Commonly referred to as the ”fight or flight”, the sympathetic nervous system is part of the autonomic nervous system that prepares the body to react to stresses such at threat or injury. It causes muscles to contract and heart rate to increase. Parasympathetic is the converse of sympathetic and is referred to as “rest and digest”.
The sympathetic nervous system puts your body into a tense state, and increases blood flow to the muscles, increases awareness, heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, and sweating. These functions help us survive when in danger. The parasympathetic nervous system controls functions of the body at rest. It helps maintain homeostasis in the body by causing muscles to relax and heart rate to decrease.
Most of us are in a milder version of the sympathetic state for the majority of our waking lives. Regardless of the cause of the stress, high levels of anxiety cause the human body to react by releasing stress hormones that result in physiological changes that include a pounding heart, quickening of breathing, tensing of muscles and sweating. Knowing how to use the parasympathetic nervous system to manage our stress and anxiety will promote health and healing by reducing inflammation in the body.
During the fight or flight response, your body slows or shuts down many of the rest and repair process so that more energy is available for the processes necessary for near-term survival. In non-emergency situation, the parasympathetic nervous system goes to work, conserving energy and directing it to rest and repair responses including healing.
In general, you want your body to be in a state of rest in order to heal, repair tissues, and grow new tissues. While stress hormone and the physiological changes they trigger can be helpful when we’re facing real physical threats, they can do significant damage to our health over the long term if they’re switched on all the time.
Source: Dr. Jon DeGorter, DC, Jonas Chiropractic Sports Injury Care.