The disruption of divorce and overwhelming nature of single parenthood can give even a happy-go-lucky person a case of the blues. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here’s how to cope — and how to conquer — depression as a solo parent.
Why Are You Depressed?
Ongoing stressors that dampen your mood include:
• Stress over finances and solo parenting
• Guilt/worry about the impact of divorce on children
• Difficulty communicating with your co-parent
• Ongoing legal issues
• Stress caused by difficulty during visitation swaps
• Loss of your former home, lifestyle, and social circle
• Feeling that you’ve failed
If your depression persists or worsens after six months, you may need professional intervention to help you adjust to your post-divorce situation. Watch out for these warning signs:
• Difficulty sleeping and eating
• Panic attacks
• Feeling on edge most of the time
• Trouble functioning at work or home
• Isolating from support network
• Emotional extremes: feeling numb or overreacting
• Crying jags
• Falling apart when your children visit your ex
• Using your child as your therapist
Ways to Cope with Depression
Don’t try to white-knuckle your way through depression. Think of mental health care as the oxygen mask on the plane; in order to help your children, you need to put the mask on yourself first. Here’s a list of proven depression busters:
• Get a physical. Stress shows up in the body, so visit your doctor for a full check-up to rule out any physical conditions that might be contributing to your fatigue and general sense of malaise. Your physician may be able to prescribe medication to clear up any underlying ailments.
• Address eating and sleeping issues. Not getting enough food or sleep will fast-track you to a clinical depression. If natural remedies such as melatonin don’t work, see your physician or psychiatrist for a trial of psychotropic medication. The right medication can help you eat and sleep properly, which will improve your level of functioning.
• Socialize. When you’re in the abyss, your tendency may be to hide under the bed sheets and avoid the world, but isolating will only exacerbate your condition. Humans are hard-wired for connection, so spend time with people who make you feel good. Feeling connected will boost your mood and get your mind off your troubles.
• Self-care. Take care of your body and treat yourself as finances allow. Get regular exercise (a natural depression-buster). Splurge on a mani-pedi. Go to yoga or schedule a massage. Treating yourself as you would a friend will replenish your mind, body, and spirit as well as enhance your self-esteem: you matter!
• Practice gratitude. Depression lies: it convinces you that things are worse than they are and will never improve. It’s imperative that you learn to shift your focus to what’s going well. When you notice you’re sliding into a pit of despair, stop what you’re doing and write a gratitude list. Include things you take for granted: a clean, safe place to live; food in the refrigerator; a comfortable bed; a hot shower. Many people in the world don’t have what you do. When you spend more time thinking about what you’ve got than what you’ve lost, your perspective on life will change.
• Be creative. Creativity is an antidote to energy-draining depression. When you focus on harnessing your talents — writing, art, music, cooking, gardening — your mind will move from your troubles to what you’re creating in the present. The creative process can also help you work through painful feelings about the divorce and give you a sense of accomplishment.
• See a divorce therapist. Your friends and family can only listen to so much divorce woe before they burn out. Plus, they may project their own fears and frustrations with life on to you, and just make you feel worse. Seek help from a therapist trained in divorce. This person will support you as you process your grief and help you implement coping skills to manage your feelings and new life stressors. A divorce therapist can also give you strategies to co-parent with a difficult ex.
Resist the pull to wallow. In the end, it will just make you more depressed. You can’t do anything about the past, so focus on improving your mental health. Then get out there and live your life!
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