by Jeanne Kennedy Crosby, D.C.
The autonomic nervous system is the part of your nervous system that doesn’t involve your control. It’s the involuntary, subconscious part of your wiring that runs all of your vital functions, breathing, digestion, sleeping, heart rate, body temperature, etc.
The two parts of the autonomic nervous system are the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. In general, they should compliment each other fluidly in a healthy body that isn’t under constant stress.
Sympathetic characteristics: heightened awareness, wakefulness, preparation for action, ‘fight or flight’ response.
Parasympathetic characteristics: resting, sleeping, digestion, healing.
Do you feel like your body is in constant reaction to stress? Do you have anxiety? Insomnia? Your sympathetic nervous system is in dominance. What can happen when you are in this state for prolonged periods is you burn out, you have exhaustion, and you feel tired. A simplified analysis of this is:
Sympathetic dominance – “wired” as in amped up, wound up, anxious and nervous. This is not necessarily a bad thing in our society and we tend to reward it. Who can work the hardest and longest, process the most information at once, and need the least amount of sleep? People in sympathetic dominance are often successful for a period in their lives if their anxiety isn’t too crippling. However, these people usually burn out early. They may have poor digestion and they also may be irritable. They become depressed in such a way that they have insomnia or poor sleep quality. They may tend to seek out substances that sedate them to a degree, alcohol, or pharmacological sedatives (xanax, valium, klonipin, opioids, etc.). People who have PTSD with trauma in their history often exhibit sympathetic dominance. When someone is in this excessive sympathetic state for a prolonged time, the result feels like ‘tired,’ but ‘end-stage wired’ is more accurate.
Parasympathetic dominance – “tired.” Can’t get moving. Needs 10-12 hours of sleep. Depression with oversleeping. These people may tend to seek out stimulants, coffee and amphetamine-type drugs.
I see way more sympathetic-dominant people in my office. You can often as a practitioner see this right away when you meet someone, and the patient confirms it with their history. Often a person with sympathetic dominance will have a goiter, or fullness over the thyroid, and they will muscle test for excessive energy around the hypothalamus, the pituitary, the pineal gland, and other parts of the brain. These patients can be tough cases because the body can’t direct energy to heal in sympathetic nervous system dominance. We have several techniques and therapies to help balance these two parts of your autonomic nervous system by increasing parasympathetic nervous system tone, or function. Muscle testing has afforded us this rapid insight – we have not only the history and the exam findings, but also the muscle testing, which gives instant feedback. We also can identify environmental and energetic stress factors, which are often involved. I have recently learned or reviewed several autonomic balancing chiropractic techniques, and in general, chiropractic is a great autonomic nervous system tonifier, as the actual autonomic nerves are right along the spine and the regulating glands (hypothalamus, pituitary and pineal glands) are in the cranium. Treating and restoring good function to the spine, the cranium, and the TMJ is essential. We have some wonderful homeopathic, herbal and nutritional remedies for anxiety and stress handling, they don’t just treat your symptoms, they have a lasting deep healing effect.