Sympathetic vs Parasympathetic: What the Heck?
Updated: Feb 1
Feeling calm and relaxed?
Congratulations! You're in a parasympathetic response.
Stressed and feeling anxious?
Oy! You're in a sympathetic response.
What the heck does this mean?
It means that these two parts of your body's nervous system, parasympathetic and sympathetic, are always responding to what is going on.
Let’s check this out...
What is the nervous system?
The nervous system is like a two-way superhighway. It’s made up of the brain, the spinal cord, and nerve cells that run through your body sending and receiving information about what’s happening in and around the body.
While there are different parts of the nervous system we’re gonna look at that part called the autonomic nervous system.
What is the autonomic nervous system?
The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is an extensive network of nerve cells that control and regulate involuntary physical processes including heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, perspiration, digestion, body temperature, urination and defecation, metabolism, and sexual response.
The two main branches of the autonomic nervous system:
The sympathetic nervous system activates the body’s "fight-flight-freeze" response, which is the body’s built-in system designed to protect us from threat or danger. It corresponds with increased heart rate, releasing adrenaline, mobilizing your energy for fight or flight, and inhibits digestion.
The parasympathetic nervous system is involved in the body’s "rest and digest” response. It helps the body to relax and recover after that threat or danger has disappeared. Respiration and heart rate slow down and return to normal as does digestion.
Is one system more important than the other?
No. The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems work in partnership and have complementary functions. Operating in tandem, they maintain the body’s homeostasis.
Homeostasis is a state of equilibrium, or balance, in which biological conditions (such as body temperature) are maintained at optimal levels.
Well, for example, if you’re facing a stressful situation like a loud, barking dog running towards you, or you get into an argument with your boss, the sympathetic nervous system kicks in to raise your blood pressure, you breath more quickly, your muscles tense, and your body is instantly either mobilized to take action or freeze in fear.
Once the threat or stressful situation has passed, its partner, the parasympathetic nervous system, kicks in to lower your blood pressure and dampen the stress response, slowly returning your body to it’s normal, resting state.
Phew! That feels better!
So, how do you respond to the stressors in your life to help maintain balance?
How about deep breathing, going for a walk and connecting with nature, or drinking a mug of calming warm lemon water or herbal tea.
Love, Your Wellness Coach,
September 8, 2020