Immediate Survival Strategies

12/15/2010 09:50 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Your usual sources of relaxation may not work during the immediate post separation period when you may be too traumatized to enjoy yourself. I have always turned to food for comfort but food held no appeal for me after being dumped. Okay, I will admit that a box of chocolates would not have gone begging on the coffee table during this period. But, like just about all-recent divorcees, I lost weight. That is possibly the only immediate benefit of splitting up--loss of appetite is almost universal. Music grated on my nerves. Talk radio, one of my favorite distractions, didn't hold my attention. I couldn't concentrate on books or movies.

Here are suggestions that will work to, if not actually cheer you up, at least keep you on an even keel while you are starting to heal.

Find a physical activity that you enjoy

Exercise is key. Even if you have to ask a friend to come over and drag you out the door, do it. Exercise will make you feel better, guaranteed.

Lifting weights at the gym generally won't do the trick. It has to be something exhilarating that you actually like or you're punishing yourself further. You need to get those serotonin levels up to combat depression. Try any sport that provides speed, like bicycling or skating. Meredith, a fifty-year old writer from Houston rides a motorcycle. "Biking is a metaphor for life. You have to swallow your fear and do it anyway."

Your exercise regime should restore not only your body but your soul in some way. For some women it's yoga, for others, ballroom dancing. For me it was swimming. I was lucky that my husband left at the end of June, at the start of the summer. I'm a long distance lake swimmer and when I'm in the middle of a lake I am somehow able to leave my troubles on the shore. The movement of my body in the silky water makes me feel alive and soothed at the same time. I do the backstroke and look up at the blue sky and feel that my troubles are an insignificant blip in the magnificence of the natural world. When I get out I'm pleasantly spent and can sit in the shade reading a book and relaxing. Swimming never fails to lift my spirits. Hopefully, you will find a physical activity that makes you feel that way--or that at least gives you a break from the pain.

The divorced women in my support group all mentioned exercise as a survival tactic. Many of them did yoga, which they found particularly healing. Stella, who had never done any exercise before started going to yoga four times a week for the first time in her life. Another divorcee, who suffered terribly in an abusive marriage wound up teaching yoga. She had a fear of what they call "inversions," which, in yoga, means standing on your head. Overcoming that fear helped her finally leave. "I felt that I'd put the world on its head by leaving my husband." she said

Dancing is also a very popular outlet for many divorcees. Lola, 58 goes swing dancing and zydeco dancing. She says "You can ask anyone to dance, if you're the new kid they all want to dance with you." There's usually a lesson before the dance and you can learn enough to get by. Moving to music uses a totally different part of the brain and a lively rhythm lifts the spirits. Swing, tango and salsa have become very popular, and you don't need a male partner to participate. If you loved the Lindy in high school, try swing dancing. I was a big Lindy Hopper once upon a time and to my surprise the first time I tried swing the steps all came back to me. I had a blast.

Find some Escapist Entertainment

You can't be moving all the time. The time will come when you are home, alone, searching for a way deal with loneliness. Go for escapist entertainment. Find something that you can get lost in, that takes your mind away from your misery and sweeps you into another reality. My lifesaver was Sex and the City, which allowed me to get lost in the fantasy of being young and single in New York, which once was my reality. I rationed the Sex and the City videotapes, only allowing myself to watch one episode at a time, at night when I couldn't sleep. Like gorging on sweets, I could have watched a whole season in one viewing orgy but then I wouldn't have enough new episodes left to tide me over during other dark nights of the soul.

Karen, a forty-nine year old librarian who was devastated when her husband left her right after her mother's funeral, hunkered down with her thirteen-year-old son in their empty house (their house had burned down a few years earlier and they had just moved into the new one) and watched the DVD of the first few seasons of the TV show "24." "I had bought that DVD to give to someone for a birthday, but I kept it and we watched it," she told me. "We survived the first week that way. It's very dramatic, you can't think of anything else. We'd watch a show, eat or sleep, then watch another one. We also took turns every night reading a book about brave people. It made us feel we could be brave."

Whatever it is that allows you some relief from grieving, girlfriend, go for it. Try cash therapy. Shop till you drop if that helps, but take cash only. Leave your debit and credit cards, and checkbook home. Or shop at Goodwill. It's guilt free.

Avoid alcohol, drugs, gambling, and sex

At least until you're thinking straight. You don't want to wind up penniless, in rehab with an STD.