I remember the day my now ex-husband told me he was moving out. For months thereafter, the knot in my stomach would just not go away. Because my throat was so tense from stress, it closed off and I had trouble swallowing. I remember wondering if I would ever feel ‘normal’ again or be able to eat a full meal without feeling sick.
With divorce, your body and mind are thrust into a constant state of stress and worry which can seem never-ending. And if there’s children involved, the stress is ramped up a hundred fold. When you are stress, the Fight/Flight/Fright branch of your nervous system, s system set up for temporary emergencies is activated and all your systems are thrown into ‘high alert’. When you are continually in a state of stress, you can easily create imbalances in your nervous system. Think of it this way. It is like you have two nervous systems: the Sympathetic branch, commonly known as the Fight or Flight system, there for emergency situations.
And you have the Parasympathetic branch of the nervous system which handles the body’s normal daily business like digestion, immunity, repairing cells, etc. Whenever your brain perceives a stressful event such as being told your life is going to be turned upside down by divorce, or basically whenever you are angry, scared, harried, hassled, annoyed or frustrated, you are thrown into the Fight or Flight branch of your nervous system.
Constant stress causes an imbalance in your nervous system and uses up vitamins and minerals, especially magnesium, at a hugely rapid rate, leaving you depleted. In fact, most of the side effects scientists used to associate with being stressed – anxiety, irritability, rapid heartbeat, pounding headache, inability to sleep, etc., are actually the deficiency symptoms of vitamins and minerals used up in the process of stressing.
Because divorce is one of the most stressful events you’ll ever face and because it can continue on without knowing the end result or even when it will end, you need to learn how to neutralize the harmful effects of stress. Here are three suggestions:
- Replace lost nutrients on a daily basis. Fill your diet with nutrient dense foods such as fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, seeds, hormone-free lean meats. Take a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement to fill in any gaps. Since no multi on the market contains enough calcium or magnesium, make sure you eat foods rich in these minerals (magnesium: beans, green leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts & seeds) or take a separate calcium/magnesium supplement. An excellent mid-afternoon snack is a handful of un-salted, unroasted or dry roasted nuts and seeds. They contain almost equal amounts of calcium, magnesium and potassium. Magnesium is especially important to replace on a daily basis when you are going through a stressful time. The most common deficiency symptoms of magnesium are spasms, cramps, ‘charlie horses’, twitches around the eye muscles, heart palpitations, anxiety, restlessness and inability to relax, and inability to stay asleep. We need 350-500 mgs/day of magnesium. For supplements, make sure you get magnesium glycinate or citrate or malate. Calcium intake should be around 1,200 mgs/day. Government statistics say 75% of Americans get less than ½ the amount of calcium they need from their diet. That means most of us need to supplement some calcium.
- Get some physical exercise. Our nervous system is wired to expect physical exertion when stress hormone levels rise. Physical activity sweeps away excess levels of stress hormones. Make sure you exercise regularly. Whenever you have those ‘overwhelming’ moments, get up and walk for a few minutes even if it is just down the hall and back. Keep resistance bands or hand weights by the chair you sit in when you watch t.v. Use them for several minutes here and there throughout the evening or when commercials are on or during your favorite show. Join a gym and use weight machines or join a strengthening class.
- Deep breathing is very powerful. One of the quickest, easiest, most efficient ways to calm and balance your nervous system is to use conscious breathing. Whenever you make your breathing deeper and slower, you send powerful signals to your brain that stress is over. Your brain will send signals to the adrenals to stop pumping out all that damaging cortisol. Deep breathing will take you out of the Fight/Flight branch and back into the calming branch. Here are 3 deep breathing patterns.
- Inhale through your nose. Gently but steadily, pull the oxygen all the way down o the bottom of your rib cage. You should feel your lungs inflate and your diaphragm contract. Exhale through your mouth and think of exhaling all of your tension. Repeat several times.
- This one comes from ancient Ayuvedic medicine. It is a breathing pattern of 4-7-8. Inhale through your nose for a count
of 4. Hold air in lungs for a count of 7. Exhale through your mouth for a count of 8. Make a wooshing noise as you exhale.
- This is called ‘Square Breathing’. Inhale through your nose for a count of 4. Hold it in for a count of 4. Exhale through your mouth for a count of 4. Hold it out of your lungs for a count of 4. Repeat several cycles.
Return to Wellness.
Janice Novak, M.S.