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STRESS AND THE AUTONOMIC NERVOUS SYSTEM -
THE SYMPATHETIC AND PARASYMPATHETIC
During the stressful situation our body is programmed to react so we can survive. The sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system are parts of what is commonly called the autonomic nervous system. (Autonomic = can not be controlled by the mind). The autonomic nervous system is controlled by our Unconscious. (learn more about the Three Minds - What Are Our Three Minds? click here). You can say that these systems work in balance with each other and directly or indirectly affect almost every structure in the body (e.g. heart frequencies, heart capacity, lumbar function, kidneys, blood vessels, stomach and intestines). The system goes into a Fight or Flight response.
The sympathetic nervous system has an active "pushing" function, the parasympathetic has mainly a relaxing function. The sympathetic nervous system is located to the sympathetic chain, which connects to skin, blood vessels and organs in the body cavity. The sympathetic chain is located on both sides of the spine and consists of ganglias.
The autonomic nervous system is most important in two situations: emergency situations that cause stress and require us to "fight" or take "flight", and non-emergency situations that allow us to "rest" and "digest". The autonomic nervous system also acts in "normal" situations to maintain normal internal functions and works with the somatic nervous system. When the body reacts to signals about e.g. danger it is the sympathetic ganglia that makes:
Excess fat clogs arteries and settles in
midsection creating "spare tire" effect
The lungs and the bronchial tubes
widen to give us more oxygen.
· The motility in the intestine reduce - we shall not digest food - we must fight or run away
Blood is sent to the brain and limbs while
skin and internal organs get less.
Muscle tension is increased.
· Heart rate and force is increased.
Below you can find a summary of some of these effects: