Will Divorce Wreck Your Health?

Ending a marriage may increase your risk of developing medical troubles, like heart disease and diabetes, for years after the split?even if you remarry, according to a new University of Chicago/Johns Hopkins University study of more than 8,000 people released today. Long-term stress (say, caused by a miserable marriage) can trigger health issues that include a rise in blood pressure, a slump in your immune system, and anxiety and depression, research shows.

So what's an unhappily married woman to do? Forget Splitsville and join a yoga class? Tear up the divorce lawyer's card? Call his new girlfriend and ask her if she wants to share a latte?

Most definitely... not!

Leaving an unhappy marriage is better for your health than staying put, emphasize experts. If the love is truly gone for good, get out now, says University of Texas sociologist Debra Umberson. "The longer you stay in a bad marriage the worse off you are in terms of health when you finally leave," she says.

For many women, signing those divorce papers can be the beginning of a fresh new chapter in your life, especially if you take steps now to minimize the health challenges ahead. These seven strategies can help.

Focus on finances. Money stress is bad for your health, and for most women, hard economic times get even tougher after their marriages ends. The current financial downturn makes it even harder. To minimize the impact, make health insurance a priority. If possible, re-enter the workforce, or consider refocusing on your career goals and undergo any job training before the marriage ends. Choose a divorce lawyer who will fight hard for your financial well-being, and plan ahead for the single life through careful budgeting.

Get regular checkups. Don't forgo medical exams or ignore worrisome symptoms. Be vigilant about how you're feeling and go that extra step to take care of yourself. For example, when the local drugstore offers free blood pressure or diabetes screenings, get in line. Same goes for flu shots.

Don't change everything at once. An avalanche of immediate changes can pile on the stress, so only rearrange only what is absolutely necessary. Do you really have to move right away or can you stay put for a month? A new puppy might comfort you, but do you have time to train one right now.

Say no to Twinkie binges. The sweet therapy of ice cream and snack cakes may taste good in the moment, but you'll probably feel worse once you come down from the sugar high. Instead, take small steps to keep up your energy and prevent your weight from ballooning: Add at least one serving of fruits or vegetables to your daily intake and take diet shortcuts, like using milk in your coffee rather than cream, and reduced-fat mayo instead of regular.

Take the stairs. Exercise can relieve stress and anxiety, so do whatever you can to slip some physical activity into your daily routine: Bike to work, park farther away from your office or the supermarket, and skip the elevator.

Join in. Get together with old friends; sign up for a club; go to church; seek counseling. Do whatever you can to fill your life with supportive people who understand what you're going through. Social contacts are a major buffer against stress and the physical problems it triggers.

Put yourself first. Unless housework relaxes you, keep the vacuum and duster in the closet for now. Wouldn't a swim make you feel better?

Nan Silver is coauthor of the bestseller, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.

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