The autonomic part of your nervous system is that part of your nervous system that controls your organs, glands, blood vessels and all other body physiology of which we have no conscious awareness. If you lose brain function due to degeneration (brain wear and tear) you can develop high blood pressure, erectile dysfunction, incontinence, dry eyes, digestive problems and more.
This autonomic system consists of two complimentary but completely opposite categories of nerve function: the sympathetic “fight flight” system and the parasympathetic rest and digest system. Clearly these two systems cannot both function at the same time.
If the sympathetic nervous system gets stimulated you get a startled response- such as when someone jumps out from behind a door and yells “BOO!”- to scare you. If the parasympathetic’s are stimulated you will get a relaxing response, such as digesting a nice meal while sitting in your favorite chair listening to soft music. Again these two systems cannot simultaneously dominate, so when one is active the other one is disengaged. What’s the most common trigger for the “startled” response? Stress. Especially chronic stress, which means for most stressed out Americans relaxation and digestion and other important parasympathetic activated take a back seat to the action- oriented, get up and go sympathetic nervous system.
When the brain is operating optimally it is in “rest and digest” 90% of the time or more. Normal output generates parasympathetic responses while dampening the sympathetic “stress” response. This ensures that digestion is strong, blood pressure is normal and there is enough tears, mucous, and saliva in your body. When any part of your brain degenerates due to chronic illness or stress, there is less input into the “rest and digest” part of your brain and increases in “fight, flight stress based” activity.
Even if you are not chronically ill, brain degeneration can suppress your rest and digest systems and lead to insomnia, high blood pressure, or chronic digestive issues. Severe stress such as physical, verbal, or sexual abuse can cause suppression of the “rest and digest” system 24/7 for days, weeks, months, or years. This brain based mechanism is usually a contributing factor to chronic pain syndromes.
To correct this damaging mechanism the basic fundamentals of brain health must be addressed. Are brain cells receiving enough oxygen, glucose, and stimulation? Are blood sugar issues, poor liver function, inflammation, hormonal imbalances or lack of neurotransmitter (i.e. serotonin, dopamine, gaba acetylcholine) activity promoting brain degeneration. Is plasticity (the ability of your brain to adapt to change) being promoted?
Incorporating these fundamentals for brain heath into any chronic pain and condition program provides the most complete approach to these rather difficult to respond problems. In fact it is impossible to separate the health of your body or mind from the health of your brain, and any health care that ignores the brain will always be incomplete care.
- Kharraziam, Datis, Why Isn’t My Brain Working– pps 13 and 15. Elephant Press 2013
- Kandell, Eric R., Schwarts, James H., Jassell, Thomas, Principles of Neural Science, sympathetic and Parasympathetic Divisions 964. F McGraw Hill Copyright 2000