Sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system; you may have heard your massage therapist make reference to this and wonder…what are they talking about? These are two branches of the nervous system each with its own job. Why is this important? Glad you asked!
The Nervous System in a Nutshell
There are two branches to the Central Nervous System. One allows your body to kick it into high gear (sympathetic) while the other allows you to calm down and regroup (parasympathetic).
•Kicking it into high gear with the Sympathetic Nervous System (fight or flight):
This SNS protects us in times of danger hence fight or flight! The body does not always perceive what is “real” danger versus situations that are not life threatening and although the SNS is useful for survival it is not good for every day stress (such as paying bills). The fight or flight response kicks into gear when your body knows you need to act quickly for example to avoid a car accident or in rescue situations. The body is very smart and takes care of us. We just need to pay attention to it to make sure it remains in a state of balance. If the body does not remain in balance then over time the body will wear down and the immune system becomes compromised. So what’s going on when SNS is activated?
The mouth becomes dry
The pupils open wide
Heart rate increases
Breathing becomes more rapid
Digestion is halted as all blood supply is at the heart
Adrenaline has been released which also releases cortisol (a stress hormone)
Blood flows to the muscles so they can react to the situation
While handy for survival it is easy to see why it is unhealthy to run at this level all the time. If your body is acting this way as a response to everyday stress it wears you down. The immune system begins to suffer and your body begins battling illnesses. This is why it’s so important to activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System in order to relax and repair!
• Slowing down with the Parasympathetic Nervous System (relax and repair):
The PNS allows us to slow down and “collect” ourselves. During this time your body is able to undergo growth, energy storage and other positive aspects. With no perceived threat, your body is taking it easy. The PNS is important to stay healthy. Ways you can do this is by practicing focused breathing or meditation or receive massage . You can even calm down with essential oils. Good choices for a calm and relaxed state are a blend of Bergamot , Lavender and Roman Chamomile . Another essential oil that helps activate the PNS is Clary Sage . So what’s going on when the PNS is activated?
• Breathing becomes deeper and at a slower rate
• Heart rate slows down
• Digestion occurs and nutrients are absorbed in the body
• Blood flows away from the muscles
• Your body is able to heal and repair
These are the features of the nervous system you want to achieve more often. So, take a deep breath and let the calmer side of life take over for you! Save the extreme for when you really need it! Sometimes you may need to make a conscious effort to initiate the relaxation response and that is normal. Just remember that it is too taxing for the body to always be in high gear, pay attention to yourself because you are worth it!
Here are a few tips to keep you in a state of balance:
• Always remember to breathe and breathe deeply!
• Eat balanced and nutritious meals.
• Move your body! It doesn’t have to be a complicated work out plan; walking is always a good choice!
• Receiving massage on a regular basis helps too.
Hopefully this sheds a little light on what is going on inside the body during times of stress and relaxation and you can now notice changes within your own body and apply this to yourself. The key is to not allow everyday stress leave you always running in a gear that is set for danger. This is key to staying well and healthy!