When I say stressed, I mean anything physical, chemical or emotional that is having a negative effect on your nervous system. Many of us get stressed and we know it and there are those who might not know they are. It is actually pretty crazy what too much stress can do to your nervous system!
Did you know?
Our nervous system is divided into two parts: the voluntary and the involuntary or the autonomic nervous systems. The voluntary system is in charge of movement and sensation in which we have control over, so it consists of motor and sensory nerves. The autonomic system mainly controls functions over which we have less conscious control, which include the digestion of food, blood pressure and heart rate. These nerves leave the spine and connect to all the major organs and glands, either inhibiting or stimulating their activity.
The autonomic nervous system maintains a balance by regulating the internal organs, blood vessels and hormones. It is divided into the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic is the “gas pedal” and controls functions associated with the fight-or-flight response. And for those of you who have never heard of the fight-or-flight response, let me explain! Let’s say you are out camping in the woods and bear comes up to you, your body automatically knows you need to run in order to be safe – that’s the fight-or-flight. The parasympathetic is the “brake pedal” and controls the functions of rest, relaxation and repair. A lot of us seem to be using our “gas pedal” way too much, and eventually you run out of gas, which causes your body and nervous system to be drained and tired.
When we are in fight-or-flight mode, the sympathetic stimulates the glands and organs in the body that defend the body against attack. It causes more blood to go to the muscles and the brain. Your heart rate and blood pressure increase, while it decreases the blood flow to the digestive system. It also activates the thyroid and adrenal glands to provide extra energy for fighting or running away. Nervousness, stress or feelings of panic are what we feel when our sympathetic nervous system is stimulated.
In our society, we all are on the go constantly, stressed about finances or family issues. There always seems to be something! The United States is actually one of the most chronically ill countries. Do you think there is a link between these?
A constantly active sympathetic nervous system results in sympathetic dominance and puts the individual at risk for increased disease and illness. What drives a person into sympathetic dominance? Some of the most common causes are chronic stress (physical, chemical, emotional or diet), overworking or worrying too much. It is completely normal to use this fight-or-flight occasionally or when it is needed, what is not normal is constantly overusing it and causing the nervous system to become exhausted.
Some of the symptoms and illnesses associated with sympathetic nervous system dominance are those of fight-or-flight could include:
- Excessive worry, anxiousness and nervousness
- Inability to relax
- A strong self-will to “keep going
- Chronic pain and inflammation
- Insomnia or other sleep issues
- Sick with the cold/flu or other illnesses consistently
- Digestive problems
- Migraine headaches
- Hormone imbalances
- Hypertension, heart disease or high cholesterol
- Decreased libido
If after reading this you think you may be sympathetic dominant, take a look at the kind of stressors you have in your life and make some lifestyle changes, even small ones can make a difference. It’s never too late! You can start with a few of these:
- Eat more fruits and vegetables or stay away from foods that cause inflammation (AI Paleo, gluten-free and an alkaline diet are great to look into!)
- Take some “me” time doing something you love, a massage or having quiet time where you can shut your mind off and relax
- Exercising – even 10-15 minutes a day will help de-stress you (as long as it’s not too vigorous of a workout – it can sometimes stimulate the sympathetic nervous system even more)
- Go see a chiropractor! There are many different techniques out there, including ones that stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which those who are sympathetic dominant need to help balance the nervous system
- Acupuncture also helps balance the nervous system
When the sympathetic dominance cycle is broken, and balance is restored between the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems, the body is able to restore you to an optimal level of health and wellness! Who wouldn’t want that?!
Dr. Jessica Stensland is a busy family wellness Chiropractor in Urbandale, Iowa. She spends her weeks taking care of dozens of families. Not only does Dr. Jessica specialize in pediatric and pregnancy chiropractic care, but she’s a board certified Acupuncturist. Dr. Jessica believes that a healthier community means taking care of all ages. She is a Minnesota native and enjoys seeing family and friends in her free time, in addition to staying active and reading the many books she has on her kindle.