004: Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Nervous Systems

Allison Sweatman & Andrea Coston

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Ali & Andie break down the nervous system with a focus on the parasympathetic, which helps you rest and digest.

To access the transcript for this episode, click here.

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Class is in session! Anatomy Lesson!

Nervous system is composed of nerve endings that transmit information to the brain. 

The nervous system is broken down into two parts: The Central and the peripheral nervous system. 

The Central Nervous system is the Brian and the Spinal cord. 

The peripheral is broken down into two parts: The Somatic and the Autonomic nervous systems. 

The Parasympathetic and the Sympathetic Nervous systems are part of the autonomic nervous system that run from the spinal cord down. 

The Sympathetic Nervous system is responsible for the fight, flight, or freeze response. 

Controls unconscious parts of the body- organ function and such.

Also takes us into survival mode, like to fight off a bear attack. Not a healthy place to stay for extended periods of time.

Our systems don’t know the difference between a bear attack and an impending deadline at work. *Especially for the traumatized brain/body system*

The brain and body are in stress and damage is being done. 

The average modern person lives here for a lot of their life. This is known as “sympathetic overload.”

The Parasympathetic is responsible for the “rest and digest” responses in the body. 

The brain and body are in rest and ready for healing. 

They work together in a push-me-pull relationship to regulate the body’s responses and regulation in different systems and organs.

How does this apply to trauma within our bodies?

Those who have experienced childhood trauma are affected on a cellular level which affects these two systems and how they responded. 

This is important when approaching healing and processing of trauma. 

When we approach healing, and regulating our trauma, we can find ways to move from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic. 

EX: Deep breathing: When our sympathetic response kicks in, we automatically breathe faster and more shallow breaths. This also takes oxygen away from the brain and engages the amygdala.
By consciously taking large breaths, slowing down our breathing and filling our lungs enough to expand our chest, we are reversing the signal to our sympathetic nervous system, and engaging the parasympathetic system. Our body and brain receive more oxygen which helps fuel your brain. 

  • Practical tips for getting into (activating) your parasympathetic nervous system
    • Deep Breathing
      • Four Square Breathing or the 2,5,7 technique. 
      • Prolonged exhale is key to parasympathetic activation
    • Engaging the body physically. 
      • Movement:  Walking, Running, Yoga
      • Crossing Midline 
      • Get up from desk
      • Discharge energy- dance it out!
    • Go outside. 
    • Engaging one or more of the five senses
      • Easy way to explain it is that it does one of two things:
        • Grounds the body back into its physical experience
        • Districts the brain from the sympathetic response. 
        • Listen to music.
    • Reach out for connection:
      • Call a loved one
      • Reach out for physical connection: hugs
      • Weighted blankets