Debunking Myths of the Mind

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The Gore Divorce: More Than An Emotional Challenge

Why The Gore Divorce Is Even More Unsettling

Divorce takes a toll on the lives of both members of a couple and their children. While it may cause an immense amount of relief from "not being able to bear" the strains of the marriage, the divorce itself may have a honeymoon period of its own followed by the harsh reality of the potential impact of separation. When the Gore's announced their divorce, it caught the world by surprise, and the stark reality of loving couples growing apart stared the world directly in the face as images of that famous public kiss underlined the headline of divorce. While the emotional challenges of divorce can be anticipated, what about the physical effects of divorce? Are there physical effects of divorce that are important to consider? And what can you do about this?

(1) Divorce and the risk of death: Forty-years of follow-up data from the Charleston Heart Study were examined to see if divorce impacted the risk of death in 1300 adults [1]. The study found that if you were divorced at the beginning of the study, you were much more likely to have died earlier than if you were not. However, being separated or divorced throughout the follow-up period was one of the strongest predictors of early death. Thus, divorce did not lead to earlier death in people who were ever divorced during the study-just people who were divorced at the start of the study. Thus, it may not be the actual divorce that is a risk factor for early death, but the amount of time a person stays divorced.

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Suggestion: The isolation of divorce should be counteracted with a genuine effort to recruit support systems and socialization and the eventual openness to remarrying by establishing a meaningful intimacy with another person.

(2) Divorce and blood pressure: In a recent study of seventy divorced or separate adults, researchers found that the difficulty of thinking about the separation as well as emotional memories that come flooding back (causing hyperarousal) may be responsible for fluctuations in blood pressure from normal to high, especially in men [2].

Suggestion: Do not underestimate the impact of nostalgia on your physical health. Learning how to deal with strong emotional memories may help not just your emotional health but your physical health as well.

(3) Divorce and physical activity: Being divorced is associated with reduced physical activity, especially in men [3]. This may account for the less resilient blood pressure reactivity in divorced men. Anther study found that this effect may exist in women as well [4].

Suggestion: While the exact cause of a reduction in physical activity after divorce is not known, being more cognizant of this may be helpful in enhancing efforts to work out. Thus, recognize that psychological interruptions may also lead to interruptions in your physical routine.

(4) Divorce and overall wellbeing: Men appear to be in better overall health than women when married, but in worse overall health when divorced [5]. One study reported a higher prevalence of asthma in divorced or separated men [6]. However, yet another study showed that although the physical health of women after a divorce is immediately not at risk, a decade later, women have a higher level of illness, even when they remarry [7].

Suggestion: When marriage poses a challenge to the health of women, women would benefit from being mindful about this, and when the loneliness of divorce impacts men more, men should be mindful of this as well. It appears that both men and women are at risk of worse physical health upon divorce, but that the effect may take longer in women.

(5) Divorce and cancer: White women who experience relationship stress including divorce may be at an increased risk of cancer of the cervix. It is unclear why this risk was not conferred on black women.

Suggestion: It is especially important to keep gynecologic visits regular when divorced or experiencing relationship distress [8].

Conclusion: The mind and body are intricately connected. It is crucial to remember that the stress of a divorce can take a toll on both the minds and bodies of men and women. When dealing with the emotional aftermath of a divorce, don't forget that your physical health is impacted as well.

References
1.Sbarra, D.A. and P.J. Nietert, Divorce and death: forty years of the Charleston Heart Study. Psychol Sci, 2009. 20(1): p. 107-13.
2.Sbarra, D.A., et al., Marital dissolution and blood pressure reactivity: evidence for the specificity of emotional intrusion-hyperarousal and task-rated emotional difficulty. Psychosom Med, 2009. 71(5): p. 532-40.
3.Umberson, D., Gender, marital status and the social control of health behavior. Soc Sci Med, 1992. 34(8): p. 907-17.
4.Brown, W.J., K.C. Heesch, and Y.D. Miller, Life events and changing physical activity patterns in women at different life stages. Ann Behav Med, 2009. 37(3): p. 294-305.
5.Raymo, J.M., et al., Family structure and well-being at older ages in Japan. J Popul Res (Canberra), 2008. 25(3): p. 379-400.
6.Martin, S.A., et al., Chronic disease prevalence and associations in a cohort of Australian men: the Florey Adelaide Male Ageing Study (FAMAS). BMC Public Health, 2008. 8: p. 261.
7.Lorenz, F.O., et al., The short-term and decade-long effects of divorce on women's midlife health. J Health Soc Behav, 2006. 47(2): p. 111-25.
8.Coker, A.L., et al., Psychosocial stress and cervical neoplasia risk. Psychosom Med, 2003. 65(4): p. 644-51.

 

 

Srini Pillay, M.D., is the author of the book: Life Unlocked: 7 Revolutionary Lessons to Overcome Fear. He is also an Assistant Clinical Professor at Harvard Medical School.

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