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How To Stop Being So Sympathetic (Dominant)

How To Stop Being So Sympathetic (Dominant)

Health is balance. What creates that balance in the body is the Autonomic Nervous System. 

The Autonomic Nervous System

It's called the Autonomic Nervous System, and it is the master regulator of our metabolism. That means that it runs all involuntary mechanisms of the body not under your conscious control, such as heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, respiration, cell activity, and body temperature.

The two branches of the ANS include Parasympathetic and Sympathetic, and these activate very different physical and mental states of being. When the ANS is functioning well, we have the capacity to move effortlessly from one branch to another in response to our environment.

Notice below how there is a push-pull dynamic that exists between the branches:

As you can see, the Sympathetic state speeds up the heart while Parasympathetic slows it down.

Parasympathetic turns on the digestion, but when we feel anxiety, the Sympathetic branch kicks in and turns off digestion.

Generally, the Sympathetic branch quickly makes available energy to muscles to mobilize, to fight or to flee. Processes of healing and health maintenance—digestion, detoxification, immune activities, tissue regeneration, and being aroused—all happen in the parasympathetic state.

The Sympathetic nervous system is not designed to be the predominantly used system, and we should be in the parasympathetic state 80% of the time. Due to our load of chronic stress, many individuals are in a sympathetic state up to 80% of the time. This is called Autonomic Imbalance. Almost all disease and dysfunction result from being in a Sympathetic state for too much of our life.

What is Sympathetic Dominance? 

I used to be a classic case study for a condition called Sympathetic Dominance. My nervous system was stuck in the so-called "fight-or-flight" state, and I could rarely access the Parasympathetic state.

Some symptoms of Sympathetic Dominance I experienced included chronic anxiety, chronic digestive problems, insomnia, and a feeling of being inexplicably rushed.

I thought these qualities were just part of my personality. I didn't know I could be more Parasympathetic and experience a peaceful state of being. 

Sympathetic Dominance leads to the following challenges: 

Mental/Emotional Symptoms Physical Symptoms
Feeling constantly rushed Any chronic digestion problem
Unable to mentally slow down, even when you want to chill Insomnia
Feeling ungrounded Wired but tired
A need to be constantly "doing something" Dilated pupils
Chronic anxiety High blood pressure or fast pulse

The Vagal Nerve Turns on Parasympathetic

To help you understand the solution to Sympathetic Dominance, I need to give you a little bit of anatomy (but it is interesting, useful science—trust me!).

This nerve connects to the brain stem, and as it travels down through the body, it communicates nerve impulses to almost all organs of the body. This far-reaching nerve is aptly named: vagal means “wandering” in Latin (think vagabond).

The vagal nerve integrates the body and brain. Messages are not only sent down from brain to the body, but also up from the body to the brain.

The brain’s signals activate various organs, and then the organs send signals back to the brain about how to keep the body in balance. 

It's bi-directional, which means the brain is getting sensory information from the organs. That makes it the pathway for feeling if we are hungry, satiated, and getting in touch with our "Gut Instinct."

The term vagal tone refers to the strength of this nerve, similar to muscle tone. If you have weak vagal tone, the body doesn’t turn on the Parasympathetic state frequently, and the Sympathetic state dominates.

Strengthening vagal tone allows us to be more frequently in a Parasympathetic state and, as a result, turn on all the healing processes that occur in this state.

Vagal tone is a brain pathway. The more often we go down it, the more it becomes established like a well-worn path.

Vagal tone affects EVERY part of your well-being

Your vagal tone is critical to the following functions of your body:

Digestion

When stress is on (Sympathetic), digestion is off. Digestion only happens in a Parasympathetic state.

Through the vagal nerve, the brain activates every digestive function. This includes production of saliva, stomach acid, enzymes, and bile. Peristalsis, the muscle contractions required to move food and waste through the system, also relies on a Parasympathetic state. A primary cause of constipation is low vagal tone. 

Detoxification

Detoxification is a necessary, daily process as the body is always dealing with toxins.

Like digestion, detoxification is a parasympathetic event and requires vagal tone. Before engaging in methods to naturally support detox, such as sauna therapy, dry brushing, or a cleansing diet, support your vagal tone to get optimal results.

Anti-Inflammation

The vagal nerve is a detection system. It has a vast network of fibers stationed like observers around the organs. When these fibers identify inflammation (such as the presence of inflammatory proteins), it alerts the brain to send out anti-inflammatory signals.

Neurosurgeon Keven Tracey found that the vagal nerve resets the immune system and turns off the production of pro-inflammatory proteins. Chronic inflammation can be a result of low vagal tone.

While a certain amount of inflammation after injury or illness is normal,  excessive inflammation is linked to diseases including heart disease, autoimmunity, and loss of cognitive capacities.

Adrenal health

Although the vagal nerve does not directly connect to the adrenals, it works with adrenal function. In states of chronic stress, the adrenal glands produce high amounts of the stress hormone cortisol. So Sympathetic Dominance pushes the adrenals into adrenal fatigue.

Developing strong vagal tone puts the brakes on excessive cortisol output, and is imperative for healing the fatigue that results from long-term Sympathetic Dominance.

Sexual health

Remember when I said that a healthy Autonomic Nervous System can switch back and forth easily between the two branches? This is critical for sexual health. Sexual arousal is parasympathetic and climax is sympathetic.

The same way the vagal nerve connects to the digestive organs, it also connects to the genital organs to increase blood flow and sensation.

Heart Health

The vagal tone is so important that there is a test for it called Heart Rate Variability (HRV). HRV determines what percentage of the time one is in a parasympathetic state.

Doctors determine vagal tone and cardiac health by measuring the time between individual heartbeats. As it turns out, variability rather than a consistent heartbeat is a sign of health and strong vagal tone.

Vagal tone improves cardiovascular health in two ways. First, heart disease occurs when we are in a Sympathetic Dominant state. According to a 2010 study in the European Heart Journal, “Heart failure (HF) is characterized by an autonomic imbalance with withdrawal of vagal activity and increased sympathetic activity."

Second, inflammation is the primary cause of heart disease. Vagal tone, as discussed above, is highly responsible for reducing inflammation.

Creating Vagal Tone™

John developed our blend Vagal Tone™ because he realized that accessing the Parasympathetic state was the missing piece for the majority of his clients.

For years, he recommended his clients use the few techniques shown to improve vagal tone, like gargling, gagging, or cold showers. Due to the inconvenience and discomfort of these methods, compliance was low.

Inspired by research of how electricity (a form of energy) can stimulate the vagal nerve and using his vast experience in energy medicine, John developed the approach of using essential oils as an energetic delivery system to support vagal tone.

Vagal Tone™ is available here.