How does your nervous system affect you?

Inside your body, you have two nervous systems, which make up our central nervous system:

  • Sympathetic Nervous System
  • Parasympathetic Nervous System

Sympathetic Nervous System

Our Sympathetic nervous system is our Fight-Flight-Freeze-Fawn reaction.

Our Sympathetic nervous system is activated when our AMYGDALA in our brain believes that it is under threat. This can be from something scary or overwhelming happening, BUT it can also happen when we have had lots of small things happen that our brain does not know how to cope with.

When we are in our SYMPATHETIC NERVOUS SYSTEM our body tries to help us:

  • A lot of our blood runs to our limbs to help us escape
  • Our heart rate increases to warn us we need to be aware of what is happening
  • Some people will say that their blood feels hot or boiling
  • We might find that our thoughts are really negative
  • We might find that we cannot think clearly or easily

When our central nervous system involuntary responds to a perceived threat, an acute stress response kicks in and each individual, depending on their own programming will respond accordingly.

When we are in our sympathetic nervous system we tend to enter one of four modes:

  • Fight – Step up and fight it off
  • Flight – Run away to safety
  • Freeze – Unable to move, act or respond to a threatening event
  • Fawn – Trying to appease the conflict, fix it or please others to stop it

Read more here

When we have lots of stressors – things that we are not in control of, or do not understand – happen to us, our AMYGDALA can become OVERACTIVE. This means that our amygdala sends messages that things are not safe – even if they are.

This can be really frustrating for children and adults as their brains are working so hard to keep them safe – it is keeping them safe from everything!

When we are in our sympathetic nervous system we may experience thoughts and feelings such as:

  • Overwhelmed
  • Anxious
  • Stressed
  • Fidgety
  • Irritable
  • Angry
  • Catastrophising
  • Negative thoughts
  • Intrusive thoughts

Parasympathetic Nervous System

Our Parasympathetic Nervous System is our rest and digest reaction. It is created from our vagal nerve, which is the longest cranial nerve in the body, which runs from your brain to your digestive system.

When we are in our parasympathetic nervous system it means that our blood is balanced between our organs and limbs so our digestive system works really well. This also means that our body is releasing more serotonin which is a chemical which makes us feel calmer. It means our vagus nerve is feeling safe.

Vagus means ‘wandering’ in latin. The vagus nerve wanders throughout the body, interacting with:

  • Neck (between your carotid artery and jugular vein).
  • Chest (thorax).
  • Heart.
  • Lungs.
  • Abdomen
  • Digestive tract.

When we are in our PARASYMPATHETIC NERVOUS SYSTEM means that we feel:

  • Calm and relaxed
  • Can enjoy things
  • Sleep well
  • Have a good appetite
  • We can think clearly
  • We can make decisions easily
  • We can learn new things more easily

This means that the amygdala feels safer and that less cortisol and adrenaline is released. This means that we feel regulated and safe.

When we are in our parasympathetic nervous system, we feel:

  • Relaxed
  • Calm
  • Joyful
  • Happy
  • Content
  • Satisfied
  • Openminded

Note – This is why, when individuals have digestive problems with no medical cause, they are guided towards stress release activities, to support them to engage with their parasympathetic nervous system.


Want to learn more? 

If you want to learn more about mental health, you can join our Level 4 training (here) or keep an eye out for our new courses coming soon (here).


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Further help 

For more articles about mental health visit – ARTICLES 

To learn more about child and adolescent mental health visit – COURSES 

For resources to support child and adolescent mental health visit –RESOURCES 


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