The Toll Divorce Can Take on Health
Experts claim that married people are healthier than their divorced counterparts. Here's how to prove them wrong.
By Krisha McCoy
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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Going through a divorce is one of the most difficult transitions some people will ever face. Divorce can affect many aspects of our lives, from our finances to our emotions and health. Researchers have been studying the effects of marriage and divorce for many years and have found that, in general, people who are married have better health and longevity than those who are divorced, widowed, or unmarried — most likely because couples give each other social, financial, and emotional support.
After divorce, the changes you face in your daily life, the absence of your spouse and your "couple friends," and the loss of identity that may come with being single again can affect your health and well-being.
How Divorce Affects Your Health
Potential negative health effects experienced after divorce include:
- Loss of mental functioning.People who are divorced are three times as likely as married people to show mental decline later in life.
- Increased risk of death.In both men and women, becoming separated or divorced increases the risk of dying at an earlier age.
- More health conditions.People who have been divorced experience about 20 percent more health conditions than those who are currently married.
- Increase in depressive symptoms.People who have been divorced tend to show more symptoms of depression than those who are currently married.
- Poorer perception of health.People tend to rate their health as poorer after divorce.
9 Ways to Protect Your Health During and After Divorce
To counter divorce’s negative effects on health and longevity, take care of yourself with these steps:
- Keep up with recommended medical visits and screenings.People who are divorced, widowed, or single are more likely to miss their regular medical screenings than married people. Ask your doctor to give you a schedule of the check-ups and screening tests you need, and make sure to follow through.
- Eat a healthful diet.It is easy for the quality of your diet to go downhill when you are stressed about your divorce and often eating alone. Make a point to eat a balanced, healthful diet during and after your divorce.
- Don't smoke.Divorce increases your risk of smoking, which can put your health in serious jeopardy. If you smoke, talk with your doctor about ways to stop; if you don’t smoke, resist the temptation to take up the habit while going through your divorce.
- Limit alcohol intake.Many people turn to alcohol during stressful times, such as divorce. So if you drink, do so in moderation, and talk with a health professional if you think you may have a drinking problem.
- Practice relaxation exercises.Spending time in a quiet place meditating or listening to music can relieve some of the stress you feel during and after divorce.
- Enlist support.Release all of your negative emotions by talking with a trusted friend or relative. Getting support from people who have been through a divorce can be particularly helpful since they know what you’re going through.
- Explore.Once you are newly single, take the opportunity to enjoy activities you didn’t used to have time for or try new adventures you just never got around to.
- Exercise.Making physical activity a regular part of your schedule will not only improve your overall health, but will also help you work off excess negative energy that you feel during stressful times.
- Ease into after-divorce dating.Starting to date again is one way of moving on with your life after divorce. Some people are ready to meet new people soon after a separation or divorce, but many others won’t feel comfortable dating for a while. You will know you are ready when you have accepted that your marriage is over and start looking forward to your new life.
Adjusting to your new life after divorce takes time — realize that you will not feel better overnight. But the more you care for yourself during this stressful time, the healthier and stronger you will feel. And if you are experiencing any worrisome symptoms or if your emotions are getting in the way of your daily life, talk your doctor or a mental health professional to get help.
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