The Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Nervous System in Your Post Divorce Life

Today, I want to talk about your nervous system. I speak to my clients all the time about how understanding our nervous system is vital for healing and growth. Plus, we’ll dive into the tools that you can use to regulate your body and get out of flight or fight mode.

What is the Nervous System?

In the most simple way possible: The nervous system is the sensing part of your body that takes in information and sends it out. It’s your brain, your spinal cord, and your nerves.

The spinal cord is the main information highway in your body, moving messages from your brain to your organs.

Your nerves and brain are constantly sensing the environment around you, and there are two modes the nervous system functions in: sympathetic and parasympathetic.

What is the Parasympathetic Nervous System?

The parasympathetic nervous system is the healing mode, often called the “rest and digest” response. This is a mode where you have a sense of safety and security in your body and your mind.

The nervous system perceives its environment as secure and sends the message to all the organs and all the various parts of your body that it is safe to start healing, detoxifying, rejuvenating, and resting.

We call it “rest and digest” because when the nervous system feels calm, you can relax and properly digest your food.

image showing the nervous system symbolically, The Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Nervous System in Your Post Divorce Life

What is the Sympathetic Nervous System?

The sympathetic nervous system is often called a “fight and flight” response, and this is considered a nervous system activation mode. And by activation, we mean it is extra vigilant.

It scans the environment, and it perceives a threat, so it shifts your body away from rest and healing. It tells your body that you need to be on high alert.

Now, what goes on when we women spend a lot of time in a fight or flight mode?

We’re not properly digesting. We are constipated. We’re not getting the proper nutrients. Therefore, we don’t have the proper energy.

We are dumping stress hormones into our bodies, like cortisol, which causes belly fat and intense levels of stress. We are dumping adrenaline into our body, which is taxing our adrenals, which is what leads to adrenal fatigue. All of this contributes to a lot of chronic diseases.

image symbolizing the sympathetic nervous system, The Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Nervous System in Your Post Divorce Life

Now, in our society, we women spend way more time in fight or flight than we realize, and there are a lot of reasons for that. We are inundated with data all the time. We are overstimulated, and we’re not giving our bodies enough time to rest.

Women also experience a lot of conscious conditioning, where we have negative beliefs that we’re not safe and can’t trust the environment we’re in.

When we women perpetuate these beliefs, and we don’t address them, the nervous system feels threatened. It’s getting this message from the subconscious mind that we are not safe and we have to remain hypervigilant.

So what does this mean for you while recovering from divorce, trying to be less anxious, and wanting to move through this process without falling apart?

Ultimately, understanding which mode your nervous system is in will dictate how long your healing process takes, how thoroughly you heal, and how fast you recover from stressful triggers.

What is the Fight and Flight Response?

Let’s give you an analogy for what fight or flight looks like in the body. Think about how an alarm system in your home operates. You program in the code, you hit away when you’re leaving, and it activates the alarm, which starts scanning the environment for a threat. When it perceives a threat, the alarm goes off, and it triggers the system to call the police. The police arrive, take care of any threats, and the home becomes safe again. And when you’re back home, you disable the alarm because the house is safe and locked, so the alarm is no longer scanning the environment.

The nervous system is much like that alarm when it’s scanning the environment; it’s either tripped, and the alarm goes off, or it perceives that all is well and it is safe.

Now, when your nervous system is chronically in a fight or flight, it’s like the alarm going off all the time, and it’s never resolved.

The message keeps going that there is an intruder, there is danger, and something is wrong. Many of us experience this feeling.

Even when the alarm goes off, and there is legitimate danger, and the police come, even if they remove the intruder and your home becomes safe again, if the alarm hasn’t been shut off, it’s still blaring.

We have to focus on how we can help our nervous system learn to switch into alarm-off mode so we can rest, digest, and we can heal on a fundamental, functional level.

How to Activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System?

The most important thing you can do is get into your body for somatic healing and activate the parasympathetic nervous system.

a woman in yoga pose activating the parasympathetic nervous system

Somatic healing means healing in the body, being able to perceive what your body’s messages are, and to follow those cues.

Most people are not body-aware. They may be hypervigilant about their body; they may sense a lot of pain and complaints, but they’re not connecting the dots between what the body is saying to the mind and what the mind is saying to the body.

We women are told by modern medicine that our bodies are broken and damaged and don’t know how to heal themselves. And, boy, that could not be further from the truth.

Our bodies are constantly attempting to heal themselves, and they know exactly what to do.

It’s when we intervene and block healing that it doesn’t happen. I promise you, love, your body knows what to do.

Guided and Immersive Journaling

Journaling is one of the most powerful tools for healing. Now, in my 21-day journaling program, I have guided, immersive journaling tools for you. We spend the first week on your nervous system.

If you can’t perceive the current mode of your nervous system and switch it, then you can’t start to heal.

In this program, there is a selection of journal prompts so your body can feel that sense of safety and security and move forward in a healing journey.

Breathing Techniques

Breathing is a huge part of connecting to your nervous system. Close your eyes and do a minute of deep breathing or box breathing. There are many tutorials and guides on YouTube to get into your body and start to do a body scan. I encourage you to set a timer for a minute and observe your body.

What does your head feel like? What does your throat feel like? What does your chest feel like? What are the sensations you have on your skin? What are the sensations you have in your body? Is anything buzzing? Is anything aching? Is anything twisting, burning, racing, or clenching? Is it hot? Is it cold? Is it throbbing? Is it pulsing?

Use these words during a body scan to name and describe sensations in your body.

Awareness and Consistency

Consistency and awareness are key to healing. Women who build a life that they want after divorce are consistent with these tools.

They can do a body scan and ask: “Do I have a felt sense of safety or security right now, or am I perceiving some sort of a threat or distress in my body?”

woman with brown hair up to a pony tail, sitting on a teal chair, holding her pair of glasses in the right hand and holding her eyes closed

What Does the Sympathetic Nervous System Control?

When my nervous system is activated, my heart races, and I feel heat – it used to be a headache. These are my cues that my nervous system is moving from rest and digest into an activated vigilant response. Other people will have very different responses.

Notice what yours are. Your best indicator is: What does your body do when you get a text from your ex?

We women do so many things to act like we can’t hear the alarm. Rather than learning how to shut off the alarm, we use earplugs to pretend it’s not happening.

Brene Brown says we all numb ourselves using a beer and a banana nut muffin.

So, what is your version of beer and banana nut muffin? Instagram? Wine? Coffee? Shopping?

A lot of behaviors that we use to try to blow off steam are how we try to regulate the nervous system without realizing it. We’re keeping that alarm going and actively blocking the message that we’re in safety mode.

How to Calm an Overactive Sympathetic Nervous System

Now, there are three steps that you must take to optimize your nervous system for healing after divorce:

Recognize the Mode You Are In

Perceive which mode your nervous system is in and become willing to do something about it consistently.

How do you respond to a situation? What do you feel when you argue with your ex? Recognize and respond to fight or flight mode.

Use Subconscious Reprogramming

Subconscious reprogramming means you have to change the negative beliefs that you’ve internalized into positive beliefs. Now, this is where I see most people get hung up. Changing negative beliefs is a process.

If you have a prominent belief running in the background of your brain and body’s operating system that says you’re not safe, it is very hard to disarm that alarm. You have to work on yourself (and maybe with a healer) in a way that reprograms those negative beliefs.

woman with long brown hair, laying in bed with an eye mask on, calming her overactive sympathetic nervous system

Healing Tools

I advocate for methods like EFT tapping, EMDR, or homeopathy. Homeopathy removes anything blocking those beliefs from shifting.

These tools work to regulate your nervous system and allow you to process your feelings and release them.

a person with a pen and journal block, doing immerse journaling

Movement is also a powerful way to allow nervous system expression and is a communication that happens between the mind, the body, and the nervous system. Yoga, jumping, walking, shaking it out, and dancing are all things that help the nervous system move from a fight or flight into rest and digest.

a woman eating salad in a Rest & Digest mode.

You can heal your nervous system and move out of the fight or flight mode. Use these tools, work with a healer, do a body scan, and start breathing deeply.

I love you. You’ve got this.

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.

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