Our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) is the part of our brain and nerves that does work without our conscious thought. Our eyes see without us telling them to, our heart pumps without prompting etc…thank goodness!
The ANS consists of two parts – the GAS pedal, our sympathetic nervous system and the BRAKE, our parasympathetic nervous system.
The Parasympathetic nervous system, our brake, is our “rest and digest” response. Imagine sitting in a chair, taking some nice deep breaths. Your PNS is hard at work getting you to rest by lowering blood pressure, heart rate and lung effort and making an effort to digest food stimulating all organs involved with digestion and detoxification such as intestines and kidneys.
The Sympathetic nervous system, our gas pedal, is our flight or fight response. If our body goes on alert the SMS kicks in and does the exact opposite of the PNS. Heart rate, breath rate, blood pressure increase due to a release of adrenaline, our stress hormones, and all other systems for daily life and prevention slow down such as digestion, immune response and detoxification since they are not a priority when we are in danger.
Why am I giving you a quick lesson in our nervous system? And why should you care?
Let me ask you this, which system would you like to be in more often? Would you like to have your foot on the brakes so your body can rest and digest or would your rather put the pedal to the medal and gas it so you are in flight or fight all day long?
I hope you can see where I am going on.
We should be keeping the brake pedal on more often to let our bodies, recover, metabolize efficiently, heal, digest, rest and only use the gas pedal when we need it.
The SMS should be used when we are in danger. We are driving through a rain storm and are scared, we are running from danger, we are participating in an athletic competition and need to be superhuman for the final minute of the game, our kids kept us up last night with no sleep and we have to get through this one presentation at work, we are truly starving in the desert and need some more time to survive.
Sadly, most of us are stepping on that gas pedal all day long, with no moment to rest, digest and recover. It is not helping you physically or mentally. Trust me. Take time to lower internal stress hormones, take a moment to recover and discover ways to pump the brakes.
Some ideas to find the balance between the gas and brake pedal:
- Meal timing - eat within an hour of waking and every 3-4 hours. That is a guaranteed way to lower the stress response. It is the beauty of food! Eat a balanced plate of protein, carbohydrate and fat regularly throughout the day to fuel your body and give it time to rest, digest and rejuvenate.
- Water over caffeine - I am a coffee fan! You all know that so I am not taking it away but if you are living off coffee all day, that is only pushing the gas pedal down harder with each sip. Get water in the mix of your day so you stay properly hydrated. First goal is to drink half your body weight in ounces.
- Take 5 breaths. If you are a pedal to the medal-foot on the gas-go big or go home type of person, take 30 darn seconds for 5 good breaths at least once a day. If you could do it a few times a day (set alarms on your phone to remind you!) that would be even better.
- Exercise in a way that gives you what you need. If you are living in a stressed state, running on empty, I would not suggest a high intensity interval workout where you are dripping in sweat and totally exhaust yourself. Again, that is just pressing the gas pedal down harder. The same goes for you brakers, if you enjoy resting and digesting a little too much, I would not necessarily suggest a slow yoga class or walk. Exercise is supposed to give you something that you do not have.
- So for the heavy footed gas peddlers - go for a walk, go to a flow yoga class or Pilates session, take a spinning class but don’t push past 70%, do weights but slow it down rather than speed it up.
- For the pump the brakers – get that heart pumping! Do some intervals, 30 seconds on with a minute break in-between or take a class that is a bit outside your comfort zone. Get comfortable feeling a bit uncomfortable.
- Sleep! Please sleep. 7-8 hours is ideal. Make it happen. Slow down earlier, get a nighttime ritual where you can fall asleep sooner, get the room to a cool 68 degrees, get some white noise, blackout curtains, take the tv and tech out of the bedroom, soft cozy sheets, a nice candle, whatever you need to make it happen. Give your body time to recover.
Be good to yourself…slowly lift off the gas and create a new speed that allows your body to thrive