Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Working on Automatic... the A.N.S!

Ready for Fight or flight! (Hever Castle Triathlon)

Have you ever heard of the Autonomic Nervous system? (A.N.S)

It is probably something that we all take for granted and are unaware of the hard work that it does for us as it works beneath our conscious control on a day to day basis . It is the system that helps us to regulate certain body processes and keep them in a state of balance (homeostasis). It regulates things like our blood pressure, heart rate and breathing. Our body temperature, digestion and metabolism are also under its dominion. Even things like the amount of water we have within our systems and the regulation of emptying our bladder and bowels. Its hard at work even when we are supposedly resting or asleep.

I wanted to share with you today some of the  A.N.S Basics and its impact upon the way we handle stress:-

There are two main branches (some say three) to our Autonomic Nervous System. 

The sympathetic system (S.N.S) is responsible for your body's 'fight or flight' reactions.
When this system is stimulated by a stressor it prepares us to face or run a way from the problem by increasing our heart rate and breathing. Our pupils dilate so that we can take in and assess our situation and less important functions such as digestion and urination are slowed. Our adrenal glands are primed to pump out adrenaline around our body.

The Parasympathetic system (P.N.S) is more on duty during ordinary situations. It helps us to conserve and restore or rest and recuperate. During such time that it's influence is being exerted our heart rate will slow down our breathing becomes more relaxed and our pupils are more in a constricted state.

The Enteric nervous system (sometimes considered part of the autonomic nervous system, and sometimes considered an independent system) controls the workings of our gut and has been described as a "second brain". It normally communicates with the central nervous system (CNS) through the other two systems. Ever heard the grumblings of your stomach after a nice lazy Sunday lunch and the feeling of wanting a snooze? That’s this system working though the parasympathetic system.

So why are these important I hear you say? Well...as individuals we can handle the occasional bout of stress, it can even be good for us.  In regards to exercise, stress is needed to produce training adaptions.  To learn, you need to stress your brain. However if stress goes on for a prolonged period of time it alters the state of balance and can lead to trouble. If the S.N.S is persistently heightened, the P.N.S can become persistently depressed. This can lead to an unhealthy situation. Proper balance between both the systems is optimum and best.

What is a stressor?
It could be you are late for work, stuck in a traffic jam or you've stayed up all  night with a sick child. Worrying about something? A celebration like a wedding to prepare for?
It could be you have eaten something you are sensitive to and have an intolerance. Maybe you've overdone it at the gym or on a training session? The list goes on. The common thread is that all of these are perceived by the body  and reacted to in the same way.
If you constantly stay up night after night or consistently over train then you are inviting the balance to shift. Sometimes we feel the pressure to keep going, do more, be more productive fill our diaries. Other times things jump out of nowhere and are inflicted upon us.

So how do we shift the balance back?
First steps first... we need to become aware that we are stressed!
In one of my previous book reviews I spoke about mindfulness and coming back to our senses, being present and aware and in the now. If we practice becoming more mindful we can gain a better perspective on how we feel and look out for the symptoms that stress can bring with it. There is a great article at https://www.bulletproofexec.com/hack-stress/ that I like. Its called "The six ways to hack stress". It gives a comprehensive list of a host of cognitive, emotional, behavioural and physical symptoms that you may be unaware of. Why not go check them out and see if you can relate to any of them? After all if you don't know the symptoms how can you do anything about it? 
There is also a great article at http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the -stress-response that you might find interesting.

However like everything I like to add balance to the argument of stress being the bad guy. Kelly McGonical has done a great Ted talk on the "perception of stress" which you can find on my Pinterest board https://www.pinterest.com/pin/403775922817599758/

After you've done all of that...come back real soon to see what things I do and how I try to stay in balance and fight the battle of stress in my own life!  


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