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Ep #166: Divorce, The Nervous System and Polyvagal Theory | Becoming You Again Podcast

Ever wonder how your body’s automatic functions can impact your emotional health, especially during tough times like a divorce? This episode of "Becoming You Again" promises to shed light on the surprisingly profound connection between your autonomic nervous system and your mental well-being. Having a better understanding of the nervous system and how it affects our emotional states can help maintain more emotional stability during your divorce.

You'll also be introduced to the vagus nerve, how it connects to our nervous system and polyvagal theory. By the end of this episode you'll know a little more about  practical strategies for self-regulation—think grounding techniques, breathwork, music, and the healing power of nature and pets. This episode emphasizes the importance of understanding our bodies natural way of reacting, how to learn to respond instead or react and supporting our body through it all with somatic practices to foster resilience.

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Grief and trauma are the two biggest struggles women deal with as they go through their divorce. It's highly likely that you are experiencing both and don't even realize what you're feeling. I'm here to tell you that it's okay for you to grieve your marriage (even if it was shitty) and it's normal to be experiencing some kind of trauma (which is essentially a disconnection from yourself - your mind, body and soul). I can help guide you through the grief in all of the forms it shows up so you can heal. I can also teach you how to ground yourself in healing so you can ease through the trauma. Schedule your free consult by clicking here.

Featured on this episode:

  1. Interested in the Divorce Betrayal Transformation? Learn more here.

  2. Are you lost and confused about who you are after divorce? Don't worry. I've got 51 Ways to Get to Know Yourself Again. Click here to download.

  3. Want to work first hand with Karin so you can stop worrying about what your life will be like after divorce, and instead begin making it amazing today? Click here to schedule a consult to find out more about working 1:1 with Karin as your coach.

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Full Episode Transcript:

You are listening to Becoming you Again, the podcast that helps with your mental and emotional needs as you go through divorce. This is episode number 166, and I am your host, karin Nelson. Welcome to Becoming you Again, the podcast to help you with your mental and emotional well-being during and after divorce. This is where you learn to overcome the grief and trauma of your divorce. We're going to do that by reconnecting with yourself, creating lasting emotional resilience and living a truly independent life so that your life can be even better than when you were married. I'm your host, karin Nelson. Welcome back to the podcast. My lovely ladies, I am so glad that you're here.


I don't know how many of you are listening to the new Taylor Swift album, the Tortured Poets Department, but you guys know me. I am a huge, diehard Taylor Swift fan and I'm obsessed. I can't stop listening to it. I am telling you, if you are going through a divorce, if you are feeling a lot of grief, if you are going through some healing over the loss of a breakup, as we do when we go through a divorce, this might be the perfect album for you to be listening to, because there are so many breakup songs and it's so amazing. I'm just gonna just put this out there. Go listen to it, find the songs that really resonate with you, but I can't I literally can't stop listening to it. I am obsessed. My favorites guilty of sin, the black dog, do it with a broken heart, smallest man who ever lived like so many, so many. So, anyway, I know that was like kind of a tangent and a side note, uh, that maybe you weren't expecting when you were listening to this podcast, but I can't not talk about it. I just love Taylor Swift so much and when I was going through my divorce, personally, the album Red was like exactly what I needed. It was like all of the things that she sang about and said just like spoke to my heart and the things that I was feeling and the emotions that I was going through and the challenges that I was having, and I think that this album is like a really good encapsulation of all of that. So check it out. If you're not a huge Taylor Swift fan, maybe it'll be an introduction to something that might really speak to your heart, and if you are, then you probably already know how amazing it is.


All right, so let's jump into today's podcast episode. Today we're going to get a little sciencey. I'm going to be talking a lot about our nervous system. I'm going to be talking about the autonomic nervous system, I'm going to be talking about the parasympathetic and the sympathetic nervous system, and I'm going to give you kind of a brief introduction to polyvagal theory. And the reason why I'm getting really sciencey is because I want you to understand the importance that our nervous system has on our behaviors and our state of being as we are going through difficult, challenging, hard things in our lives. The more we have understanding of that, the better we can support ourselves as we go through difficult stuff like a divorce, like a breakup, like trying to deal with kids, as we are trying to heal ourselves who you know as as our kids are going through divorce and we don't know how to like support them, but we don't know how to support ourselves either. And so when we can kind of have a better understanding of our nervous system and what's going on when we're going through really challenging stuff, we can start to learn to support ourselves better, which helps us show up to be able to support those around us that are also struggling Right and not just divorce. Divorce is just the example that I'm using because so many of you out there that are listening to this podcast are either thinking about divorce, going through a divorce, or are divorced and are still working through that healing. So let's get ready to get a little science-y about our nervous system.


Okay, so our autonomic nervous system. It is part of our body. It basically goes from our brain all the way down our spinal cord to our pelvis. Basically, our autonomic nervous system is the part of our nervous system that is helping control our internal organs that we don't have to think about to like work every single day. Things are just happening inside of us Automatically. We don't have to think about it. Stuff like our heart, our blood vessels, our breathing in our lungs, our digestion of food, our stomach, everything that's happening in there, our intestines moving the food through, getting the nutrients out, things like our sweat glands, like we don't have to think about sweating, our body just does it naturally, right.


So our autonomic nervous system has two parts to it the parasympathetic and the sympathetic. So very often when we think about the parasympathetic nervous system, we think about things kind of slowing down. It's almost like it's putting the brakes on things in a very physiological sense of what's happening in our body when our parasympathetic nervous system is kicking in our. Our heartbeat is slowing down, our pupils are constricting. Maybe we're having flow of saliva to help break down food in our in our mouth. It's going to go down our throat, into our stomach and then into our intestines. It's going to stimulate that bile release. And then physiologically, when we're thinking about our parasympathetic nervous system, oftentimes things are speeding up. It's like pushing on that gas pedal a little bit, so our pupils are dilated, our heartbeat is accelerating. It's stimulating glucose production and glucose release. It's stimulating secretion of things like adrenaline in our bodies.


And so it's important to know a little bit of the difference between the parasympathetic and the sympathetic, because that also comes into play when we think about our behaviors and our states. So I want you to think for a minute just about in a regular everyday life outside of divorce. Just think about like when you're with your friends, when you're with your kids or your family that you really love and that you really get along with, when you're in that safe place where you feel safe, you feel relaxed, everything feels fine, nothing, you don't feel threatened by anything. That's when we're kind of in a sympathetic state. Our behaviors are going to be playful. We are going to have drive and focus. We are going to be able to wake up and be alert, but not like over alert, not like overstimulated, not like over-anxious. We're just kind of in this state of healthy alert, healthy drive, healthy focus right and at the same time, when we are in safety and feeling calm and relaxed and good in the state and in the environment that we're in, our parasympathetic system will help us when it's time to sleep, when it's time to wind down, when it's time to feel relaxed and, you know, ready to go to bed or even ready to feel aroused, when we're in that kind of a state, but not aroused, in like again, not an over aroused state. We're just in that normal flow. And then I want you to think about how you feel as you're going through your divorce, when you get kind of triggered by a text or a word or an inflection of your soon to be ex or your ex's voice, when your kids come home and they are heightened emotionally and they might say something or react in some way, or you're in traffic and things aren't going well and somebody cuts you off, like I want you to think about what happens to your body when you feel kind of a little bit of threat or maybe a lot of threat.


What normally happens in our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system is we change states. We go from like that calm, everything is running well, everything is running smoothly to our sympathetic nervous system showing up as fight. Which could be I'm going to argue, I'm going to defend myself Our sympathetic nervous system showing up as in flight mode, like I got to avoid this, I got to get out of here, I can't talk about this, it's too much. Or our parasympathetic nervous system showing up where we might freeze, which might show up as like procrastination, which might show up as like I can't do anything, I don't want to do anything. Or we might collapse, which might mean, fine, you just take it all in the divorce, I don't even care anymore, I can't do this anymore. You're right, I'm wrong. You take everything, let's go. So this kind of brings us into this idea of polyvagal theory. Again, I know this is very sciencey, but I promise you it's going to get to some good stuff in just a minute. But I promise you it's going to get to some good stuff in just a minute.


And polyvagal theory is this idea that the vagus nerve, instead of just being separated into two parts the parasympathetic and the sympathetic it's actually divided into three main branches the ventral vagal, which is where we feel safe, we feel social, we feel balanced, we're connected, everything's going good. The sympathetic, which is where we are activated, right, we already kind of talked about this. The sympathetic part is where our foot is on the gas, we are ready, we are in fight or flight mode. And then the dorsal vagal, which would be very similar to the parasympathetic part of our vagus nerve. This is when we're in freeze, when we shut down, when we collapse, it's like our foot is on the brake. So instead of there being the two main parts, there's actually the three.


Now again, this is just a theory, but I think that it adds a lot of dimension and understanding to helping our body kind of decide whether we are going to be present in our life during certain tough times, during certain challenging things that we go through, or if we're going to show up as checked out when we are in a ventral vagal state. This is when we feel safe in our nervous system. This is when our body feels calm, it feels relaxed, our nervous system is regulated, we are able to connect with other people, we're able to be curious and, you know, creative and we have good expression and we have good communication with others and we're able to feel our feelings and we're able to just open up to them and allow them to be there, without it meaning that something's gone wrong with us or there's something terrible going on in our lives or that something is ruined. Right, our body is able to digest normally, we feel good, we feel kind of in the groove. I would say is a good way to describe when you're in ventral vagal, when your nervous system, generally speaking, is just like available and everything's good, everything feels right, okay, and then we have the sympathetic activation or the dorsal shutdown.


This is when we don't feel safe. This is when we are not available to communicate properly, when we are not available for, like, really expansive thinking or creativity or curiosity. Even this is when our stress response is really heightened. We're either going to show up in a fight mode where we got to defend ourselves, we got to be on high alert, we are very tense in our muscles and our bodies and we are exhausted, or, if we're going into dorsal shutdown, we are in freeze mode, we are like I can't do this, I don't know what to do, I can't find a solution. Our body decides to kind of start not feeling great. Maybe we don't want to eat. Maybe we can't digest. Maybe we start to have muscle aches and pains. Maybe we are exhausting in our thoughts because our brain is just spinning constantly. We can't find a solution for anything. Maybe we're just like I got to get out of here. I can't handle this anymore, it's too much.


So when we are out of the ventral vagal, we step into the sympathetic activation or the dorsal shutdown fight, flight or freeze. Those are the things that happen when we get activated, when we're going to shut down, when we feel like we are overwhelmed and we can't handle things. And so how do we combat this? Like, once we have a better understanding of our central nervous system, our vagus nerve, polyvagal theory, this idea of our nervous system being heightened, we're going into shutdown mode. How do we deal with that? How do we support ourselves when those things are happening, as we're going through really challenging things in our lives, and the answer is to step into regulation or to figure out how to regulate yourself does not mean you are constantly in a state of ventral vagal, where everything feels great and perfect and you're calm and peaceful and you're creative and curious and all everything's going perfectly all the time. That is not what we're shooting for when it comes to regulation, because number one that's not even possible. We're human. We are always going to be moving in and out.


Of you know stressors and being heightened and being dysregulated in our nervous system. It's a normal part of being a human. There's nothing wrong with this. Nothing has gone wrong If you feel heightened and your nervous system is dysregulated. What regulated means is that you easily understand how to flow back and forth between being heightened and regulated and dysregulated, and you understand how to take yourself in and out in a more flexible and responsive manner. It's almost like you're swaying along with life. You're swaying with the things that are hard and the things that are good and easy and the things that are bad and difficult, rather than I'm rigid and now I'm relaxed, and now I have to be rigid and now I can relax. Do you see the difference Like when we figure out how to regulate ourselves? Do you see the difference Like when we figure out how to regulate ourselves? There's a more of a flow of like. Okay, I'm feeling calm and good. Oh, something hard is coming. Okay, I'm going to be heightened and it's okay. But I don't have to be rigid about it. I can just flow into that, allow myself to be heightened, and then flow back into the ventral, vagal state where I feel calm and good. So how do we do that? How do we regulate? Well, this is where we step into many different ideas.


I have many podcasts on how to regulate your nervous system. You can step into some grounding, you can do some breath work, you can use music Really. I mean, I just talked about Taylor Swift at the beginning of this. You guys should have seen me like the first few weeks of the release of her album. If there was a day like we've gone I've gone through some really hard things this year. It's been. It's been a pretty challenging, difficult year and many days I just have been allowing myself to move and listen to music and like, create that movement of what my body needs. In those moments and the first few weeks of the release of her album, I would just turn on like a playlist of my favorite songs off this album and just move, just let my body move, not in any kind of actual dance motion, but just move and sing and yell and feel the words like move through my body and I just would allow it. That is a way of regulating yourself through the flow of this nervous system.


You know, through activation and then back down system. You know, through activation and then back down. You could use plants, you could go outside, you can use nature, hiking, painting, really anything creative. You can use your pets right. How many of us have a pet that just gives us so much joy and comfort and love and calm and peace when we need it? I know my cats are totally that for me. Like our pets can be that regulating thing that we might need. It can be other people, it can be communicating, it can be having a night out with your friends or your family.


These type of regulating practices are somatic practices. They realign our body, they bring us back to the present and they teach us to listen to our body and understand what our body needs when we are feeling out of sync, when we are feeling out of the ventral vagal state and rather in the sympathetic activation or the dorsal shutdown state. So I hope, understanding a little bit better about this idea of our central nervous system and polyvagal theory, and how we are affected in our day-to-day life with the things that happen to us and the challenging things that we're facing, and how we can use somatic practices, grounding techniques, breathing exercises, movement, music all of these things to help create flow, calm, flexibility rather than rigidity when we need it, when we're trying to heal, when we're trying to go through these really difficult, hard, challenging things that we're going through. If you can understand this, if you can bring this into your life and embrace this idea, it may be the thing that you need that is going to help you heal the most as you go through your divorce. I hope this is helpful. I know it was a little sciencey, but sometimes science can be cool and interesting and it might just be the thing that you have been waiting for to help you on your journey through your divorce.


All right, my friends, I will be back next week. I will talk to you then. Hi, friend, I'm so glad you're here and thanks for listening. I wanted to let you know that if you're wanting more, a way to make deeper, more lasting change, then working one-on-one with me as your coach may be exactly what you need. Together, we'll take everything you're learning in the podcast and implement it in your life with weekly coaching, real life practice and practical guidance. To learn more about how to work with me one-on-one real life practice and practical guidance. To learn more about how to work with me one-on-one, go to KarinNelsonCoaching dot com. That's W-W-W dot K-A-R-I-N-N-E-L-S-O-N coaching dot com. Thanks for listening. If this podcast agreed with you in any way, please take a minute to follow and give me a rating. Wherever you listen to podcasts and for more details about how I can help you live an even better life than when you were married. Make sure and check out the full show notes by clicking the link in the description.




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