Anyone who experiences the dissolution of a marriage knows first hand the emotional and physical impacts of divorce. It is exhausting. Your mind is spent and your body is worn out. As you try to find your footing in the world of single motherhood, you continue to feel the pain and despair throughout your entire being.
Emotionally, you are a wreck. You are always on edge, never knowing what sort of external stimulus may trigger your emotions: a restaurant, a TV show, the smell of autumn, friends, or your ex.
You try to contain your emotions. At times, you behave stoically, but then suddenly your pain and despair emerge, and you become a raging lunatic. Your emotions race from one end of the spectrum to the other. You go from anger to sadness, self-pity to self-righteousness, guilt to fear.
Besides your emotions running amuck, your body is also experiencing an upheaval. Your blood pressure rises. Your digestive tract churns. Your energy level plummets. You acquire more ailments and feel every ache and pain. Suddenly, you realize your body from which you demanded so much, upon which you always relied and with which you always felt comfortable, has broken down.
Everyone (including children) experiences emotional and physical changes due to divorce. Some people may be mildly affected while others may become incapacitated. Understanding the correlation between your emotions and your physical well-being is vital if you want to alleviate the harmful effects of divorce and move forward in your life.
Whenever you experience an emotion (such as fear), that emotion is expressed in your body as a tangible substance (in this case, as the hormone adrenaline) and, subsequently but not necessarily, a feeling (being scared). You produce within you a biochemical response that conveys your emotion. You feel your emotion when you become aware of the sensations that arise from these biochemical responses.
Your body manufactures substances (such as adrenaline) that correspond to your emotional state. These emotional substances travel through your body and deliver messages to your cells. Receptors, which are located on the surface of a cell, receive the messages relayed to them by your emotional substances and then transmit those messages to the cell’s interior. This transmission of information initiates specific functions to occur within the cell, thereby changing the activity of the cell.
If adrenaline is the emotional substance that is received by your cells’ receptors, then your cells carry out the messages relayed to them by adrenaline. Adrenaline tells your cells to increase cardiac output, increase blood flow to the muscles, and increase the release of glucose and fatty acids into the blood. Subsequently, you feel your fear (you are scared) when you become aware of the sensations that arise from adrenaline’s messages.
Your body manufactures and dispenses various emotional substances in your own inner pharmacy. It does not matter if you are feeling elated and safe, or depressed and scared, you manifest your emotions into tangible matter. These tangible substances trigger specific physiological functions to occur within your cells, thereby altering the basic chemistry of your cells. Your emotions are not just abstract feelings that you experience; they also elicit physical changes that occur within you.
When your mind is calm and peaceful, you are filled with joy and excitement. You may display your joy through a smile or an act of kindness. Then you may reap the rewards for your benevolence. You may receive a smile, a thank you, or a hug from someone whose life you have touched, and psychologically you feel happy. Physiologically you are also happy. Your levels of serotonin (an emotional substance for happiness) increase during pleasurable times. Your body knows of your happiness because your cells’ receptors have received the feel-good message of serotonin. Low levels of serotonin contrarily are associated with depression, impulsive acts, aggressive behavior, and suicidal tendencies.
When you focus on the uncertainty that exists in your life, you may feel angry and desperate. As you dwell on your pain, you may display your negativity by being rude or unkind to others. Others may respond to you with the same cruelty and unkindness. This negative behavior of others towards you reinforces your negative thoughts, causing you to create more negative behaviors. Soon you find yourself in an overwhelming psychological state of self-created mental unrest. You perpetuate your negative thoughts and you allow those thoughts to rule you. Physiologically, you are also in a state of uneasiness. You have activated your sympathetic nervous system (SNS); you are in a state of fight-or-flight readiness.
The inner dialogues in which your mind engages will trigger either your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) or your sympathetic nervous system (SNS). Your mind, either consciously or unconsciously, will activate a state of calmness (PNS) or a state of chaos (SNS).
When you activate your SNS, cortisol is one of the emotional substances that your body produces. Cortisol circulates in your body and delivers its message to your cells. Cortisol tells your cells to shift from anabolic metabolism (the building and repairing of your body) to catabolic metabolism (the breaking down of your body). This breaking down process is necessary because it prepares your body for fight-or-flight. This response is vital to you and is to be used only occasionally. Your body should only resort to the state of catabolic metabolism temporarily.
Unfortunately for many of you, this state of catabolic metabolism is not short term. Unknowingly, you activate your SNS whenever your inner dialogues are focused on the uncertainty in your life. When your chattering mind continuously repeats the same conversations, you flood your body with the same emotional substances. When you are trapped in your incessant inner dialogues, you create havoc in your body. You weaken your immune system, suppress your reproductive system, interfere with the absorption of calcium in your body, short circuit your memory, deplete your adrenal glands, and the list goes on and on.
How do you stop flooding your body with excessive amounts of harmful emotional substances? How do you stop reacting to your external triggers? How do you quiet your mind, tame your emotions, and bring harmony back into your life?
You attain inner peace and balance through mindfulness. Mindfulness informs you of your habitual thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, making you aware of your destructive and repetitive ways.
Part II of “The Emotional and Physical Impacts of Divorce” will explain why so many people behave mindlessly and react to life with unwilled behavior, and how to become mindful and more mentally present in your life.
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