During her divorce nine years ago, Shannon Habas didn’t want to be at home. She found reasons to stay out as long as possible, skipping sleep and not eating. “I either stayed in bed all day or kept myself so busy that I didn’t have to go home,” said Habas, who is now remarried. “I became a workaholic and a churchaholic. I didn’t want to face going to that lonely place.”
She also lost weight, getting down to only 80 pounds on a 5-foot-7-inch frame. “I was so depressed and so sad, I couldn’t make myself chew a piece of food,” she said.
Finding inspiration in God and her second marriage, the 32-year-old concert promoter and clown performer eventually began to focus on getting healthy and helping others. When she couldn’t find a divorce support group in her area, she felt called to lead one herself and is now a facilitator of a Divorce Care support group – one of thousands worldwide – at Christian Life church in Columbia, S.C.
She also began to exercise, something she hadn’t done before. At first, she could only walk the block from the parking lot to the gym before getting worn out. Now, she works out for an hour and a half some days. “God created me to do something with my life and not just lay in bed,” she said. “I began to want to be the healthy me I could be.”
Physical health often gets forgotten when a person is coping with the emotional stress of divorce, said Dr. Lorna Hecker, marriage and family therapy professor at Purdue University Calumet
and director of the university’s Couples and Family Therapy Center.
“They’re trying to learn how to function in a new role as a single parent or a single person,” she said. “It requires learning new skills. They may not have support, or they may not have cooked a meal before by themselves. They may be too busy as a single parent to take care of themselves.”
MIND AND BODY
The mind and body are linked together like old friends. When one is hurting, the other feels that pain and responds with symptoms of its own. Health problems can cause depression, and emotional stress can cause changes in weight and sleeping, and in some cases even mimic a heart attack. Emotional stress comes from many sources, but one of the most traumatic is divorce. This was documented in 1967 when two researchers published a Holmes-Rahe “social readjustment rating scale,” still in use today. The scale gauges the stress of various life events and the illness that can result. The life event with the highest stress value is the death of a spouse. The second is divorce.
“Emotional distress, when very prolonged for weeks to months, can disrupt a number of important body functions,” said Dr. William R. Lovallo, professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. “Parts of the brain associated with negative emotions are also associated with the production of stress hormones.”
The stress hormone cortisol is present in the body during normal times, said Lovallo, also president of the American Psychosomatic Society and author of "Stress and Health: Biological and Psychological Interactions." “Cortisol is a very important hormone for normal functioning,” he said. “The body uses it every day to help with our energy stores so we have fuel to operate on.”