Parasympathetic Nervous System Activation

This past week I had a situation occur that rattled me. I’m going to start off by saying that I’m fine now, but at the time I was unsettled. I won’t go into all of the details, but I did have to call the police because of this situation that happened before 7 am one morning last week. It’s not a great way to start the day when you set off your fight or flight response before you’ve even gotten dressed. After spending so many years in yoga therapy, I knew that to counter all of that adrenaline in my system, I wouldn’t feel better until I had started the Parasympathetic Nervous System activation that my body needed.

Why all of the adrenaline?

Basically when you’re confronted with a situation that is out of the ordinary, your body will decide if a fight or flight response is required. This is a basic survival skill that a human body has been doing since the first human walked this earth. It’s served us very well for so long. When under attack by another animal or another tribe, that fight or flight response was responsible for keeping you alive.

When your fight or flight response is activated, it’ll release adrenaline into your body so that you can run faster, fight harder and basically survive longer. This response is automatic and it’s not something that you have to think about and it doesn’t rely on what some people would call common sense. It’s you’re body’s response to what it perceives as a stressful and perhaps dangerous situation. This flight or flight response is part of your Sympathetic Nervous System.

Last week, my body decided to activate that fight or flight response. My head wanted to say all was fine but my body said otherwise. When your body & mind are telling you two different things, then you have a choice of which to believe. Over the years, I’ve learned to listen more & more to what my body has to say. Therefore, I took my body’s reaction seriously.

Why do you want Parasympathetic Nervous System activation?

When you’ve Sympathetic Nervous System is activated, your body is preparing for physical & mental activity. It increases your heart rate & your ability to breathe. These are great in a stressful situation, right? However, your body wasn’t designed to stay in this fight or flight response. Your body has limited stores of adrenaline. Yes, it will produce more, but there are limits to how fast it can do so.

When the stressful situation is resolved you want your Parasympathetic Nervous System activation to kick in. This is the time when you need to recover from the stress or danger. In order for your body to be able to react to the next stressful situation, it’s actually vital for you to rest.

Take a cue from animals.

Have you ever noticed what an animal will do after it’s been in a stressful situation? Most animals will automatically take the first chance that they get to rest. They know that their body needs to rest, heal & replenish. So, that’s just what they’ll do. They’ll find a quiet & safe place to let their body recover from the previous threat.

Animals follow their instincts way better than humans do in this regard.

I don’t know about you, but often I shrug off a stressful event & don’t give myself a chance to rest & recover. My mind will tell me that I’m tough & that I don’t need to rest. This time though, I knew that I needed to pause. So that’s just what I did. I very deliberately gave myself a chance to process what had just happened. Plus, I took the time to start the parasympathetic nervous system activation that my body really needed.

How did I do this?

I’m lucky enough to have dedicated space in my house to practice yoga. I have blankets, bolsters, blocks, straps & more. As soon as I finished with the police, I took myself down to my yoga space & started setting up props for restorative yoga poses. I knew that my body really needed this chance to rest & restore. I knew that in order to be able to get through the rest of my day, I needed to shift out of the activated state that I was experiencing. Otherwise, my body was going to continue to react to the rest of my day from this fight or flight state that I was in.

Restorative Yoga Poses

I gave my self time to rest in a Supported Child’s Pose. I also hung out in a Seated Forward Fold & Side Lying Pose for awhile. It gave my body that chance to pause and reset. It also gave my mind the chance to process what had happened. Because I took this time to rest, I was able to continue my morning in a more settled manner & be at least somewhat productive.

However, I was still feeling a bit tired and drained that afternoon, so I ended up taking a nap as well.

All of my rest breaks that day helped my body to recover & I’m so glad that I gave myself a chance to do just that. By that evening, I was back to normal & ready for whatever life wanted to throw my way.

We live in a world of near constant activation of that fight or flight response.

Do you go from one stress filled event to another? If so, then you live on adrenaline until your body just can’t produce anymore and then you collapse drained & exhausted wondering what is happening.

Our bodies weren’t designed to be in a near constant state of fight or flight. This constant reaction leaves your body unable to cope with new stresses (even minor ones) because you just can’t produce the adrenaline that you need anymore.

Plus, activation of the Sympathetic Nervous System will inhibit other systems like digestion or reproduction. When your body is worried about it’s survival, it will stop fueling those bodily functions that aren’t necessary to survive the perceived threat that is happening right now. Thus, digestion & reproduction can wait until you’re in a safer space.

So, next time your digestion is off, consider whether you’ve been stressed a lot recently. Maybe what your body really needs is a little rest & recovery.

What I learned from this episode…

This experience was actually quite interesting for me from an academic point of view. It felt as if a part of me was viewing this entire incident from the outside. I clinically observed my activated state & then that same part of me told me to counter it with some parasympathetic nervous system activation. I deliberately did that throughout the day & felt much better because of it.

I learned that I don’t have to let a stressful event ruin the rest of my day/week/month. I can take control of how I respond. I can give myself a chance to rest & restore my body to it’s more balanced state of being simply by spending some time in restorative yoga poses after a stressful event.

I can take charge. I don’t have to live in a a near constant state of fight or flight. Simply by being aware of what is happening to me & around me, I can decide to shift what needs to shift. I can give myself the chance to rest & heal.

You can do this too!

When you recognize that your body is in a fight or flight response, as soon as it is safe, pause. Take a few deep breaths. Let your body know that the stressful event is over & that recovery from it can begin. You can get off of the adrenaline roller coast and feel better too.

Pause, breath & recover from your next stress filled event. Live happier & healthier!

Becky is a Yoga Therapist & has been teaching yoga since 2006. She loves to match people with a yoga practice that helps them to feel better every day & believes that there is a yoga practice for everyone. Click here to sign up for her mailing list & get all of the important news & tips first!

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