When is it Post-Divorce Stress and When is it Trauma?

While nearly everyone who has been through a divorce agrees that it is a difficult process, the level of stress and toxicity varies. For some, it reaches the level of trauma. The stress may continue after you say goodbye to your divorce lawyer for the last time. After managing a toxic divorce with a contentious settlement process or an unpleasant ex, you may experience some post-divorce trauma responses. Your stress may bleed into your post-divorce life.

Post-Traumatic Stress and Divorce

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is frequently mentioned in the context of military combat service or violent crime. But can it apply to divorce as well? Typically, a PTSD diagnosis applies to someone who experienced a life-threatening situation and thus would not apply to divorces. However, that doesn’t mean the process of ending a marriage can’t be traumatic and lead to many of the same symptoms as PTSD.

If not addressed, these post-traumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) can make moving forward with your life extremely difficult. Addressing them, either on your own or with the help of a trained mental health professional, is critical to your success in this next phase of your life.

While anyone who has experienced divorce may end up with PTSS, the more contentious, drawn-out, or complicated your divorce, the more likely you will experience difficulties. Additionally, a history of trauma or a relationship involving abuse are risk factors for PTSD-like symptoms after divorce.

Here are some signs that your divorce aftermath has reached the level of trauma:

Lack of Energy

You don’t want to do anything even when you have free time. The best you can manage is sitting in front of the TV or browsing the internet, even when getting out seems appealing. You can’t summon up the energy to get moving. This lack of energy is a significant indicator of potential depression or trauma response.

It’s natural to want to decompress after a stressful, taxing process, but it’s noteworthy if that reaches an unusual level or you can’t shake the lack of motivation and energy.

Negative Thinking

While divorce is a significant reorganization of your life, there are positive aspects to no longer being in an unhealthy relationship. Most people will feel anxious sometimes about the changed vision of their future or have days where they aren’t sure how it will all work out. If those feelings become frequent or consuming, or you can rarely feel optimistic about anything in your life, you may be experiencing post-divorce trauma.

Lack of Concentration

Everyone’s mind wanders occasionally. If that’s happening slightly more often than usual in the wake of your divorce, there’s probably nothing to be concerned about. However, something else may be at play if you struggle to concentrate on anything. This lack of focus can affect your work, relationships, parenting, and productivity at home. If difficulty concentrating is an ongoing problem, you may need help addressing your divorce-related trauma.

Difficulty Sleeping

When more often than not your nights are filled with racing thoughts, tossing and turning, and an inability to get the sleep you need, something is going on. Proper sleep is vital to your health and mental well-being. It is impossible to rebuild your life if you aren’t sleeping. If this issue lasts for more than a few weeks, it’s an indicator that your divorce is continuing to take a heavy toll on your life.


Does everything seem to frustrate you? Have you lost your ability to let go of relatively minor things? Do you find yourself constantly feeling irritated or angry? These are signs that the stress of your divorce is still negatively affecting your life.

Risky Behavior

Perhaps you and your friends decide to skydive on the day your divorce attorney calls to tell you your marriage has officially ended. Or everyone wants to go to a bar to support you, and you drink more cocktails than usual. There’s nothing inherently problematic about that. However, if you continue to engage in risky or unhealthy behaviors, you could do long-term damage to yourself. A pattern of destructive behavior as a reaction to your divorce is deeply concerning. Address it before your choices lead to consequences you can’t undo.

If you are experiencing post-divorce trauma, what can you do?

Seek Support from Friends and Family

Let those closest to you know you are struggling. Share your feelings and tell them how they can support you. Venting to your loved ones can help you feel understood and less alone.

Be Kind to Yourself

Try to prioritize your well-being, both mental and physical. Accept your emotions rather than chastise yourself for the way you feel. Make time for relaxing walks, enjoyable physical activity, meditation, or calming hobbies. Even just taking a few moments for some slow, deep breathing can help reground you and restore calm.

Work With a Professional

If other coping strategies don’t ease your symptoms, it may be time to seek outside help. Consider working with a therapist or counselor with expertise in trauma and grieving. They can help you process your feelings, learn coping strategies, and reframe your outlook on your divorce.

The end of your marriage can be stressful and traumatic. Sorting out what your new life will look like can be scary and overwhelming. Recognizing and processing the trauma caused by your divorce can lead you to the recovery and healing you need to set the foundation for a healthy, joyful new life.

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