What Does the Autonomic Nervous System Do…For Me?

Welcome to the second post in this series about the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS).  If you missed the last post, then see the link here to catch up…. https://wp.me/p8enlF-7S

You’ll recall that the ANS has a job to self-regulate the body’s functions, all in the background without our conscious input.  This self-regulation is controlled by managing the balance between two areas of the ANS: ‘Sympathetic Nervous System’ (SNS) and the ‘Parasympathetic Nervous System’ (PSNS).

 

The balance of the SNS and the PSNS

The SNS and PSNS work together like Yin and Yang…two opposite functions complementing each other perfectly.  The Sympathetic (SNS) division manages our emergency response system, whereas the Parasympathetic (PSNS) division manages activities when our body is at rest.

These two divisions manage our day-to-day body process operations; sending messages via a vast network of nerves, reacting and responding accordingly to information received from the body or environment. 

It can be said that the Sympathetic division (SNS) works by quickly responding and reacting to a situation (fight or flight reaction), whereas the Parasympathetic division (PNS) is said to work slowly to dampen the body’s responses (rest and digest action).

For example, the SNS will mobilise your body to enable you to quickly flee if needed and once the threat has passed, the PSNS shall return your body responses back to normal resting status.

Thus, the SNS primes the body for action, in a response for a need to move, or maybe reacting to a stressful situation It provides an adrenal response to organs such as the heart, lungs and kidneys to manage the extra workload (e.g. increase heart-beat, widen bronchial passages, increase blood pressure etc.).  In addition, it will send messages to slow down the not-so-crucial bodily activities….for example to decrease movement of the digestive tract.

When the ‘threat’ state has passed, the job falls with the PSNS to restore the body to a resting state.  Its job is to slowly activate dampening activities to regulate the body’s organs, to bring them back to a calm, restful, maintenance state….restoring balance in the body.  For example, in absence of stressful stimuli, the PSNS will return the heart-beat back to a resting state, reduce blood pressure and activate digestion and urination processes.

A perfect example of Yin and Yang!

 

An unbalanced ANS

Our lives are crazy busy!

We try to manage everything and more, into a hectic schedule, trying to keep the balance (family, work, friends, home) like a finely managed bank account.  However, too many withdrawals on our limited resources only ends up in one (negative) result.  And it’s usually too late before we finally notice.

Imagine.. if you are going through a stressful time right now, your body activates the SNS and places the body in a ‘high alert’, ‘high threat’ state.  Stresses come in many guises…, home-life troubles, work-life stress, money troubles, grief, moving house, the daily commute, living with chronic pain, caring for others, pessimistic mind-set and more.

Continued overstimulation of the SNS results in a dampening of the Parasympathetic system functioning.  With a dominant Sympathetic division, the body spends more time in ‘fight or flight’ mode and places less focus on the ‘rest and digest’ activities and voila… there goes the balance of our ANS.

A dominant SNS is very draining on the body, here are just a few examples of the mental and physical impact on the body:

  • Feeling overstimulated and ‘brain busy’, yet tired
  • Overwhelming feelings of time pressure, the need to be busy, to rush around
  • Chronic digestive issues (bloating, digestion issues, stomach pains, etc.)
  • Nausea and poor appetite
  • Insomnia, impaired sleep quality
  • Increase in sweating
  • Chronic muscle and joint pains
  • Continued tiredness and fatigue
  • Agitated feelings and irritability
  • Hypersensitivity to light, noise
  • Memory and concentration issues
  • Body temperature regulation issues, especially cold hands/feet

So, how do we address this imbalance? 

Read the next and final post in this series where I explain more…  

https://wp.me/p8enlF-80

 

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