Guest Post by Jackie Edwards
It can come out of nowhere. You could be swimming, walking the dog, or playing with your children when it hits you. You start to hyperventilate, experience chest pain and heart palpitations, a surge of overwhelming panic, shaking and trembling, trouble breathing, and a loss of control. You might even think it’s a heart attack. Instead, when you run to the doctor, you find out it is a panic attack brought on by your stressful divorce.
You are not alone. Around 30 to 40 percent of adults undergoing a divorce report a significant increase in symptoms associated with anxiety and depression according to the United States Surgeon General. Divorce is one of the worst stress and anxiety producing life changes because it creates low self-esteem, fear, and insecurity.
Panic Attacks Are a Normal Response to a Traumatic Event
As they try to figure out what is causing their physical symptoms, people with an anxiety disorder are up to five times more likely to go to the doctor. You may not necessarily have an anxiety disorder even if the unnerving feelings you are experiencing are an anxiety or panic attack. It may just be a normal anxiety response to divorce.
In her book “Triumph Over Fear”, Jerilyn Ross, M.A., L.I.C.S.W., points out that acute stress disorder is common in really shocking, traumatic events. It is appropriate and normal to have several weeks where you cry a lot, cannot sleep, or feel scared, hurt, frightened, abandoned, sad, and angry. All of this can be compounded when there are children involved or if you find out your ex was having an affair. Fortunately, there are non-pharmaceutical steps you can take to assuage the panic attacks.
Allow Yourself to Experience Emotions
It can be full of unknowns and frightening when you are facing a major life change. A broad array of emotions are brought to the surface, and anxiety is a normal part of that. This means that you need to let yourself mourn. Mourning looks different for different people. It could mean listening to your favorite music. It could mean lying in bed bawling your eyes out for half an hour. Go ahead and cry. Get angry. Write about your thoughts and feelings. Afterward, try to get out of the house and do something.
Speaking of your thoughts, be sure to observe what you are thinking. Whether you are sitting in the courthouse or your living room, your emotions can create a panic attack. When you are worrying about your divorce constantly, it can create a biochemical reaction. As your adrenaline rushes, your heart beats faster, and your mind races. When this happens, question whether your thoughts are productive. Are they helping you? What would help you more?
Develop Anxiety Management Tools
Ironically, the first things to go to the wayside when we are anxious are the things that we typically do to help us feel good. This includes eating well, socializing, and exercising. These are the precise activities that you need to engage in to keep stress and other nasty feelings at bay. A few things you can do to beat back the anxiety include:
- Work at going to bed at the same time every night
- Go for a walk
- Take some slow deep breaths
- Stock up on fruits and vegetables
- Sign up for a yoga class (or even surf YouTube for yoga videos)
- Keep a diary to record your triumphs. You can define triumphs in your own way. For example, a major accomplishment on some days may simply be cooking a real meal. Celebrate stuff like taking a shower, and paste some gold stars in your journal. Learn to love who you are.
You Are Not Alone
When you have strong social support, you are less vulnerable to panic attacks. Yes, divorce does destroy the entire dynamic of a family. However, there are still people you can count on. Call them, and get together with them regularly. In the process, expand your social network. When you engage in activities you are interested in, you will naturally meet people with similar interests. This will take your mind off of your situation.
Remember: there are plenty of people and resources available to you. You are not the first person to experience divorce-related panic attacks, and you do not have to go at it alone. You can do this.
Now working as a writer, Jackie started her career in health and social care, but after becoming a mom refocused and decided to spend more time with her family. When she’s not writing, she volunteers for a number of local mental health charities and also has a menagerie of pets to look after including a cheeky cat called Bertie.