The human nervous system, also called the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) is comprised of two components, the Sympathetic Nervous System and the Parasympathetic Nervous System.
The Sympathetic Nervous System is known as the flight or fight response system or the emergency response system that secrets the hormone adrenaline during perceived situations of danger. The Parasympathetic Nervous System is the calming or relaxing portion of the human nervous system. It is active when you are sleeping and digesting food. The two components work in opposite states, that is, when you stimulate the Sympathetic Nervous System you inhibit or lower the Parasympathetic Nervous System activity and vice versa.
When we are in a state of perceived stress or actual stress we switch on our Sympathetic Nervous System. This is designed to prepare us to either fight or flee (flight). The challenge that humans have is our brain and senses cannot distinguish easily between perceived stress and actual stress. So our current lifestyle (which ignores following the laws of nature) puts us in this precarious state. Examples of the stress that we currently subject our bodies to include constantly being late or rushing to appointments, eating at the wrong times, consuming too much sugar or processed food, spending long hours commuting to work, trying to do too much each day, not getting enough sleep, spending too much time sitting and not exercising moderately, and not spending enough time doing nothing (relaxation). The net effect of all these behaviors is that it switches on the Sympathetic Nervous System so it remains on most of the time or remains on at inappropriate times. Once this occurs, we call this state being Sympathetic Dominant.
When you are in constant state of being Sympathetic Dominant, your body cannot absorb nutrients, eliminate cellular waste and repair itself. The stress hormone cortisol remains elevated and this further wreaks havoc on the body. In this state, the hormone adrenaline is not broken down. The net effect of these actions is that this continues to raise our stress level and forces us to spiral more out of control until we meet the next stressful situation. To complicate matters, as the physical stress continues to rise over time, we can also develop emotional stress as well.
Sympathetic Dominance is the precursor to chronic illness and many disease states become chronic when the Sympathetic Nervous System is permanently switched on. In future posts we will explore ways to turn off a Sympathetic Dominant nervous system so that we can return to a naturally healing state where our Parasympathetic Nervous System is balanced with the Sympathetic Nervous System.