Our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) governs how we react to our environment. Anything we see, hear, smell or feel is interpreted by the ANS and we react accordingly. For example, two people could be walking down the street and they see a large dog running towards them. To the person that is afraid of dogs his reaction is fear, anxiety and stress. His body responds by having an adrenalin rush which causes his heartbeat and pulse to rise, his pupils to dilate and his muscles to tense. He is ready to run for his life. To the person that loves dogs, his reaction is totally different. He feels joy and happiness. His body is relaxed and calm. Same dog, same situation, but totally different reactions. That is the Autonomic Nervous System at work.
In the above example are reactions belonging to the two main categories of the Autonomic Nervous System, the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.
Sympathetic Nervous System
The sympathetic nervous system is highly emotionally charged. It is associated with fear and fueled by adrenalin, which enables you to fight or run away.
Parasympathetic Nervous System
The parasympathetic nervous system is associated with being nurtured and loved and has a calming and relaxing effect on the body. When we perceive a situation as being dangerous or threatening we react by secreting adrenalin that stimulates the muscles to contract, the heart to speed up and the mind to go on hyper-alert. This is exactly what happens when we are stressed.
The Body’s Response to Threats
Our body’s response to perceived or real threat can remain active long after the event has passed. Until the sympathetic nervous system is “turned off” and the parasympathetic nervous system is “turned on” we will continue to re-experience whatever it was that threatened us. This is one aspect of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD.)
We are so wonderfully designed that through our mind we can change our perceptions, turn off the sympathetic nervous system and turn on the parasympathetic nervous system.
We can alter how we perceive the world, come to terms with the event and revitalize our lives. When we do that, real healing can now occur.
Great, so what do I have to do?
This has been the quest of mystics and philosophers since the beginning of time. Here is where your personal quest begins. Each person has to find their own path that is guided by their heritage and heart but ruled by the mind. Getting in touch with your Higher Power is a very personal relationship that ultimately leads to clarity and peace of mind.
Here are a few helpful hints to assist you in your perceptions.
When encountering a challenge, the first thing you must ask yourself:
- Is it truly dangerous or just distressing?
- Is it vital to your health and welfare?
- In the grand scheme of things is it really important?
- Is it just pain or is it a true threat to your health (think getting your teeth drilled and filled)?
- Are you trying to control too much?
- Did you forget to let G-d manage the world or are you trying to do one better?
With this understanding, you will now be able to determine how you will feel about whatever situation you may encounter which in turn will determine how your body will respond. May your life be full of joy.