The autonomic nervous system within the body involuntarily regulates internal body functions. It consists of both the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.
The sympathetic nervous system controls our fight or flight response, while the parasympathetic nervous system does almost the opposite relaxes the body and slows many high energy functions. The parasympathetic system heals, digests and rests the body.
When the body senses danger or something of urgency the sympathetic nervous system is activated. Without any effort from our conscious selves the body goes into flight or fight mode. Heart rate increases, pupils are dilated, adrenal glands are stimulated, digestive activity is inhibited plus loads more! This can feel like shallow breaths, heart racing, a feeling of anx or stress!
Once upon a time this system would have been primarily activated when the person was under extreme threat. Being chased by an animal, hunting at night, in battle and war. These days, most people have it running too much! When unexpected bills arrive, when the boss calls, when we argue with our spouse, driving in city traffic, running late for meetings, lininf up at the checkout. The list goes on. Most of us don’t even realise we are using our sympathetic nervous system. The thing is, the sympathetic nervous system is vital to our survival, however using it constantly and when not needed can actually cause more damage than good. It means our body can’t heal appropriately, digestion is inhibited, muscles are tense, we don’t sleep well, we don’t think clearly and are in a constant world of stress.
Alternatively, the parasympathetic system as discussed above, does quite the opposite. When we are in a parasympathetic state, our muscles relax, our bodies complete their digestive functions efficiently, our body can heal and restore, our breathing is slower and we tend to be in a calmer state of mind.
So we discussed above what causes us to be in the SYMPATHETIC state, but how can we get our body into a PARASYMPATHETIC state? Anything that calms the mind and body. Meditation, prayer, walking in nature, spending time outdoors, resting/napping, being mindful of the present moment, breathing practises, swimming in the ocean etc.
How often each day do practise any of the above listed to reduce your stress and be in a PARASYMPATHETIC state? Personally, I would say the only thing I did above was sleep? On a busy work day, it was wake up, eat, get ready, go to work, be busy and stressed, come home, quickly make dinner, eat, sleep. Where’s the “relax” and “being present” there?
Now, while we all can’t just stop and chuck a down dog or breathing mediation while at work, I highly suggest you make time. Even just 1 hour of your day, to fill in with some of the above activities. That’s my next goal. To ensure each day I’m making a conscious effort to increase my time in a PARASYMPATHETIC state. When you notice you’re feeling stressed, take a few bigggg deep breathes. Spot 4 different things around you in the room. It will ground you. Something you can see? Smell? Touch? Hear? It will bring your attention to the “there and then”.
I watched a documentary called HEAL two days ago. Two of the examples they used about how stress can cause serious illness was the “Epstein Barr Virus + Shingles Virus”. Both of which I have had/have. If that’s not a sign I don’t know what is. Stress suppresses the immune system and can cause so many health issues.
I truely hope you’ve learnt something new from this blog and that It brings you an awareness on how you are feeling and that you can identify what autonomic nervous system you are spending most of your time in.