The Fianna Fail politician's husband David, a garda, died last year.
Ms Coughlan said that she found it difficult to cope with the death and then to return to being a full-time mum.
Her children Cathal (15) and Meadbh (13) also found it hard to adjust to the changes, she said.
"David was always there. It took me a wee bit of time to get into their way of going, football schedules and all that, but we got through that," she said.
"I had to learn I was stepping into their world. It was a big change for them too."
The leading politician, who was once Taoiseach Brian Cowen's right-hand woman, said that her career almost took over her family life.
"I had to let other people rear my kids. I was never about for almost 10 years," she said.
"I relied on a lot of people. You sit back and think, 'well, what was it all about' when you have a lot of loss to bear."
In an interview with Gerry Gallagher at an event at the Abbey Arts Centre in Ballyshannon, Co Donegal, Ms Coughlan said that she had turned to exercise as a means of keeping healthy, both mentally and physically, after losing her husband.
But she ruled out any return to politics.
"One door closed and another door opened," she said.
"David passed away in September so I have not really decided what I am going to do. I will take some time and see after that what I will do.
"You can sit in the corner and mope and do nothing about it -- or get off your backside and do something about it."
Ms Coughlan said that her main focus now is her family and staying healthy.
"If someone asked me what was the thing that got me through very difficult times in political life, and in personal life, then definitely those are the things," she added.
"Get out, get a bit of fresh air and look after yourself. That's hugely important."
"Your health is your wealth, your physical and mental health and this is the thing that stood to me."
Ms Coughlan insisted that the bank bailout was "the right thing to do" at the time.
But she said she was now more concerned personally with moving on in her life.