'I became a divorce doula after break-up left me unable to eat for 6 weeks'

Farhana Hussain has become a 'divorce doula' after experiencing physical symptoms after going through divorce. (Farhana Hussain/SWNS)
Farhana Hussain has become a 'divorce doula' after experiencing physical symptoms after going through divorce. (Farhana Hussain/SWNS)

A woman has revealed how she became a divorce doula after her own break-up left her suffering from chronic fatigue and physically unable to eat for six weeks.

Farhana Hussain, 47, from Tunbridge, Kent, claims she experienced years of physical symptoms after her 15-year marriage came to an end and her "body went into shock".

As well as experiencing severe insomnia, after the break-up the mum-of-three said she suffered a further loss of appetite for around half a year, which led to rapid weight loss.

Hussain and her former partner were together for 18 years, married for 15, and began the divorce process in 2012 - which was finalised in 2019.

"The physical symptoms were really pronounced from the beginning which was a real shock to me," the mum-of-three explains.

"The way my body manifested my trauma was through really bad insomnia - I lived on three or four hours of sleep a day for a year or so, I felt physically unable to sleep."

She also describes being unable to eat: "My throat just felt contracted and I physically could not swallow.

"It wasn't just a lack of appetite, I physically could not bring myself to chew or swallow."

The former senior leader in a primary school decided to contact her GP in March 2013 - who she says told her she had lost too much weight and her BMI was too low.

"I switched from a male to a female doctor after that and she was much more sympathetic," Hussain continues.

"She linked the physical symptoms I was experiencing to my divorce - which wasn't something I'd actually really thought about or considered until then.

"People think that when you go through heartbreak after a long relationship it's just an emotional, mental thing but we don’t talk enough about the physical side and the physical manifestations - not many people realise the link."

Hussain says she physically struggled to eat for six months following her split from her husband. (Farhana Hussain/SWNS)
Hussain says she physically struggled to eat for six months following her split from her husband. (Farhana Hussain/SWNS)

Hussain was referred to a counselling service in April 2013 and also offered antidepressants and medication to deal with her symptoms - which she refused due to the possible side effects.

"I was working with counsellors who didn’t really get the trauma and grief that comes with divorce and heartbreak as they had not experienced it themselves," she says.

"Talking about the past and how I got here just wasn't what I needed at that time, I needed to start focusing on my physical health which was depleted of all energy and fuel from lack of sleep and food."

Having left therapy and, with nowhere else to turn, she tried to manage her symptoms single-handedly.

The turning point came in September 2017 when Hussain met a "spiritual healer" which she says changed everything.

"Until then, I just accepted divorce is something that just breaks you and will leave you being a victim of your circumstances forever," she adds.

After four years of struggling with her physical symptoms, Hussain finally developed strategies to cope with her divorce trauma.

Hussain now hopes to help others navigate the physical and mental symptoms of divorce. (Farhana Hussain/SWNS)
Hussain now hopes to help others navigate the physical and mental symptoms of divorce. (Farhana Hussain/SWNS)

Now she is helping others struggling with similar experiences post-break up as the UK’s first "divorce doula".

She focuses on physical strategies including breath-work, committing to good daily habits, and prioritising self care.

"I remember literally struggling to breathe when I was trying to process my divorce - you’re in such a state of survival and panic," Hussain recalls.

"When you can't breathe properly, you can't think properly and it becomes a vicious cycle you get trapped in which really impacts your sleep and health.

"There are so many different physical things often rooted in the amount of stress and emotional trauma you’re experiencing."

After TV presenter Rylan Clark, 34, recently described experiencing "stroke-like symptoms" after his divorce, Hussain is calling for health professionals to take the physical effects of a break up seriously.

"Rylan Clark's recent story about the physical toll of his divorce struck a chord with me," she explains.

"I experienced physical symptoms and I see many of my clients struggling with physical health issues too."

Hussain says she has worked with clients who have suffered kidney issues, unexplained gut problems, blood issues, skin conditions, and anaemia following their divorce.

"I support people with working with their physical body," she adds.

"This is the kind of support I wish I'd had 12 years ago - it just wasn't available at the time.

"Medication and therapy aren't the only two options - the right support transformed my physical and emotional health and now I try my best to impart that on to the people I work with."

Woman feeling stressed. (Getty Images)
The trauma of a break-up can take a toll on physical health. (Getty Images)

While we know a break-up can take its toll on our mental health, heartbreak can also lead to significant physical health symptoms, which is a phenomenon often underestimated in its severity.

"The intense emotional turmoil following a break-up can trigger a cascade of physiological responses," explains psychologist and relationship adviser, Barbara Santini.

"This is primarily due to the body's reaction to stress, which involves the release of cortisol and adrenaline—hormones that prepare the body for a 'fight or flight. '" response but can wreak havoc when elevated over prolonged periods."

Santini says one of the most immediate impacts is on sleep patterns.

"Stress hormones can interfere with the natural sleep-wake cycle, leading to insomnia or severely disrupted sleep," she explains.

"This lack of sleep can further exacerbate feelings of anxiety and depression, creating a vicious cycle that is hard to break."

Appetite changes are another common symptom.

"For some, heartbreak can cause a complete loss of appetite, resulting in rapid weight loss and nutritional deficiencies," Santini says. "Others may find themselves overeating as a way to cope with their emotions, leading to weight gain and associated health issues."

Heartbreak can also manifest physically through psychosomatic symptoms such as headaches, chest pain, and gastrointestinal disturbances.

"These symptoms are real and can be quite debilitating, often requiring medical attention," Santini adds.

Thankfully there are some steps you can take to lessen the emotional and physical symptoms of break-up trauma.

"I often advise creating a structured routine that includes regular meals and a consistent sleep schedule to address these symptoms," Santini says.

"Engaging in physical activity can help reduce stress levels and improve mood. Mindfulness practices like meditation and deep breathing exercises can also be beneficial in managing anxiety and promoting relaxation.

"Lastly, seeking professional support, whether through therapy or support groups, can provide essential emotional relief and coping strategies during this challenging period."

Additional reporting SWNS.