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  • Dr Andrew Smy

Are you in Growth or Survival Mode?




In a previous blog we spoke about the sympathetic, fight flight freeze response and how that affects our muscles. Now we are going to explain our other state, the parasympathetic or rest and digest mode and the long term effects on our health


It's key to understand that at any given time our nervous system, body and brain can only be in one state at a time. Unless we are in a life and death situation we want as much of that time in the rest and digest, parasympathetic state. Here our bodies are in a much better state of overall health, we can think clearly and rationally, our cardio, respiratory and digestive systems are working optimally and life is a much brighter, roseier pleasant place.


If we look at how our brains work we notice that there are different sections of the brain and the different roles they play. There is our emotional brain where fast, responsive life and death reactions live, this is called the Limbic system and drives our sympathetic fight flight freeze response. Then there is our logical, rational brain called the Prefrontal Cortex where our parasympathetic or rest and digest response lives.


When information reaches the brain it first passes the Limbic (sympathetic portion) this is because, if the information is stressful or dangerous, it can be the first to react and gives us the best chance of surviving in a life vs death situation.


This means the information never reaches the logical Prefrontal Cortex, for if it did it would calm our bodies down, lessen our senses and in days of caveman could end very badly if faced with a sabertooth tiger.


But in modern times where we rarely need to make fast life and death decisions our logical Prefrontal Cortex isn't being stimulated and has been shown in some people to in fact get smaller!


The good news being if the information isn't stressful it travels through the fight flight freeze brain no problem, and reaches the Prefrontal Cortex, rest and digest brain. Where our heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate decreases, our digestive system starts taking more nutrients out of our food, we can think clearly and precisely and our brain has a far greater understanding of where our bodies are in space. This is where our cups are half full and not half empty,and if we think about the opposites of all the benefits mentioned above and the long term effects of that we can start to think how that affects our bodies chronically. High blood pressure, high heart rate, poor digestion, fast irrational erratic decision making, they not only have an affect on our lives short term but they are also all indicators of long term ill health and can be strongly associated with hypertension, IBS, anxiety and so much more.


Now in no way are we saying this is the sole cause, but spending the majority of our time in a sympathetic fight flight freeze response, rather than a rest and digest parasympathetic will definitely be contributing to long term chronic ill health.


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