FULL TRANSCRIPT – SEASON 3, EPISODE 20
Handling the Stress of Divorce
Jessica: How is your body handling the stress of divorce? Do you feel prioritizing your own health and wellness has fallen to the bottom of the list? Well, today is your lucky day because those are the things that we’re going to be talking about from today’s Divorce etc… podcast. We’re the exEXPERTS, Jessica and T.H. We focus on helping you navigate your divorce and successfully move on with your life. Please follow us on all social media at exEXPERTS, and check out www.exexperts.com for tons of free divorce related resources. Let’s bring in today’s guest.
T.H.: On the show today, we have Suzy Wood. She is an integrative nutrition health coach. She’s the owner and founder of True Wellness Within. When we first spoke to Suzy, it was great. I mean, you’re going to love this show. We talked about 12 lifestyle factors and how these different pieces of your life all need to fit together to be balanced to move on past stress, trauma, and hello divorce. Welcome to the show, Suzy. We’re excited to learn more.
Suzy: Thank you so much. Thanks for having me here.
Jessica: Thanks for being here. And just fun fact, in going through Suzy’s “About” page on her website, we discovered crazily enough that we both graduated from Brandeis University the same year. We were both Brandeisians. The fact that we didn’t know each other on campus–
Suzy: It’s so funny.
Jessica: –right, it’s so crazy. It’s not really that big of a school. But that’s so nice to be reconnected.
Suzy: That’s right. Go Judges!
T.H.: So let’s start from the very beginning of how you really come into play and why people would need you. Suzy is also a real life expert, by the way. She definitely leads by example in terms of co-parenting and being brave by renting an Airbnb with her ex, and all of those things. She’s definitely put her lifestyle factors to the test. But where do you start when you want to move on? Ultimately, everybody wants to live a fulfilling life after divorce. But that’s far down the road, right? That’s the goal. But where do you start?
Suzy: Yeah, I think the most important thing is just to realize that you don’t let divorce define you. It’s something that we’ve been through, we’ve gone through it, but it doesn’t mean that that’s our only being. I was on a call recently, and there was a woman who was talking about her epilepsy. She was saying, “I don’t want to be known as an epileptic. I’m just a woman who has epilepsy.” I feel it’s the same thing with divorce. We don’t have to just have this badge like we’re divorced, we’re damaged goods, or something like that. There are a lot of misconceptions about divorce, and not letting it define you, and it’s just something that we’ve been through. We also just need to realize that divorce is something that is extremely stressful. It hits us in so many different ways, no matter what stage of divorce you’re going through. That ongoing stress can really cause a lot of long term problems. We can face a lot of issues with maybe potentially depression, anxiety, craving the wrong foods, and so we need to just look at our health list holistically, and look at lifestyle factors and what’s in balance and what’s out of balance.
T.H.: I mean, look, everybody goes through stress all the time. And then there are different levels of stress. If you have a bad day, you have a bad day. But if it starts to compound upon itself, now it’s two bad days, three bad days. You don’t want it to get too much out of control that this becomes a new pattern for you. What are some of the signs that you need help or adjustment? Like, “All right, I’m getting dessert tonight,” does that mean I’m stressed out? “I’m sleeping a little later and skipping my workout,” am I having a problem? So what are the some of the indicators?
Suzy: Right. Well, I mean, our body just feels the symptoms of stress. Sometimes we feel we can be gaining weight or losing weight. That’s a huge sign that stress is taking a hold of us. We could be waking up in the middle of the night, and it’s not only just because we have to pee. We could be craving lots of foods that we know that they’re not good for us, but we just don’t know how to stop. We feel overwhelmed. We’re dealing with co-parenting and a whole new situation in our family dynamic. Maybe we don’t have the motivation to exercise. I know T.H. you’re a big exerciser. Maybe that’s how you get your stress out, but other people just don’t have the motivation. Especially if you’re not sleeping well, it’s really hard to motivate to move your body and to get outside in nature, right? The stress can really take hold of our bodies and make us feel sick.
Jessica: I totally get that.
T.H.: Sleeping is definitely a situation, and Jessica and I both endure regularly. I mean, I’m up at 4am and my mind is racing. I have to write everything down. I mean, we used to text each other, but then we realized we’re not always up at 4am at the same time. Now I just do a voice memo dump to get it off my chest. Then sometimes, I go back to sleep. But all that stuff it’s just consuming, all consuming.
Suzy: Right. Yeah.
Jessica: Right. Well, so talk to us about the 12 lifestyle factors and how they’re connected with recovering from divorce.
Suzy: Mm-hmm. Yeah, so the Institute of Integrative Nutrition came up with these 12 lifestyle factors that really need to be in balance in order for us to feel completely healthy, because we can’t just look at food alone. Food alone is not the only source of health, right? We eat kale salad from morning to night, that doesn’t mean that we’re going to be healthy. We have to look at lifestyle factors, how are we living our lives, things like home cooking and your home environment, relationships, which is huge after you’ve gone through the trauma of divorce, what’s your level of joy and your general level of health, social life, right? We’ve all recovered from COVID, and we realized when we didn’t have good social lives how damaging that is. Your career, your finances, things like that, all of those things really need to be in balance in order for us to be healthy. The Institute of Integrative Nutrition said that they’re so important that they’re really our primary foods. We have to have our lifestyle factors in balance before we move on to our secondary foods, which are actually the foods on our plate. So if our lifestyle factors are in balance, we’re much more likely to make better food choices and not stress eat, not have issues like that. Balancing out those lifestyle factors is really critical, and it’s really the first step.
Jessica: How does one do those?
T.H.: What are they? Right, what are they? What are the 12 factors?
Suzy: So things like home environment, home cooking, finances, career, joy, social life, relationships – those are those are the lifestyle factors.
Jessica: But it’s easy to say that yes, of course, once you have those things in balance. But it’s like, whatever, you could be going through a horrible financial struggle and like, how am I fixing that to be in balance? Like, you’re looking to date, but you’re not in a relationship, and you’re unhappy with your single status, and for whatever reason you want to have a partner. I’m curious to what are some of the proactive things, that when you’re working with people, that you’re teaching them in order to get all of these factors together in balance.
Suzy: Yeah. The first thing we do is just figure out what’s out of balance. We can’t work on everything all at once because it’s just too much. Usually, there’s like three or four things that are out of balance. So for example, one of my clients, I mean it’s combination of food and lifestyle, right, so she knew she wanted to give up Coke. She was completely addicted to Coke Zero. But before we could even start working on that, she’s telling me about her home environment and how stressful she feels in her home. Because she was working out of her home, she had all these papers all over the place, or it was her office and a guest bedroom, and she had stacks of papers everywhere. She had two girls, they outgrew all sorts of clothes, and they had a ton of stuff shoved in closets. She had all this packaging and recycling system, like she just didn’t have anything in place to make her home environment a safe and comfortable place. When she sat down to work and to work on herself, she just was completely stressed out. Before we started focusing on the food, we looked at her home environment and we put a plan together. We made out goals – one month, three months, six month goals, and we started tackling them. I held her accountable because that’s really what the essence of a coach is all about, just like a sports coach. Put your goals out there, and hold somebody accountable. And so we put together a plan. Slowly, she put shelving up, she took trip after trip to the donation center, she had a system of recycling where nothing even came into the house and it just went into her garage. It sounds so simple, and we’re like well, duh, of course you’re going to do that. But when you’re living in it, you just don’t realize. You sometimes just don’t realize there’s a way out.
Jessica: Because we’ve spoken to people who actually help specifically when it comes to organizing, and it is a totally overwhelming task when you look around and you see all of the things. And so the idea of breaking it down and being like, you’re not going to do it all in one day, and you’re not even going to do this whole room in one day, so why don’t you do your desk, or just focus on the papers, or focus on photos, I definitely can understand how breaking things into small pieces makes it so much more manageable as you’re moving forward. I think I’m just more curious with some of the lifestyle factors that you’re talking about, which oftentimes are really out of our control. I think, I guess really, that’s my question. For lifestyle factors that are out of my control or out of someone’s control, how do you get those in balance? If someone doesn’t like their job, you can say, “Either shit, or get off the pot. You don’t like your job? You don’t have to be miserable. Get a new job.” Great, they could be looking for a new job for eight months, or whatever, two years, it’s like, okay, but in the meantime, how do you get that into balance if you know you hate going to work every day?
Suzy: Right. Well, there are a lot of techniques that you can do to have perspective. I mean, I teach breathing exercises and calming techniques, like that’s one thing. But I think more importantly, it’s also looking at what you can control. Because there are things in our lives, we’re going through divorce, right? The lawyers are slow, the mediators are slow, and you can’t control that. It’s about perspective and compartmentalizing certain things that are out of your control. But the things in your life that you can control, you can you can start working on. That gives you a sense of satisfaction in starting out with these baby steps of whether it’s your home environment, or maybe it’s changing your career or getting a new education. You work step by step in the things that you can control, and you make progress. It’s really about progress, not perfection, right? We’re just moving, we’re making small steps one by one, so that you can control the areas you just want to have more positivity in your life.
T.H.: I think that’s the quote of the week, “Progress, not perfection”. We’ve heard that a few times in the last few podcasts that we’ve done. Also, flipping the narrative, “I really hate my job”, the other side of it could be, “I’ve got a job. I have an income coming in. I’m going through a divorce. I’m not going to worry about this right now because at least I have money and I have a job. I know how to do it, and now I’m going to put my energy over here, where I can’t sleep at night.” We’re going to come right back to it in a minute. I want to know, is there a priority list? If you’re not sleeping, then you’re not doing a good job, and you can’t go to the gym, and you’re going to eat like shit, where do you start? So quick, we’re going to take a quick pause here. Because we know it’s hard to get honest and reliable information about your divorce, so we’ve done the work for you. Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter to get exEXPERTS in your inbox, join our virtual open house events where you can ask questions to top experts live, and sign up for our private sessions with us so you can move on and thrive. You can get all of this information at www.exexperts.com. www.exexperts.com. We’ve lived it, so we got it. Let’s get back to the show. How do you prioritize? Do you start with the thing that’s throwing everything off and then work from there? I mean, that’s how I would probably be more comfortable doing it. If I’m not sleeping at night, then the whole day is screwed.
Jessica: Right, you’re dragging.
T.H.: How do you prioritize and figure out what’s the biggest pain point first?
Suzy: Right. Usually, with my clients, I do an exercise called “The Circle of Life”, and that’s when we basically rate all of the 12 lifestyle factors. We figure out really what the most concerning lifestyle factors are that are out of balance. That gives us a starting point. It points our nose in the right direction, and then we work from there. So we start tackling them one by one. Usually, it’s three or four things. It could be career, it could be finances, or it could be relationships. We just start with the first one. Really, everything is so personalized because everybody’s experience is going to be different. I help the client go through step by step with what they think they can do. Because there’s no point in me telling them, “Do this, do this, and do this.” That’s not going to help them, right? They need to come up with the solution within, which sounds a little bit crazy because you really don’t know where to start.
Jessica: Yeah, what about when they’re like, “I have no idea. I literally don’t know where to start.”
Suzy: Right. So let’s say like exercise, right? Physical activity, that’s a huge stress reliever. Usually, we’re doing something, we’re outside. We know all the benefits of exercise, but it’s really hard to start, and you’re not motivated. Maybe we just make a little list of okay, what’s the very first thing that you can do? Do you have sneakers? Let’s say you’re going to go for a run. You don’t start with running a marathon, right? You just take a walk, if you’ve never even started there. Do you have sneakers? Okay, if you don’t, let’s go and buy some sneakers. You do? Okay, put your sneakers on. That could be it. You literally could be okay, day one we’re just putting our sneakers on. Okay, day two, you’ve got the sneakers on? Maybe you want to walk to your mailbox. Okay, you walk to your mailbox. Maybe the next day you walk to your neighbor’s mailbox. You just build from there. You have these small accomplishments so you can feel good about it. You can add more to your day. This is really like the essence of making new habits. You do something very small, you have success, and then you build from there, and you stop beating yourself up for the things that you didn’t do. “Oh, I’m so lazy. I didn’t exercise today.” “Oh, it’s already Wednesday, and I didn’t even do anything.” So now I’m beating myself up, there’s all this negative self talk, and that’s not productive at all. So we change the narratives, right? Just like we were saying before, we change it, and we make it something positive, and you build from there. It really is breaking things down step by step. So no matter what lifestyle factor is out of balance, we approach it from baby steps. You have to have these success points so then you keep moving on. When you start realizing that you can make some small changes, you can start tackling the bigger areas in your life. It’s sort of naturally happens, right? You want to change your career – do you just go out and quit your job? Probably not. Maybe the first step is talking to your boss.
Jessica: Yeah, I have done that. I wasn’t trying to change careers. I just needed to change jobs, and I was like, “I’m just fucking out of here.”
T.H.: But you know what else? This is what I’ve been doing lately. I mean, I do my exercise, that’s for my brain, but I really do try to get fresh every day because I work out of my home. I could literally not leave my house for a week and just work out here, eat, sleep, whatever. I got it all. I do not take advantage of a dog walker. I look at my dog, and when the dog walker comes to take my boyfriend’s dog out, my dog’s sitting there like, “Are you going to take me out? I mean, you’re really going to let her take the other dog and leave me here?” This is what my dog is saying to me in my mind. Her guilt, on occasion will not work. I’ll be like, “You’re screwed today. I can’t help you.” But generally, that helps. I’m accountable to my dog to walk her because it makes her happy. She’s like a child, right? Like if it was my daughter being like, “Mom, can we play dolls for like five minutes?” Of course, I’m going to play dolls. I also do that to myself to stay accountable. So I’m accountable to my dog because my kids are out of the house.
Suzy: Right. Yeah, that’s great. That’s great.
T.H.: My kids don’t really want to go for a walk, by the way, anymore with me.
Suzy: Not everybody has a dog though, right? Not everybody has a dog to be–so you need somebody to hold you–
T.H.: Right, exactly. There are ways to be accountable. So I use my dog for accountability.
Jessica: I will say when I talk to friends who live in the suburbs, who talk about the fact that, “Oh my god, I can’t believe you still live in the city” and whatever, “What a pain in the ass. You have to walk everywhere,” that to me, I feel, keeps me sane. Because if I want to go to Trader Joe’s, first of all, it’s probably like 10 blocks away, which is totally not a big deal to me. It’s half a mile, but I feel the way people think about things when they don’t live in a city is so different. Not only do I have to walk a half a mile, I have to walk a half a mile home with my bag.
Suzy: Holding stuff.
Jessica: Right. I mean, I guess I could take a cab, but I don’t. I feel with those things. I’m like, “Okay, I’m using the strength that I get from the gym. I’m outside.” And if it’s a beautiful day and I have appointments or errands to run, the idea that I’m walking places, it really does–I feel like it is progress. I feel it’s doing something good for myself just to get my shit done.
Suzy: Right. Well, I think it sounds like you’re paying attention to what you need, though. You need the fresh air, you need the exercise, and these are grounding and calming things for you. Somebody who doesn’t have that or doesn’t know how to do that, that’s what we work out. What do you think you can do this week? What do you think you’re capable of? What do you have in your bandwidth, your timeframe? We put things together so that they can have a program, they can feel successful, and they can achieve their goals. Everybody’s goals are going to be different. Everybody needs to work on different things. But putting that personalized plan together of what we need to achieve to feel healthy, again, it’s not just food, but if we do have more balance in our lives with these particular lifestyle factors, then we’re much more likely to eat better to sleep better. That’s really what True Wellness is all about.
Jessica: Right, because we feel better overall. To tie back all in with the divorce stuff, how does the perception of divorce hold us back from healing? At the top of this interview, you talked a little bit about really what the stigmas are around divorce and the misconceptions. That’s a message T.H. and I talk about all the time, like breaking through the stigmas, everything that society puts on you. But how does that hold us back?
Suzy: Yeah, I mean, I think society does put a lot on us about being divorced, that it’s somehow bad that we didn’t try hard enough in our marriage, that it’s our fault that we’re somehow damaged goods. That’s just total BS, right? We should actually be congratulating ourselves. We’ve got out of a bad situation. Things weren’t going well. So, yay us. We’ve taken the bull by the horns and we’ve gotten ourselves out of a bad situation. We also deserve better. We want to live our best lives, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t. Just because you’re divorced, it doesn’t mean that that’s the end. “I’m damaged goods. I’ll never be able to find anybody again” or “I’ll never be able to be happy,” – we need to change that narrative. Chapter two can definitely be better than chapter one. I always like to say, kids on the playground are like “Do over!” Why can’t we ever do over? We deserve that too.
Jessica: There’s a guy I know who specifically uses that phrase all the time. He has a son who was a sophomore in college, and had a terribly vindictive, divorce, unfortunately. He has a relationship with his son, but not what he wants it to be. He really, I think, is looking for a partner who’s younger so that they can have another kid. He always says, “I just want to do over.”
Suzy: Yeah, right, and he should be able to get that. We deserve to be happy, right? We shouldn’t have to live in unhappy relationships. And we’ve done the work. The process of divorce is very, very difficult. It’s long. It’s always longer and much more expensive than anybody thinks, right? But when you think about your marriage, maybe the marriage didn’t fail. It just reached its expiration date. And it’s just done, it’s over, and it’s fine. That was that part of our lives. If you had kids together, wonderful. But you deserve to move on and find happiness again. It is absolutely possible. We just have to heal from the stresses that we’ve been under which oftentimes, we just don’t even realize because it’s so slow. It’s such a slow process. I mean, for me, when we decided to divorce, I put myself down to the basement because I was like, “I’m not sleeping in the same bedroom with him anymore.”
Jessica: Interesting that you moved to the basement as opposed to the stereotypical situation of the guy moving.
Suzy: Right. But you know why? Because he always had to wake up really early to go to the train to get to work, and so I was like, I could sleep late, I could sleep better. Connecting this back to the whole sleep thing, I was in the basement, and I ended up developing such terrible back pain. I could not breathe. Literally at night, I couldn’t take a deep breath, and it was that excruciating, just wrapped around my ribs. I went to the doctor and I was like, “I’m not sleeping. I have this horrific back pain. I know what it is, but I’m in the middle of my divorce process. Once it’s done, I’m sure my back pain will go away. But I need help right now.” She prescribed me some muscle relaxers. I took them, and the next day, I got into a car accident. They were so strong. I mean, this is–
T.H.: That’s no joke.
Suzy: It is no joke. Thank God, everybody was okay. I mean, the cars were not so okay. But the people were okay. I mean such a horrific experience because I was going through this horrifically stressful event. And I’ve heard similar things.
T.H.: You’re careless. You’re more careless. I do want to make the point that the process is long. The process is long. There is, as we always say, there’s the process, which is like 10% of it, and 90% of it is emotion. Just because the process is long doesn’t mean you have to wait for the process to be finished before you can start working on yourself.
Suzy: That’s absolutely true.
T.H.: I bring it up a lot because I was married to a narcissist. It came to my attention what a narcissist was a week after. Because I took him to my therapist to figure out how we were going to tell the kids, or maybe it wasn’t even a week and she explained what that meant. She said, “We’re going to start working on you today.” If you start working on yourself immediately, it will help your divorce experience.
Suzy: Yes, absolutely.
T.H.: It won’t change the process, it won’t change the timing, but it will allow you to start moving forward to start seeing things that you’ve refused to see, and feel, and hear, and be way more aware and not be careless. And just, you can start getting your shit together right now.
Suzy: Yeah. Yeah, for my clients who are going through the divorce right now, I mean, we work on different calming techniques that they can do, because there’s so much out of control. They don’t know what their finances are going to be. They don’t know where they’re going to be living. They don’t how they’re going to be co-parents.
Jessica: Right, there’s so much up in the air.
Suzy: Right. But the things that they can control, like we look at breathing exercises, maybe get going out in nature, whatever they feel is going to help them calm down, maybe they just take up knitting, whatever it is that helps them calm down and stay as stress free as possible, they put that into play now, and so it becomes a habit. I mean, it’s like what they say, yoga practice, it really is a practice. Because if you can do these things when you have better days, when you don’t have such great days, you can tap into those resources. Because you’re like, “Oh, wait a second, having a stressful moment. Let me go and do my thing – knitting, go for a walk outside, deep breathing, whatever it is.” You have to have those tools and you have to be able to practice them and perfect them so that you can tap into them, right?
Jessica: It totally goes along with the messaging, which we are always trying to give to people, which is that as dark as it is and as scary and overwhelming, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. But you have to do the work. And so the kind of work that you’re talking about, we love that stuff. For anyone listening out there, for everyone listening, if you’ve enjoyed this episode of the Divorce etc… podcast with the exEXPERTS today, then can you help us out? Because when you subscribe, rate, and review, it helps us get the word out so we can help support more people like you going through divorce and beyond. Check our show notes for more info on Suzy Wood and True Wellness Within and all the other programs she has to offer. And of course, share this with anyone you know who can benefit from listening. Have a great day.