Did you know that every thought and action you make and body process that occurs is a highly orchestrated event controlled by your nervous system? Our brain is an incredibly complex network of cells that makes us uniquely human. It runs every system in our bodies and strives to create a perfectly balanced internal environment, a process called homeostatsis. When this balance is tipped dysfunction of different systems can result and if left unresolved can lead to the wide spectrum of symptoms classified under the umbrella of dysautonomia. But before we can dive into what happens when things go wrong we must first have a basic understanding of how things should normally work.
The nervous system can be divided into two main functional parts: the somatic nervous system and the autonomic nervous system. The somatic nervous system is the part of the nervous system that we have conscious control over. For example, if we want to pick up a glass it is this part of the nervous system that allows us to contract our muscles to complete this action. The autonomic nervous system controls all the body functions that we don’t consciously think about. This includes things like breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, body temperature, and controlling our stress response. For the purposes of this article we will be focusing on the autonomic nervous system.
The autonomic nervous system can further be divided into the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system acts as our emergency response system, activating what is commonly known as the fight, flight, or fright response. When we are faced with a stressful situation this system turns our body on in high gear, increasing our heart and breathing rates, mobilizing energy sources, and turning off ‘less important’ functions, like digestion and respiration. Once the threat has been everted our parasympathetic nervous system kicks in to calm everything down. It works to slow our heart and breathing rates, increases digestion, and stores energy for later use. It is associated with the rest and digest functions of the nervous system.
The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems each play an important role in regulating our body systems and should work together to maintain this fine homeostatic balance. When this balance is not maintained dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system arises. Let’s see what happens when things don’t work as planned.