In addition to the mass and structure of our bodies, i.e.: the bones and soft tissues, our nervous system lies on a deeper level and is the master controller of it all. The main divisions of the nervous system are:
1. The SOMATIC system – controlling mostly the voluntary actions of our muscles and our conscious perception of pain and sensation, and
2. The AUTONOMIC system – controlling all of our unconscious or involuntary actions such as our heart rate, chemical production, immunity and digestion…every life sustaining function in our bodies that we are aware of.
The Autonomic system is divided further into the SYMPATHETIC and the PARASYMPATHETIC systems. The balance (or lack of balance) of these 2 systems is what makes us feel either “all stressed out” and run down or “chilled” and enjoying a sense of well-being. Truly, the imbalances of these two systems lead to every single disease process.
THE SYMPATHETIC SYSTEM
These nerve roots exit the spinal column in the “mid-back” or thoracic vertebrae and the upper lumbar vertebrae” T1-L2.
These are responsible for the primitive “fight or flight” response. When you body senses a threat (such as a saber-toothed tiger running after you) it elicits a whole series of reactions to protect itself: blood vessels to the extremities (arms, legs, etc…) dilate which increase blood flow and heart rate, blood vessels to the digestive system constrict (no need to waste energy digesting food while where running from a tiger!), adrenaline levels increase, energy storages are broken down, inflammatory chemicals (main cortisol) are produced which tighten our muscles, etc… We are in a fighting mode, not a healing mode. This is a very real reason why our mid-back and shoulders are tense and sore after a long, stressful day. Many muscles in the shoulder region extend up into the neck causing nerve interference and reduced blood flow to the brain when they become constricted. This can lead to that nagging headache and disorientation when we’re stressed. And you thought it was all in your head!
Long-term over-stimulation of the Sympathetic system through chronic stress can cause our body to burn out. High cortisol levels directly inhibit the production of dopamine in the brain, leading to such conditions as ADD/ADHD, chronic fatigue, fiber myalgia, autoimmune diseases, depression and inflammatory arthritis. This also causes a heightened pain response in the body.
THE PARASYMPATHETIC SYSTEM
These nerves exit the spinal column in the cranium, neck (cervical vertebrae) and in the lumbar and pelvic regions; some cranial nerves, C1-C7 and L3-the sacrum.
These nerves have an opposite effect from the Sympathetic system: to heal and clam the body. Vital processes such as immunity, digestion, normal cardiac rhythm, cellular regeneration, and muscle coordination are orchestrated by the parasympathetic system. These nerves are also responsible for the production and balance of ALL of our neurotransmitters (such as serotonin, dopamine, the catecholamines, adrenalin, etc.) and hormones – the imbalance of which causes such challenges as anxiety, depression, and ADD/ADHD. When our parasympathetic nerves are in charge, we are relaxed, physically and emotionally…in biochemical balance.
WHAT CAUSES A “HYPERSYMPATHETIC” STATE?
1. Chronic stress
2. Emotional and physical trauma
3. Poor sleep or poor diet
4. Mechanical stress: misalignments of your spine placing undue stress and strain on the nerve roots.
5. BIRTH – This is actually a main cause of parasympathetic interruption. Even in the event of a “normal” birth, the delicate structures of the upper neck and skull (which are cartilage and not solid bone at birth) are subject to extreme pressure and injury. This area houses the brainstem. Compression or trauma to this area can result in lowered immunity, colic, seizures, and in extreme cases – cerebral palsy, paralysis, or death. “S.I.D.S.” (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) has also been linked to upper cervical/brainstem injury.
6. Poor posture and/or alignment while sitting at your desk, driving, sleeping, biking, running, etc…
7. Your job
8. Your boss
9. Down-sizing, furloughs, and your financial challenges
10. The current political crisis
11. Hwy 80 at rush hour
12. You get the point