Understanding your nervous system and how to stimulate both the sympathetic and parasympathetic is paramount in helping you become a strong and balanced individual. If your nervous system is in balance you will be able to perform extremely stressful tasks as well as be able to recover from these tasks in a mindful and proper way.
Sympathetic Nervous System
The sympathetic nervous system is referred to as the fight or flight nervous system and rightfully so. When we engage in high intensity exercise or stressful events it is this system that is engaged. The sympathetic nervous system stimulates a host of physiological functions such as the signalling pathway which releases cortisol, epinephrine, norepinephrine, slows digestion, increases mental alertness, decreases immune function and increases blood flow to the muscles. This part of your nervous system is extremely important but we do not want to stimulate this system all the time, as well will talk about later this can have dire health consequences. Learn more here.
Parasympathetic Nervous System
The parasympathetic nervous system has the opposite effect on the body in comparison to the sympathetic nervous system. This system is commonly referred to as the rest and digest system. When we are in a relaxed mental and physical state such as low inflammation within the body, proper recovery after working out, sipping a glass of wine by the beach, or laying around with a loved one this part of our nervous system is stimulated. Physiological changes that occur in the body when this system is active include; improved digestion, improved decision making, improved immune function, GABA release within the brain, decreased blood pressure, decreased cortisol and decreased heart rate. learn more here.
How to balance the two systemsBalancing the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system takes conscious effort. If you ever hope to find balance you must be aware of times you under high stress such as poor food choices, the day after a night out drinking, a crazy hard week in the gym, the stress of final exams or a relationship that is causing you stress. We must also remember that stress is not inherently bad, only when it becomes chronic does it become problematic to the body, as an example Working out hard is stressful for the body as is learning a new complex skill such as studying for an exams but these forms of stress only last a short period of time. That is the key to balance short bursts of sympathetic nervous activity followed by long bouts of parasympathetic activity. some great information from Paul Chek.
Here are a few strategies for ensuring you don't stay sympathetically stimulated long term
Constantly audit your life; find out that's causing you stress; reflect after each and everyday
Sleep 8-10 hours a night
Eat healthy food
After a hard workout eat the right food and rest
When you are stressed take 10 minutes to breathe deeply and sit still following this write out the list of things you need to do and come up with a plan for execution
Plan your week on Sundays to avoid the amount of decisions you need to make everyday the more automatic your life becomes the less you have to stress about
Limit inflammation; certain foods can cause serious inflammation for people the most common of which are gluten, dairy, starchy foods, alcohol and sugar