By Dr. Michael Roth
Remember when most playgrounds had a seesaw? Two children would sit on the horizontal board, one at each end. One child would propel himself upward with a push of his legs while the other child floated down. Then it was that child’s turn to push his side of the seesaw up. All went smoothly when the children were of similar weight.
This up and down action established an alternating dynamic balance resulting from the operation of opposing forces. Yet, what happened when one child weighed considerably more than the other? The lighter child remained suspended in the air on his side, while the heavier child couldn’t get off the ground!
I introduce this playground analogy to explain the topic of this article, the two complementing divisions of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS has two branches, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). These two parts function together to regulate the body’s reaction to stress.
In a normal healthy individual, sympathetic forces are initiated in response to some stress demand, continuing in operation until the limits of its equilibrium are reached. At this point, sympathetic activity is switched off and parasympathetic activity kicks in, moving physiological qualities such as temperature and blood sugar levels in the parasympathetic direction until the opposite limit of equilibrium is reached, at which point parasympathetic forces are switched off and the sympathetic forces start up again, alternating in this way until the stress subsides.
Many patients I see in my holistic chiropractic practice are showing the effects of a sympathetic/parasympathetic system out of control. One of these two branches of the autonomic nervous system has been over sensitized to the point of reacting excessively and inappropriately. Essentially, the patient is “stuck” in either a state of sympathetic or parasympathetic over-reactivity.
These nervous system over-reactions have developed in response to an unrelenting stressor in the patient’s life. The source of the stress may be an emotional factor, a chemical factor such as a chronic nutritional inadequacy, or a physical factor such as a structural spinal subluxation.
Whatever the source of stress, the involved branch, either the SNS or PNS, has become so habituated to reacting in an attempt to meet the challenge of the stressor, that the slightest provocation triggers an inappropriate and excessive response by either the SNS or PNS.
We all tend to react to stressful events in our lives with some combination of sympathetic and parasympathetic activation, along with an increased secretion of stress hormones. Some of us however, tend to react predominately with the SNS, others are PNS reactors. Getting back to the seesaw analogy, some of us are chronically stuck up in the air, while others can’t get off the ground!
What are the symptoms of an over-reactive autonomic nervous system? When faced with a crisis, a sympathetic reactor will show a racing heart, an increased rate of respiration, a dry mouth and trembling hands. A parasympathetic reactor will experience a stomach “tied in knots,” may vomit and perhaps experience diarrhea. Reactions may also include a tension headache, breaking out in a rash, or in susceptible individuals, an asthma attack.
I am experienced in holistic, non-invasive modalities that can correct and stabilize this seesawing imbalance between the SNS and PNS. My patients report that their symptoms are greatly diminished and often disappear entirely in a short amount of time. Our bodies serve us best when there is balance in our autonomic nervous system.
Please call Crystal in our Ventura office and make an appointment with me to have your autonomic nervous system evaluated and get your personal seesaw back in balance!