Our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) governs how we react to our environment. Anything we see, hear, smell or feel is interpreted by the ANS and we react accordingly.
For example, two people could be walking down the street and they see a large dog running towards them. To the person that is afraid of dogs his reaction is fear, anxiety and stress. His body responds by having an adrenaline rush which causes his heartbeat and pulse to rise, his pupils to dilate and his muscles to tense. He is ready to run for his life.
To the person that loves dogs, his reaction is totally different. He feels joy and happiness. His body is relaxed and calm. Same dog, same situation but totally different reactions. That is the ANS at work.
The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system
As you can see from the above example the ANS is divided into 2 main categories, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is highly emotionally charged. It is associated with fear and fueled by adrenalin, which enables you to fight or run away.
The parasympathetic nervous system is associated with being nurtured and loved and has a calming and relaxing effect on the body. When we perceive a situation as being dangerous or threatening we react by secreting adrenaline that stimulates the muscles to contract, the heart to speed up and the mind to go on hyper-alert. This is exactly what happens when we are stressed.
How the body responds
Our body’s response to perceived or real threat can remain active long after the event has passed. Until the sympathetic nervous system is “turned off” and the parasympathetic nervous system is “turned on” we will continue to re-experience whatever it was that threatened us. This is one aspect of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD.)
This system can be affected through our mind. When we change our perceptions, we turn off the sympathetic nervous system and turn on the parasympathetic nervous system. We can alter how we perceive the world, come to terms with the event and revitalize our lives. When we do that, real healing can occur.
What to do next
Here are a few helpful hints to assist you in your perceptions. When encountering a challenge, the first thing you must ask yourself:
- Is it truly dangerous or just distressing?
- Is it vital to your health and welfare?
- In the grand scheme of things, is it really important?
- Is it just pain or is it a true threat to your health (think getting your teeth drilled and filled)?
- Are you trying to control too much?
With this understanding, you will now be able to determine how you will feel about whatever situation you may encounter which in turn will determine how your body will respond.
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