The Parasympathetic Nervous System
Image by Raman Oza from Pixabay
How healthy you are is directly related to your nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is your “fight or flight” side which helps us to protect ourselves when danger is sensed. The parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) allows us to function when we are not in danger, and dealing with everyday life.
When our PSNS is activated, our heart beat slows and breathing is calm. The body routes blood flow to our organs and away from skeletal muscles which are not needed when we are safe. This allows us to digest food, make hormones, repair muscles and build strength. This can only happen when we are in a state of relaxation. In essence - relaxation breeds recovery. We are healthier the more time that is spent in PSNS.
The SNS and PSNS are always operational. The one that is more active depends on how stressed or relaxed we are, but there needs to be a balance between the two systems for a healthy body and mind.
Unfortunately, in today’s society, we spend a lot of time in a heightened state both at home and at work. To make matters worse, our bodies cannot differentiate between real and imagined stress. The SNS is activated by chronic stress as well. Our bodies are not built to withstand this much stress and the negative impacts it breeds.
It is critical that we make the effort and take the time to try and restore a healthy balance between the two systems. An easy way to measure and track which system is activated is by your heart rate. Lowering your heart rate can be achieved by taking a few simple steps.
Throughout the day, make a conscious effort to slow your breathing. Daily breathing exercises will decrease your resting heart rate, improve your immune system and strengthen your lungs.
Nutrition is also a key component to restoring the balance. Try staying clear of or at least minimizing caffeine and sugar and up your daily intake of protein and minerals.
Many people also find meditation and yoga a way to lower stress and to learn to ignore triggers that set us off. Both can help with breathing and finding your center.
Finally - a regular massage is one of the more enjoyable ways to restore balance between the SNS and the PSNS. Massage helps to promote recovery, makes us stronger and calmer, and more able to help us fight infections.
Although the key to our survival is our SNS- too much time spent in this state can have detrimental and long-lasting effects on our bodies. The more time spent in PSNS, the healthier and stronger we will be.