The parasympathetic nervous system is a part of the nervous system. Sometimes called the rest and digest system, the parasympathetic system conserves energy as it slows the heart rate, increases intestinal activity, and relaxes sphincter muscles in the GI tract. Body functions that use this system include sexual arousal, salivation, urination, digestion, and defecation.
Now on the other end is the sympathetic nervous system. It prepares the body for intense physical activity and is often referred to as the fight-or-flight response. It has almost the exact opposite effect than the Parasympathetic Nervous System. Though they seem to work in opposition, their job is actually to work together, synergistically and create homeostasis in our bodies. So what happens when they aren’t working well together?
This is where it gets interesting….
Let me bring in the element of PTSD.
The essence of PTSD is that certain people, when placed in stressful environments find it impossible to relax out of the stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system. What should be a complimentary engagement of the parasympathetic Nervous System fails to happen or have any effect at all.
If a person feels, for good reason or not, that the danger they perceive is not going away, there is no reason why the sympathetic nervous system will take the body off of a high state of alert. This can lead to ongoing inflammation, uncontrollable rage, organ trouble, sleep disorders, digestion issues, gut bacterial imbalances and more.
Today, we are a society of people who are stuck in the sympathetic nervous system. Our world is one that presents conflict and danger at every turn and the body lives in a heightened state of readiness for the next assault on the senses. From my perspective we are all traumatized to one degree or another and I think many (if not most) of us are living each day in the sympathetic nervous system.
So….Now what? Lets get right into what can be done about this! Here are some daily practices that will help pull you out of this chronic sympathetic state, regulate your systems, and hopefully bring you some relief:
1. Stretch out you Psoas muscles – The psoas muscle is the main muscle when it comes to warehousing trauma within the body. Look at youtube videos for various ways to stretch it out each day.
2. Acupuncture - Acupuncture is powerfully effective for “resetting” the nervous system and reducing stress. It has been demonstrated to treat the most extreme version of sympathetic overdrive, which we call post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.
3. Rhodiola – This herb is literally miraculous for restoring circulation to the digestive system and also balancing the nervous system.
4. Don’t skip meals! - Every time your body has to accommodate a drop in blood sugar, it stimulates the production of cortisol and initiates a stress response.
5. Give yourself extra time to complete tasks. Cramming too many tasks into your day increases stress and perpetuates the issue at hand.
6. Decrease social stressors - Look at the situations and people in your life who bring you stress. Examine why they trigger these feelings in you and decide if there are ways of managing your exposure to them.
7. Spend more time in nature - This is proven to reduce stress.
8. Get into a yoga, meditation, or breathing practice - The better you can get at relaxation, the faster you will heal.
If you think for a second that you don’t have time for these practices, think for a moment about how much time you spend at the doctors, dealing with stomach pain, bloating, fatigues…the list goes on. Make yourself a priority, and the rest will fall into place beautifully. ;)