Things will get easier, but it takes time, patience, hard work, determination and a helping hand.

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