Clarity Blog

February 12, 2019

Dysfunction of the Autonomic Nervous System - Sympathetic Dominance

Many of us remember learning about the autonomic nervous system. Sympathetics = Fight or Flight. Parasympathetics = Rest and Digest. We have learned about the sympathetics helping us "run away from the lion" by increasing heart rate, raising blood pressure and allowing us to see more with dilated pupils, to name a few of the changes when the sympathetics are increased. Our society does not lend itself to a rest and digest way of life and many of us find ourselves in sympathetic overdrive or sympathetic dominance. The stress of finances, social media, environmental stressors, lack of restorative sleep, unbalanced diets and underlying health issues push many of us into a sympathetically driven lifestyle that is not only undermining our health, but leads to a decreased ability to heal from injury. One of the quickest ways to stimulate parasympathetic activity and calm our nervous system is to do deep, diaphragmatic belly-breathing. Using a 1:2 ratio of inhalation: exhalation (i.e. inhale through the nose for 3 seconds: exhale through the mouth for 6 seconds) has been shown to lower heart rate, decrease blood pressure, increase oxygenation and give a greater sense of well-being. Every one of my patients is encouraged to consciously practice this breathing technique frequently throughout the day to remind ourselves to "take it down a notch" and get into a parasympathetic state whenever possible. The parasympathetic cranial nerves of 3,7,9 and 10 point towards many other techniques to stimulate the parasympathetics; particularly stimulating the vagus nerve which also controls gut motility. Simple exercises like gargling, humming or singing loudly before eating can help with digestion for instance. However you decide to go about bringing better balance of your autonomics by increasing parasympathetic activity, just do it. Your mind and body with thank you for the ability to heal without sympathetic dominance getting in the way.

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