By: Tess Worrell
People going through divorce focus on finances, children, and legal decisions. In the midst of dealing with all these, rarely do individuals pause to consider the other significant impact of divorce–the impact on their health.
Recent studies indicate divorce can cause significant health issues–even decades later. According to sociologist Linda Waite, PhD, University of Chicago, “Mental health seems to be much more responsive to your current state. But if you ignore your physical health . . .that can have a lasting impact. And that is what people tend to do when they lose a marriage to divorce or death. She coauthored a study which found:
- Those who were divorced or widowed were 20% more likely to have heart disease, diabetes, cancer, or another chronic condition.
- They were also 23% more likely to have mobility problems, such as difficulty climbing stairs or walking short distances.
- Those who were divorced or widowed but then remarried still had 12% more chronic health conditions and 19% more mobility problems than married people who had never experienced divorce or the death of a spouse; but they were only slightly more likely to report depression.
Hughes, M. and Waite, L. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, September 2009; vol 50: online edition.
Other studies have found that those who are going through divorce experience:
- Increased depression–especially if they struggled with depression prior to the divorce
- Changes in weight. Men tended to gain weight while women tended to lose–but changes of more than 20 pounds either way were found to have significant health implications
- Increased substance abuse to cope with the emotional toll
- Increased insomnia
Not surprisingly–one impact heightens another. Insomnia makes it harder to cope and may lead a person to take substances to sleep or to forego exercise–which increases risk of cardiac issues, diabetes, or stroke.
Yet, the health impacts aren’t inevitable. If those going through divorce take note of their health risks, they can take action.
Strategies for protecting health during divorce include:
- Right after you schedule your appointment with your mediator or attorney, make an appointment with your doctor. The stream of adrenalin that accompanies most divorces compromises immune systems and opens the door to illness. Be honest about your situation and keep your physician in the loop.
- Stay on top of preventative tests. Monitor glucose, cholesterol, and blood pressure for early intervention if issues arise.
- Keep moving–create or continue a regular exercise routine to guard against risks for chronic disease, to help with insomnia, and to prevent weight gain. Added bonus–studies show walking 20 minutes per day is as effective as most prescription medications for alleviating depression.
- Along with exercise, include a healthy diet and consider supplements to boost your immune system.
Divorce impacts every level of life–including health. Focusing on the risks will help you make healthy choices that both avoid illness and provide energy for all the other challenges of divorce.