Are you running from a bear?
As the sun rises in the morning, you wake, stretch and take a slow deep breath. Get out if bed, greet your family members and discuss plans for the day and decide what to have for breakfast. You begin to prepare yourself for the day, all of a sudden you hear a sound…you recognize the sound and know that your family is in danger. Gather your family and as many belongings as you can and RUN. Your heart is racing, it quickened and feels like a drum in your chest. Your breathe is fast, taking in more oxygen to your muscles that are tense and help you flee. You are no longer thinking about breakfast or feeling hunger. Your vision narrows, you do not see distractions just what is ahead of you and how you will get to safety. You are running from a bear.
This might have been your reality if you lived hundreds or thousands of years ago. The stress that our long ago ancestors faced would likely be a life or death situation, like being face to face with a predator. The physiological response to that stress is to be in what we refer to as fight or flight.
When we are faced with life or death situations, such as coming face to face with a predator, that fight or flight physiological response is helpful and necessary. However, in current times, we are rarely coming face to face with a predator and being put in life or death situations; but our bodies are still responding to stress in the same way. Stress at work, deadlines, unpleasant interactions with people, traffic, bills/ finances, and such are the types of stress that people deal with on a daily basis. All of these stresses are not life threatening, but our bodies are responding as if we are running from a bear.
The automatic nervous system in the body controls the unconscious functions; heart rate, respiration, digestive secretions, digestive smooth muscle contractions, reproductive organs, and hormone secretions. At any given time the automatic nervous system is either in a sympathetic nervous system response or a parasympathetic nervous system response.
Sympathetic nervous system response is what we refer to as fight or flight, or stress response. The sympathetic nervous system response connects the brain to the organs of the body through the spinal nerves. During the fight or flight, stress response, the body reacts in ways to prepare for protection.
• The heart rate quickens
• The respiration quicken
• Digestive secretions stop
• Digestive smooth muscle contractions stop
• Sexual arousal is turned off
• Muscles are tense and ready for movement
• Vision is more acute but narrows
Parasympathetic nervous system response occurs when we are not in a stress response, this is a rest and digest state. The parasympathetic nervous system response connects the brain to the organs of the body through cranial nerves, more specifically the vagus nerve. During rest and digest the body is at a more calm and regulated and in a balanced homeostasis state.
Are you running from a bear?