Overcoming the Blues After Gray Divorce

For almost a decade, researchers at the National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University have tracked the growth of “grey” divorce (marriages ending after age 50). Discontented couples who stuck it out until their kids were out of the house or other milestones were met are calling it quits in record numbers. And the fallout of these gray divorces is affecting the Boomer generation in a variety of ways.

Divorce after 50 can have an impact on your financial outlook (consider the cost of two households in retirement versus one). But recent research suggests that gray divorce is also associated with an increase in depression.

While it’s natural for anyone to feel down from time to time, depression is more pervasive —and sometimes hard to recognize. It can take the form of fatigue, lack of focus, poor memory, muscle aches, feelings of hopelessness, mood swings, changes in appetite, sleeping more or less than usual, a loss in interest in activities that once brought you joy, or an increase in risky behaviors. All of these shifts can lead to isolation, which, in turn, becomes a vicious cycle. You’re feeling tired and hopeless, so you cancel plans with friends, which in turn feeds your sense of loneliness.

Just reading the list of potential side effects associated with grey divorce is depressing, but there are ways to prevent and treat the post-divorce blues. In an article for mensdivorce.com writer Mat Camp provides five tips for working through the tough times:

  1. Build a support network. Actively shoring up your short-list of trusted confidantes. “Whether it’s simply a friend who allows you to vent, a group or a professional therapist, it is important not to hold everything inside when you are going through a divorce,” Camp says. If friends dropped away when you and your ex parted, you might need to make an effort to forge new alliances. Seek out people who share your interests, beliefs, and goals. Work, church, or neighborhood gatherings are all good places to start. It may take real effort at first to reach out, but surrounding yourself with healthy, positive people will have an immediate and lasting impact on your wellbeing.
  2. Don’t dwell on what you can’t control. The Serenity Prayer has been around for decades for a reason. Letting go of the people and situations that are beyond your ability to change or control will relieve unproductive thoughts and actions. Instead, place your energy on the actions that are within your power. “You can control focusing on moving forward and making the best of what you dohave,” Camp says. “For example, make the best of your time with your kids, and avoid letting anger and frustrations spill into other areas of your life.”
  3. Immerse yourself in something constructive. Take up a new hobby. Spend time with those books you’ve been meaning to read. Now is the time to immerse yourself in that hobby your spouse wasn’t so keen on, or that you didn’t have time for because of other obligations. Occupying your hands and mind will help relieve negative thoughts —and you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment when you’re done.
  4. Avoid the rebound. Although finding a new mate may ultimately bring you happiness, jumping into another serious relationship too soon after your divorce can have devastating effects. Give yourself time to sort through your grief and determine what you really want and need in a relationship. Many therapists suggest waiting a year after the “ink is dry” on divorce papers before getting involved in a serious romance.
  5. Stay healthy. Binging on fatty, sugary foods may bring immediate comfort but can yield other health issues in the long run. Eating healthy foods and engaging in daily exercise will go a long way toward fighting the symptoms of depression. You’ll sleep better and feel better about yourself, too. Likewise, be careful about your alcohol intake post-divorce.It’s easy to fall into a routine of self-medicating with booze and junk food,” Camp says. “But this pattern of behavior will only serve to worsen the symptoms of depression long-term.”

Although women who divorce later in life may experience more financial challenges, men have a tougher time wrangling the emotional fall-out. Studies show that men are nearly twice as likely to suffer from post-divorce depression as women.

If you’re divorcing or recently divorced and experiencing chronic fatigue, lack of interest in activities, insomnia, apathy, or feelings of despair, talk to your doctor or seek the help of a skilled therapist or psychologist.

A special note: If you’re experiencing thoughts of suicide, the Birmingham Crisis Center (BCC) has volunteers ready to help 24/7. Call (205) 323-7777. BCC also provides a Senior Talk Line, (205) 328-8255, for older adults who are feeling isolated and alone. All calls are confidential.