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Regulating Your Nervous System: A Vital Practice for Late-Diagnosed Neurodivergent Women

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Navigating life as a late-diagnosed neurodivergent woman can be a whirlwind of challenges and revelations.

Among these, understanding and regulating your nervous system stands out as a transformative practice that can significantly enhance your well-being.

Let's explore why this is so crucial, delving into polyvagal theory, the signs of a dysregulated nervous system, and how you can foster self-connection to achieve a more balanced state.

Understanding Polyvagal Theory

If you want to understand nervous system regulation, then you have to start with Polyvagal Theory. Polyvagal theory, developed by Dr. Stephen Porges and later expanded upon by Deb Dana, provides a framework for understanding the autonomic nervous system's role in our emotional and physiological states.

At its core, polyvagal theory explains how our nervous system responds to safety and threat through three primary states:

  1. Ventral Vagal State (Social Engagement): This is where we feel safe, connected, and socially engaged. It's the state where we can rest, digest, and connect with others effectively.

  2. Sympathetic State (Fight or Flight): Activated in response to perceived threats, this state prepares the body for action, either to confront danger or to flee from it.

  3. Dorsal Vagal State (Shutdown or Freeze): When threats seem overwhelming, this state can cause us to freeze, dissociate, or shut down to protect ourselves.

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The Impact of a Dysregulated Nervous System

When your nervous system is dysregulated, you may experience heightened sensitivity to stress, difficulty in managing emotions, and a pervasive sense of being overwhelmed. This can manifest in various ways.

For example, you may have racing thoughts, increased negative self-talk and increased difficulty in concentrating. It can also manifest as feelings of anxiety, irritability, sadness or even a state of emotional numbness. Finally, from a behavioural point of view, it can look like procrastination, avoidance, impulsive behaviour, overconsumption or even a complete withdrawal.

Triggers of Nervous System Dysregulation

Nervous system dysregulation can be a significant challenge, especially for late-diagnosed neurodivergent women. Understanding what triggers this dysregulation is essential for managing it effectively. Here, are some common triggers and how they impact your well-being:

Environmental Stressors

Things like bright lights, loud noises or crowded spaces can overwhelm your senses and switch your nervous system into feeling dysregulated. Sudden routine changes or disruptions to a daily routine can also create uncertainty and stress, as can an environment that feels chaotic, cluttered or disorganised.

Emotional Triggers

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Experiencing things like arguments or tension with a loved one can activate your fight-or-flight response. Reminders of past traumatic events can cause your nervous system to react as though the threat is still present and persistent negative thoughts or self-criticism can keep your nervous system on high alert.

Physical Factors

Poor sleep quality or insufficient sleep can make it harder for your nervous system to regulate itself. Likewise, consuming too much caffeine, sugar, or processed foods can contribute to nervous system dysregulation. Ongoing physical health issues can also create a baseline of stress that makes regulation more difficult.

Psychological Stressors

High demands at work or in your business; tight deadlines, or a toxic work environment can trigger constant stress responses. Perfectionist tendencies and high expectations (whether from yourself or someone else) can lead to chronic stress and a feeling of never being good enough.

Social Factors

Fear of social interactions or being judged can keep your nervous system in a state of hypervigilance and on the other end of the scale, lack of social support or meaningful connections can lead to feelings of loneliness and increased stress. Finally, experiencing discrimination based on neurodivergence, gender, or other factors can be a significant stressor.

For many of us, we are experiencing multiple intersections of these factors every day - so is it any wonder it can feel like our nervous systems are stuck either on high alert or totally shut down?

Living with a dysregulated nervous system can make everyday tasks feel insurmountable and hinder your ability to connect with yourself and others - so how can you support your nervous system to feel more regulated?

The Calm of a Regulated Nervous System

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In contrast to feeling dysregulated, a regulated nervous system allows you to approach life with a sense of calm and balance. When your nervous system is in a ventral vagal state, you experience clearer thoughts, a more positive outlook and a creative approach to problem-solving. You can also experience greater emotional resilience, reduced anxiety and an increased sense of well-being.

And when you can think and feel in a more regulated way, you can access improved decision-making, consistent follow-through, and healthier relationships.

The Benefits of Actively Regulating Your Nervous System

Actively working to regulate your nervous system offers numerous benefits including reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression; a more robust immune response; greater empathy for others, more effective communication and deep connection in your relationships. You can also tap into improved focus, increased creativity and the ability to tackle challenges with ease and confidence.

The payoff of being aware of what state your nervous system is in and then taking action to regulate it when you feel in need of some grounding can be highly beneficial and incorporating regular self-connection practices is a simple but powerful way to do that.

Self-Connection Practices for Nervous System Regulation

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Self-connection practices are essential tools for regulating your nervous system. Here are some effective methods:

  1. Mindfulness and Meditation: Regular mindfulness practices help you stay present and reduce the impact of stressors.

  2. Breathing Exercises: Techniques like deep belly breathing and the 4-7-8 method can quickly shift your nervous system into a calmer state.

  3. Movement and Exercise: Gentle yoga, stretching, and regular physical activity help release built-up tension.

  4. Grounding Techniques: Engage your senses with activities like walking barefoot on grass, holding a comforting object, or listening to soothing sounds.

5. Creative Expression: Journaling, drawing, or any form of creative activity can be therapeutic and help process emotions.

For late-diagnosed neurodivergent women, regulating your nervous system is not just a beneficial practice—it's a cornerstone of thriving in your unique journey.

By understanding the principles of polyvagal theory and embracing self-connection practices, you can transform how you navigate the world, fostering a sense of peace, clarity, and connection.


If you'd like to kick start your journey to a regulated nervous system through self-connection, join the Regulation Room membership for just £4.5 for your first month.

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