February 1, 2024

Understanding the Differences Between the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Nervous Systems

The nervous system plays a vital role in the function of our body, but it can often be difficult to understand the full scope of what the nervous system does for us. The central nervous system (CNS) consists of the brain, spinal cord and all of our nerves. The role of the is to carry messages from our brain throughout our entire body.

At Wake Wellness, we focus our work on understanding the complexities of and healing the autonomic nervous system (ANS), the part of the central nervous system that regulates involuntary body functions. Within the ANS, we have the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, which control the same part of the body and its functions but with different responses.

Parasympathetic Nervous System Responses

The parasympathetic nervous system (SNS) is housed between the spinal cord and medulla, which is nestled at the base of the brain. When the PNS is activated our body is moved into a state of calmness, allowing us to relax, rest and repair. The primary function of the PNS is to maintain a healthy balance across all of the body functions, from digestion to heart health and more. When activated, our digestive enzymes increase, our heart rate decreases and our muscles relax.

Sympathetic Nervous System Responses

The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is located near the lower regions of the spinal cord.  Activation of the SNS is most commonly known as “fight or flight.” When our brain is faced with a perceived threat, whether that be a physical or emotional encounter, the SNS kicks in. Your body responds to this with an elevated heart rate and blood pressure, heightened awareness or anxiety, and elevated respiratory rate. It will often shut down any PNS responses to conserve energy for fight or flight activation.

Why Does This Matter?

When there are imbalances between the SNS and PNS, our nervous system becomes dysregulated. This can lead to a variety of issues, including insomnia, anxiety, depression, migraines, IBS and more.

Unfortunately, all of us are at risk for developing a dysregulated nervous system, but some factors put more people at risk than others, like those that have experienced emotional or physical abuse, those who have experienced a traumatic event, like the loss of a loved one, or those with hormonal imbalances.

But, fortunately, you’ve already found the ultimate resource for nervous system healing – The Wake Wellness App! Subscribe for more incredible resources, like breathwork sessions, meditations, sound healing and more.

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