Earlier this month, I talked about how stress is negatively impacting our bodies and contributing to 90% of illness and diseases (click here to read). What I did not mention is one of the key players in our body’s stress response, our nervous system.
When stress is getting the best of us, our nervous system sends us some pretty key signals. By identifying those key signals, we can begin to lower the stress response. By lowering the stress response in our bodies, we can increase our overall internal well-being.
Two Sides to Our Nervous System
Our autonomic nervous system is divided into two parts: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.
Together, the parasympathetic nervous system(PNS) and the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) control all life-sustaining functions that you do not have to think about. Your PNS is often referred to as the “rest and digest” or “feed and breed” system. This is due to the fact that the parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for automatic processes related to body regulation, digestion, elimination, reproduction, and internal repair.
The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is often called the “fight or flight” nervous system. This is because the SNS becomes dominant when your body perceives that your safety or survival is at risk. When this happens, the stress response is elicited and blood/nutrients are directed away from internal organs and into muscles of the arms and legs to ready the body for action (think- running from a lion). Although this system is vitally important to our survival, it causes a large strain to the body when the Fight or Flight response is active for too long.
Photo Credit: Springfield Wellness Center
The Modern Fight or Flight Response
Centuries ago, humans benefited greatly from the Fight or Flight response, as they faced real dangers in the wild terrains. However, in our modern era- it is quite rare that we would need to run for our lives. Just think…. When was the last time you actually had to run for your life?
Medical researchers continue to find evidence of our Fight or Flight responses staying in an active state, even when our lives are not actually being threatened. Even worse, many Americans are staying in the Fight or Flight response almost all day long.
Why is this?
Simply put, it is STRESS.
Stress in the body (either real stress or perceived stress) causes the sympathetic nervous system to become activated, shutting off the parasympathetic nervous system completely.
This type of stress response, also known as chronic stress, can occur with even low levels of stress throughout the day. Stress at work… deadlines… family… kids…… traffic… the list goes on and on.
How do you know that your nervous system is overactive?
Many symptoms that we have accepted as “normal” are actually signs of an overactive nervous system: nervousness, anxiety, insomnia, heart palpitations, inability to sit still, poor digestion, and even high blood pressure can be attributed to an overactive nervous system. The degree of over-stimulation varies for everyone, with a lower grade of overstimulation seeming so familiar that it is hardly recognized as a problem.
Over time, the constant overstimulation depletes the nervous system. If your nervous system is experiencing depletion, you may feel chronically tired, lethargic, unable to concentrate, lack of motivation, or just a general exhaustion throughout most of the day. This is when most people begin to rely on other substances to try to jump start the nervous system: caffeine, sugar, alcohol, and energy drinks, to name a few. Even video games and social media can create a similar hormone response that provides a temporary boost and relief.
Photo credit: Turning Point of Tampa
If the nervous system remains out of balance for too long, more long term problems occur: such as, thyroid, adrenal fatigue and autoimmune disorders.
Curious what can be done for an over-stimulated nervous system? Check out next week’s post for more details. You may be surprised to find that some simple lifestyle changes can go a long way.
The information presented in this post is for information and educational purposes only, and does not substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other health care professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.