Getting Divorced Can Be a Pain in the Neck- Literally: Somatic Symptoms of Stress

It goes without saying that getting divorced is one of the biggest stressors a person can go through in their life. It is life altering and very time consuming. Not to mention it causes upheaval to every aspect of your life at the exact same time. Even if the divorce will end up having a positive overall outcome, it is still a grieving process of the marriage that didn’t turn out the way you planned. Factors that led to the divorce are often unpleasant and sources of their own stress. By the time couples are in the divorce process, their cup of negative life stressors is often overflowing.

You find yourself powering through paperwork, financial documents, real estate transactions, and possible custody battles, all while trying to communicate and make decisions with the very person you are wanting to distance yourself from legally. The dance is utterly exhausting and often takes a huge toll on our physical health.

I vividly remember that, throughout my divorce, I often thought I also had a new medical ailment- neck/back pain. I could not remember straining my back or lifting anything too heavy. I found it strange that I could be “sleeping wrong” in the same spot so often. Finally, after several sore bouts with my neck and back, a dear friend of mine, who is an acupuncturist and massage therapist, explained to me that the problem area in my back was the exact spot where our bodies store anger, stress, and PTSD emotions. This opened my eyes to be able to pinpoint my neck pain and associate it with environmental stressors in my life. It was fascinating to me to be able track which stressors were enough to cause me to have a physical reaction. Once I could identify my triggers, I could take proactive steps to work on stress reducing skills if I knew I would be faced with one of those stressors.

Other common somatic symptoms of stress include headaches, muscle spasms, involuntary eye twitches, stomach pain, nausea, gastrointestinal issues, skin rashes/hives, increase or decrease in appetite, and increase or decrease in sleep. Prolonged periods of stress can cause hair loss and a weakened immune system. Multiple stress related symptoms are not uncommon when going through a divorce. The process is long and your stress can manifest differently over the course of the divorce.

As I mentioned earlier, the best way to reduce somatic symptoms is to first identify the actual trigger. The divorce itself is a broad topic, so it is helpful to identify what is going on when the specific physical symptoms happen. For example, do you notice headache symptoms when trying to organize documentation? Do you feel sick to your stomach before a difficult conversation with your ex? Do you have muscle twitches when in a legal office setting? While you can’t avoid these stressors during a divorce, you can prepare you body if you know what is coming and what is a trigger.

Once you have identified the triggers, you can take proactive measures to prepare your body for the upcoming stressor. It may take some trial and error to find what works best for you, but I encourage you to try breathing techniques, yoga/stretching, acupressure mats, affirming self talk, journaling, meditation, and visual imagery. These are just a few starting tools to explore and I’m sure you have a few specific ones that work best for you.

The key is using them proactively instead of reactively. By using these tools before a call to your ex or meeting with your lawyer, you can reduce the likelihood that your body will respond with physical pain. By preparing your body in advance, you have given enough space in your emotional “cup” for it to not overflow into the physical realm.