Today we are diving back into central nervous system regulation (or dysregulation, depending on your perspective). I’m excited that this has become a conversation in the mental health space.
It’s really hard to recover from depression, anxiety, or post-divorce trauma without good central nervous system health. It’s also difficult to heal from physical symptoms such as unhealthy digestion, hormone imbalance, arthritis, or chronic pain. Overall well-being depends on the foundation of a healthy, regulated central nervous system.
I know what you’re thinking… We women now have to heal our gut and our trauma heal our central nervous system in our post-divorce recovery journey. If you understand how your central nervous system functions and how to communicate with it, you will discover the foundation of all this healing work.
What Is the Central Nervous System?
Your central nervous system is your brain, your spine, and your spinal column. Your spinal cord is the communication pathway between your brain and your spine. From there, you have nerve bundles that go out and communicate with the rest of your body and with each of your organ systems.
Think of the central nervous system as the main information-processing hub in your mind and body.
If the central nervous system is not functioning optimally, then it’s hard for all the other organ systems to function optimally.
When you’re humming along with life, and things come at you, and you have life experiences, you take them in stride. Your body says, “That was hard, but I overcame it.”
In divorce-recovery, you are going through a season where you are not overcoming things so easily. And, if you’re anything like me, my entire life was a season of not taking things in stride, as I was born into a dysregulated environment.
Signs of a Dysregulated Nervous System
I was born colicky, so from the start, I was born with chronic pain, and my environment was constantly bombarding my central nervous system. When you have a dysregulated nervous system, it feels as though there is a lot of noise in your body, your mind, or in your emotional space.
Noise in your body could mean chronic tension constriction in your chest, difficulty breathing, pain, digestion problems, or issues regulating your hormones, your blood sugar, and your blood pressure.
If these functions aren’t consistent, it’s most likely because of a breakdown in the foundation of your central nervous system regulation.
Noise in the mind appears as overthinking, feeling overstimulated, or switching between being flooded with emotions or feeling numb. We can also express this symptom in inconsistent responses.
Maybe one moment, something doesn’t bother you, but the next moment you’re flying off the handle. We talk a lot about central nervous system dysregulation in the world of motherhood. However, we women rarely have the correct language for it. When we talk about an angry mom who suddenly gets upset and yells, that is central nervous system dysregulation. When we know how to work differently with our central nervous systems, we can get ahead of those ‘flying off the handle’ moments with our kids so that we can interrupt that pattern. It’s important to stop this cycle because this scenario triggers shame and then emotional flooding.
What Is a Central Nervous System Dysregulation?
Your central nervous system chronically feeds itself more and more dysregulation. However, you can get in there and interrupt some of these habits so you can feel at peace.
When you say that you crave peace, you’re telling me you need central nervous system regulation.
How to Heal a Dysregulated Nervous System
Creating calm in the mind and body is attainable in your life after divorce. Let’s look at the key factors and methods to heal a dysregulated nervous system.
If you are not getting enough sleep, it will be impossible to regulate your central nervous system.
Sleep deprivation is stopping your ability to regulate.
Now, if you struggle to get good sleep, it may result from unprocessed childhood or divorce trauma. It only takes a handful of EMDR sessions to get a big chunk of that out of the way so you can start to sleep differently. I recently had a client who came to me, and she had trouble breathing, was having heart palpitations, and obsessively thought about her daughter getting hurt. We did an EMDR session, and her sleep got worse. She started having nightmares. We had two EMDR sessions, and it got better. Three EMDR sessions, and it all stopped.
Now, I’m not saying that in three sessions, this woman was done with therapy.
However, when enough of that old trauma was moved out of the way, she could begin to take time for herself. She started walking consistently; she started setting healthy boundaries, and prioritizing getting good healthy sleep.
Good, nourishing sleep is at the foundation of good central nervous system health.
Healthy sleep is also significantly affected by our behavior, such as the use of screens and drinking alcohol before bed. There are ways to soothe yourself and calm your nervous system down before you try to fall asleep.
Try drinking Chamomile tea, taking CBD, having a bath with Epsom salts, or using essential oils. You can also experiment with humming to yourself. If you’re humming, you are creating a vibration in your body that soothes your central nervous system.
#2 Good Nutrition
Your body needs nutrients in order to have a healthy cellular function. I’m not saying you need to count calories or not eat french fries. However, there are toxins in some foods that will adversely affect your central nervous system.
Eating healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables, grains (if you can tolerate them), and quality meat is important. You need nutritionally dense foods.
I understand that healthy nutrition is more expensive. When I get stressed about how much money I spend on healthy food, I say to myself: “God does not mean for me to live in a world where I can’t afford to treat his temple well. Therefore, I will prioritize this and I trust God will provide for the rest of it.” God does not intend for you to move through this process without the proper support.
#3 Physical Touch
Let’s talk about touch. For some of us women, touch is a very important part of regulating our central nervous system.
Squishy hugs, massages, or whatever makes you feel good. For me, it’s when my daughter plays with my hair. It’s sending those cues through my body that all is well, that I am safe, and I am loved.
If you’re overstimulated or if you have a history of physical or sexual trauma, we women know that touch could be something that causes dysregulation. In these scenarios, there are tools out there.
Sensory deprivation chambers or float tanks are wonderful for central nervous system regulation because we need white space in order to find peace. Or calming movements such as stretching, walking, or a yoga class.
I’ve spoken before about massaging your inner ear. You stick your pinky inside your ear and move it in circles for a minute.
Doing this in your ear canal stimulates the vagus nerve, which is the pathway that moves through your central nervous system and is the quickest way to cue that you are safe.
It’s also important to know your physical limits. When I’m lifting heavy weights, I need to give my body enough time between sets to recover. If I don’t, I will get nauseous, and I know I’ve pushed my central nervous system too far in a training session.
When you are recovering from divorce trauma, and you’re focusing on healing your central nervous system, you have to be in touch with how much pain you feel.
Pushing too hard in your physical body will cause dysregulation.
#4 Deep Breathing
Your breath is a powerful way to become grounded in your mind and body. If you notice that your breathing and chest are constricted, you must commit to expanding your breath. It may require you to do some stretching or walking outside while you’re breathing.
You could intentionally breathe for 20 or 30 minutes before you can expand your rib cage enough to get down into your diaphragm, which will activate the vagus nerve.
Notice when you feel panicked or stuck, and take a moment for a few deep breaths. Use this as your cue to take a few deep breaths right this moment.
Nature has a way of regulating us.
If you can stand outside or sit outside barefoot and become connected with the earth, it can be so soothing to your central nervous system.
All of this is bringing down cortisol levels in the body. Do you find yourself taking a deep breath when you go outside? Your body automatically responds to being in nature. The more you can combine some of these tools, the faster the regulation and groundedness come to you.
#6 Ice Baths and Saunas
In recent years, the power of ice baths has become well-known. Many people believe they help with anxiety, relieve stress and encourage healing. The first few tries may be extremely dysregulating, and it might mean you’re not ready for it yet. On the other end of the heat spectrum, saunas can be good for healing at a cellular level. However, if it feels suffocating and it’s stressful, then trust that it’s too much for you.
Listen to your body when you experiment with extreme temperatures.
Causes of Dysregulated Nervous System
Let’s talk a little bit about what causes dysregulation. Foremost, any type of trauma, childhood trauma, generational trauma, divorce trauma, and so on.
Too much painful stimulation for too long causes chronic dysregulation, cortisol levels to be on high alert, and the amygdala to be overactive.
All the parts of the mind and body are attempting to regulate all the time, but there is too much going on in that system, and it cannot keep up.
Sometimes, it’s unclear where your nervous system dysregulation started. Was it attachment trauma with your parents when you were in utero or even generational trauma? These situations may have caused a huge amount of dysregulation that you never recovered from, and you learned to regulate yourself through having a relationship. When that relationship ended, this ‘original’ dysregulation rose to the surface.
If we women don’t learn how to regulate our central nervous system early on, then it just piles on. We have event after event after event after event that causes us to be fried. Many women believe that they have done something wrong or they can’t handle things, but this isn’t the case.
Your brain and your spinal cord are stressed out, and that feels like emotional pain, mental stress, and physical tension.
You will be shocked by the improvements you will see by focusing on the core pieces of sleep, nutrition, and breathing and how they will allow you to reclaim your life after divorce. Then you can introduce tools like EFT tapping, EMDR, and journaling.
Nobody else owns your mental health or your self-esteem. It starts and stops with you.
Make a plan and own it. You’ve got this, and you absolutely can do it.
Divorce recovery coach Dawn Wiggins
...helps people crack open. Challenging the status quo, she integrates multiple modalities from EMDR to EFT tapping, journaling, homeopathy, and movement, embracing remedies that heal both the mind and body. Divorce recovery coach Dawn Wiggins is on a mission to deliver life-changing therapy in an accessible, scalable, affordable way and make waves in the world of mental health with the same enlightenment that happens in her office. Part science, part essential oils, pure magic.