Stress, anxiety and depression can be common symptoms of divorce. During this time, it is important to take good care of yourself, to be in the best position possible for dealing with the various challenges of your divorce. I can often be heard advising my clients to focus on “taking control of the controllables and letting go of things they do not have control over”. What we choose to eat and drink is something we have control over and can make a big difference to how we feel physically and emotionally.
We’ve all done it – reached for the biggest piece of chocolate cake we can find or the takeaway pizza and ice cream that comforts us and make us feel better, albeit temporarily, when we are under stress. And after all, there is absolutely nothing wrong with occasionally indulging ourselves with something ‘naughty’. But if we continually choose those foods, are they actually helping or hindering our stress levels in the long term?
Common sense tells us that a diet of fatty, sugary foods isn’t good for us. But when we are under stress, our minds and bodies often react differently. Studies show that experiencing prolonged bouts of stress, during separation or divorce for example, can affect not only our nervous system but also our immune and endocrine (hormone) systems. So it’s vital that during such a time, we take extra care of ourselves. Something that the majority of us put last on the list.
But self care doesn’t have to be time consuming or expensive. If it’s possible to be spirited away somewhere other people will look after you and try to help you relax, that’s wonderful. But if that isn’t possible, there are key things we can all do which can help make the debilitating effects of stress a little more manageable.
Food is one of those key things.
The oft used phrase ‘ you are what you eat’ could not be more relevant during a period of prolonged stress. Salty, sugary and fatty foods are the ones that will trigger the reward centre of our brain. They are also the ones that will slow our metabolism. So whilst the first few bites of that pizza may be delicious, eating those stodgy, sludgy foods too often will ultimately end up leaving you feeling both physically and mentally sluggish, drained of energy and lethargic and can even aggravate the way our body responds to stress.
There is nothing wrong with the occasional indulgence; a coffee and cake with a friend, a glass of wine every now and then. But the key to managing stress and its symptoms is moderation. If you are constantly tempted by less healthy food options, try and keep to some simple rules and avoid the following:
- Processed foods
They are often loaded with sugar and preservatives which give us a burst of energy but then cause us to crash and reach for more sugar. When shopping, try and stick to the fresh food aisles to avoid temptation.
Alcohol, may give us a temporary high but acts as a depressant and disrupts our sleep patterns. Have the odd glass of wine by all means but if you find yourself reaching for a drink every night, try and substitute it with something else – a spritzer, an unusual cordial or mix a non alcoholic cocktail.
Too much caffeine can affect our adrenal glands, leading to a dip in energy and an inability to manage stress.You don’t have to give up your morning coffee, but where possible, avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening to ensure you get a good nights rest. Instead try substituting tea and coffee with decaf versions or herbal teas.
Sugary foods like doughnuts and cakes, for example, can cause a chemical reaction in our body that actually increases our anxiety levels. Stress causes our cortisol levels to rise which, in turn, triggers a message to our brain to take in more sugar in case we end up in a fight or flight scenario and need energy. But in most cases, we can manage without it. If you feel that sugar craving coming on, reach for some berries, a little dark chocolate or a spoonful of nut butter.
If you still find it difficult to make good decisions about food, make yourself accountable. Try keeping a food diary or ask a friend to get involved. If you have to tell someone what you are eating, chances are you will think twice about what you select.
If you are finding it difficult to cope with the stress of your divorce, please don’t struggle alone. Get in touch with me here to find out how I can support you through this challenging time in your life. I’m here to help.
If you have found the tips in this blog useful then you will find lots more in my ebook “Tips for Coping with Divorce” which you can download here: free ebook.
By signing up you will also receive my monthly newsletter with more free advice on different aspects of divorce.