Which System Is Dominant?

On your average day, I’m guessing that you are most concerned about getting through your plans, with little thought to how your body is managing in the process.

While there are numerous systems that function as a part of your overall body, there are two primary nervous systems that can have a significant affect. These are the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous symptoms.

Fancy names, but what do these systems do? If you have heard the phrase “fight or flight” you have actually heard the nickname of the sympathetic nervous system. This system is directed at heightened alertness and focus – as in when you are in a stressed situation, where your body perceives the potential need to respond suddenly.

In this situation, your nervous system would shut down systems perceived unnecessary in order to focus energy to the eyes, heart, lungs, and kidneys. In an “emergency” situation, digestion is not seen as a priority and is effectively put on hold. Digestive secretions, including stomach acid, bile, digestive enzymes, and mucus, would stop, and in extreme situations food may be expelled from the stomach.

The sympathetic nervous system is designed for short-term function, while the primary state should be controlled by the parasympathetic nervous system. This is what I call “rest and digest,” when the external muscles relax and the focus is on digestive function through which energy can be stored for future needs.

There are times when your body will hijack you and move into the “rest and digest” function without a conscious choice. How do you normally feel after Thanksgiving dinner? Many leave the table in search of a recliner or place to relax while their body concentrates on digestion.

But outside of holidays, I’m guessing that it is not your habit to relax after a meal in order to allow your body to focus on digestion.

What is your normal practice when leaving home in the morning. Do you eat your breakfast sitting, or on the run out the door? Based on what I have shared, how well is your body able to digest? Then there are lunch and dinner.

Are you giving your body the opportunity to function in the parasympathetic nervous system and thus digest your food and store needed energy, or is a high level of stress keeping your body in sympathetic nervous system control and hindering your digestion?

What small changes can you make to allow for short sessions of relaxation to encourage better digestion?

A great start is to actually sit down while eating your meal, and not work while you eat. Challenging, I know. Instead, explore listening to calming music or sitting outside in a setting where you can relax. If you keep a fairly full calendar, block out time to allow you to eat and relax briefly.

Supporting better function by purposely planning time to rest while your body digests your food will provide big dividends. Test it and see the great return on the investment of your time you receive! You will have energy for the demands of your schedule and more alert brain function for greater efficiency.

Choose a starting point – which of your meals most needs a buffer for you to “rest and digest”? Plan how you will adjust your normal practice to enable you to eat in a relaxed manner and allow your body to begin digesting to extract the benefits of your food.


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