Activating the Parasympathetic Nervous System to Ease Stress

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Breathing in oxygen and blowing out CO2 (Carbon dioxide) is most essential to life. Three to four minutes without oxygen is enough to kill your brain and cause death. Oxygen is one of the 5 things considered to be the fundamental to brain and body function. The other 4 are food/fuel, water, stimulation (exercise, movement, thinking), and sleep.

Many of us are in a daily “rat race” to keep up and manage our busy lives. The stress of life can be overwhelming. When our central nervous system (CNS) keeps getting the message to Go Go Go then a part of our CNS called the Sympathetic nervous system (SNS) becomes excessively stimulated.

This is the part of the CNS that controls the 4 Fs or the fight, flight, freeze, and faint responses. When our SNS becomes upregulated then heart rate, breathing, and sweating increase and anxiety can go up. If left untreated then disease and dis-ease states can occur.

Naturally Ease Stress

The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) does exactly the opposite of the SNS. The PNS slows the heart rate, slows breathing and decreases sweating and lowers anxiety. When we have stress, we tend to breathe shallow and fast. Shallow fast breathing increases the SNS and thus leads to more of the same.

Many people have found ways to activate the PNS and thus balance the SNS responses. Some common ways are meditation, yoga, Tai chi, exercise etc. Deep breathing is also a fantastic tool to activating the PNS.

Here’s where the simple straw comes in. Go to the store and buy a box of paper (not plastic) straws and whenever you feel stressed just take out your straw and breathe through it several times. I will make you feel more relaxed by activating the PNS.

Don’t get frustrated if it doesn’t work for you immediately.

Learning to control your SNS and PNS can be challenging. But don’t give up either. Keep trying and little by little you will notice changes in your stress level and your overall health.

Contact Dr. Austin if you want to learn more about your CNS, how it works, and how you can influence it via lifestyle modifications.


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