Lets simplify the big words! The Autonomic system is the part of the nervous system that functions automatically to regulate body systems like a thermostat. No thought required. It even happens in our sleep to keep organs and systems like circulation and breathing functioning.
Most people are familiar with the SYMPATHETIC part of the autonomic nervous system. The fear flight response is where adrenalin flows in order to increase heart rate, respiratory rate, dilate pupils for vision, dilate blood vessels in our muscles so they are ready to fight the threat or run for cover. This state is a real buzz, meant for short busts of action, but we in the modern world seem to be addicted to this state.
Not so many people are familiar with the PARA-SYMPATHETIC part. This is the rest and repair aspect that quietens down while adrenalin is flowing as it’s not a priority to be digesting breakfast while fighting or running! The PARA-SYMPATHETIC part diverts the blood and energy away from the muscles and sends it to the liver, kidneys, other internal organs and immune system. Heart rate and breathing slow down, eyes don’t take in so much data. This is when old cells are broken down and new ones are made. We digest food and filter blood and lymph to eliminate invasive bugs and eliminate wastes.
Think of the switch between these two systems as a sea-saw. When one side is switched on the other is off and vice- verca. So while we are topping up on coffee, stimulating our brain on screens, phones and adrenalin, we are not giving the repair and immune system a chance to do its job. We need to stop, drop, take a deep breath, sigh and give the repair system some down time. This occurs naturally with sleep, rest, meditation or that quiet time in nature or on holiday.
So while adrenalin is great to get a job done, remember to be mindful of time management and take time out for the immune system too. This addiction to adrenalin is why everyone is talking about mindfulness these days. It is important to be aware or mindful of how we use our body and mind and respond to what we really need day to day.
Michael Mulholland DO MSc Med.