Did you know your body has two settings?
Much like your computer, you have ‘Full Power Mode’ and you also have ‘Power Save Mode’. Your computer has these settings so that you can prioritize your use of power and conserve energy. It gives you options to run only the critical functions OR you can run it at full throttle when you need to be editing documents, designing a graphic while shopping online and Skyping someone in Belgium.
The equivalent of this in your body is your nervous system’s ability to switch between Sympathetic and Parasympathetic tone.
When your nervous system turns up its Sympathetic tone, the changes that take place are such things as increased heart rate, improved muscle responsiveness and mental alertness, raised body temperature, sweating, release of adrenalin and a stack of other processes. These all serve to take you into the ‘Fight or Flight’ mode.
This state of being is perfect for when you need to be firing on all cylinders. If you need to escape from danger, act quickly in a time of need or produce a physical effort at a high intensity. This Fight or Flight mode is terrible however if you need to sleep, if you are trying to heal an injury or if you are trying to digest food. It draws a lot of your blood away from your digestive organs to be utilized in your muscles, the hormones release act as an irritant to tissues that are trying to heal and you hold an unnecessary amount of tension in your muscles.
Your Parasympathetic nervous tone however is responsible for your ‘Rest and Digest’ mode. In this state of being your blood returns to your organs, your mental processes slow down, your heart rate drops and your endocrine system releases hormones that repair damaged cells. In this state you can sleep much better, you feel more relaxed, you will make better use of the nutrition you take in and will feel less stressed.
Keeping these facts in mind, would you say that you often spend too much time with excessive Sympathetic tone? By this I mean that you often feel stressed or under pressure, that you have restless sleep and regularly feel exhausted at the end of the day? If you answered yes, then your nervous system is most likely being taxed by that excessive Sympathetic tone and sooner or later you are going to get sick or injured.
The trick is to get the balance right. Your body needs to be able to switch between its two settings on a needs basis and not just when you finally collapse onto a heap, totally spent.
There are things you can do that help to regulate your nervous system such as regular exercise, consistent rest/sleep patterns, regular eating patterns, massage and relaxation exercises such as meditation. Meditation in fact has been shown (under MRI) to produce measurable chemical changes in the brain with as little as 5 minutes practice each day.
If you are an athlete or just want to be more effective in your day to day live, getting this balance right can make an extraordinary difference.