So pretend it’s 10,000 B.C. and you’re a prehistoric caveman…
There you are enjoying the day patiently collecting berries and leaves for your delicious meal…of berries and leaves.
All of a sudden you hear a loud growl…you turn to see a sabertooth tiger staring at you looking hungry and ready to attack!
What do you do?
“Ummm, you haul friggin’ ass?!!!”
Right at that very moment your Sympathetic Nervous System or SNS (as I will call it) kicks in and you are now in “flight of fight” mode.
The Sympathetic Nervous System is one division of the Autonomic Nervous System. The Autonomic Nervous System’s function is to regulate your body’s unconscious actions. So in other-words the SNS prepares your body to fight, flee or survive when necessary.
Your body begins delivering all sorts of hormonal responses to deal with the impending circumstance. Your adrenal glands are activated and adrenaline is surging through your body rapidly. Your heart rate increases, cortisol levels raise, your pupils dilate and your whole body tenses getting ready to defend yourself in any way you can.
“Well, This is good right?”…Yes…and…No.
This response, while sometimes necessary, is extremely taxing on the body. It definitely might have been helpful in caveman days because surviving day to day was a goal in itself. If you were being chased by sabertooth tiger everyday then this would be your greatest asset…but we all know that being chased by anything these days is pretty rare.
Now, there ARE instances where this response is still needed. Defending yourself against someone that might be trying to harm you would be a reason for this to kick in. It would be good for attempting to survive ANY life threatening situation actually.
Unfortunately, today we have evolved from using this response for survival to now activating it for a number of other less serious reasons.
Anger, phobias, acute stress, constant worry, fears…even watching horror movies, the news, and sports!…yes! your obsession with sport teams and winning might be reeking havoc on your SNS. These are all NEW ways we “run from the sabertooth tiger.”
When this part of your system is running constantly is puts a tremendous amount of stress on every part of your body. Disease, illnesses, chronic pain have MORE THAN occasionally been attributed to an overuse of the SNS.
Think about it. How many times a day are you stressed or you worry too much? How many times do you read someone’s opinion post on Facebook and get upset? How many times do you get angry at your spouse? or your kids? How many times does the news bother you? or upset you? or make your angry? and last…how many times do ALL OF THESE things hit you at once?
We live in a country right now that is EXTREMELY divided. Whether you agree with the current administration (that we have in the U.S.) or not, doesn’t matter. In my opinion, neither side is TRULY acting in their best interest.
We spend an INSANE amount of energy being angry, sad or upset at each other instead of working together. We are so fixated on being right and proving someone else wrong that we don’t even recognize we are ONLY destroying our OWN bodies from the inside.
This era is HUGE test of our will as human beings and most of us are failing miserably.
When you give up all your energy to hate, stress and anger then what is left for you? I’ll tell you.
Disease, illness, pain and suffering…that’s what.
Anger alone has EXTREMELY horrible effects on the body. Anger damages your heart, can cause strokes, weaken your immune system, cause depression (which has it’s own effects) and in general, constant anger WILL shorten your life.
What gets you angry? Kids? Your partner? Your parents? Your job? Your boss? Traffic? Not getting what you want?…I’m sure you know.
Most people are in a constant state of anger. People get angry at anything and everything…it’s habitual. It’s easier to believe it’s the world getting you mad then admitting that you are the problem. Anger is NEVER caused by anything outside yourself. It’s caused by you and you alone.
I watched a video the other day of a Chicago Bears fan SCREAMING in vicious anger because the teams kicker missed the winning field goal. This guy is causing all types of harm to his body being angry at a sport that he’s not even playing? What investment does that anger give you? Potential stroke? Heart attack? What if he just died right there? The kicker of the Bears wouldn’t even know who he was, nor would he care….is this worth it?
In my opinion, anger is just expression born and bred from your own internal fears.
Fear of what?….well, only you can answer that. I feel some people are more afraid of what lies deep within themselves then anything they might come across externally. Hiding behind your anger is easier than facing those internal demons that cause the emotion in the first place…
Try this…When something gets you angry (instead of exploding and saying something you’ll regret) just pause for a second.
Think “Why am I getting MYSELF so mad? or “What AM I fearing right now?”
Is sitting in traffic getting you mad? Are your blaming the drivers?….but is it REALLY cause you’re mad at yourself for leaving your house late this morning and you “fear” repercussions from your boss?
Are you yelling at your kids blaming your bad day on them? Meanwhile, is it really because you just can’t handle the stress within your life and you “fear” nothing will ever get better?
None of this makes you a bad person but it will take a bit of self-acceptance to be able to rid this once and for all. If you think EVERYONE ELSE is the problem then I promise you will get no where. If anything it will get worse. You have to accept that this is all a product of your own mind.
Start to realize that you are the one creating the anger. It’s not your spouse, your boss, your parents, your kids, your co-workers or your friends….IT’S YOU.
Anger is a compulsive reaction to a situation or event based on the conditioning of your mind…This is why the same event can get one person angry and another person doesn’t even bat an eye.
Just pausing for a second and doing some breathing exercises can help tremendously…(I will explain a simple exercise at the end of this blog that can help.)
So this brings me to ANOTHER huge cause of keeping us living within our SNS…
….your own memory and thoughts.
Your mind and thoughts are EXTREMELY powerful! Thoughts can paralyze you. They can make something small into something HUGE. Thoughts can alter your perception and create worlds and realities in your mind that don’t even exist.
If you go through a tragedy in your life your SNS will be hanging around until the tragedy subsides. The problem is EVERY TIME you think of that situation your emotions will kick in again even though the event is now in the past.
Your body doesn’t know the differences between what’s happening now and what already happened, so it reacts the same. Keeping your body permanently in this “emergency mode” can start to reek havoc on you physically as well as mentally.
When you can’t let go of a past event you will live permanently within your SNS. You will continue to go in and out of this emotional response every time something sparks that memory.
A SINGLE WORD can trigger a bad memory. A word that means absolutely nothing to one person can make another person upset just hearing it.
Words of hate and racial slurs are so powerful because they carry with them the energy and suffering of EVERYONE they have affected in the past. If we could only learn to let go and forgive of those past memories then the words would finally go away for good. As long as we live in the past those words will always continue to hold power.
Memories are only impressions of the mind…they are not who we are. They are snapshots of present moments that we hold onto and conjure up when something reminds us of a past event. We can learn from these memories, yes, but they can also shackle us to the past.
People spend too much time imprisoning themselves in these past impressions and/or obsessing over the future. We do all this and miss out on the only thing that is real…THE PRESENT.
So how do we fix it?
Well luckily that Autonomic Nervous System that harbors the SNS also has another part to it…
The Parasympathetic Nervous System or PNS.
Unlike the SNS the PNS is responsible for pretty much the opposite. This is where your heart rate slows, intestinal activity increases, muscles relax and you have a increased sense of calmness….Now, I don’t know about you but this is where I wanna reside. ( :
When you spend more time in the PNS you will increase more awareness of yourself, how you react, and how you respond to life’s uncertainty. Even if you do run into a stressful situation you will react differently to it. It would be like carrying one 10 lb weight instead of adding that 10 lb weight onto 50 lbs you’re already holding. Get it?
“How do we tap into that?!”
A good way to get here is through breathing and through meditation.
Yes, something as simple as breathing can re-direct you from your SNS to your PNS.
The breath is our life force..without it, we’d be dead. It’s probably something you never even think about but without it, you would no longer exist.
When you are in a heightened state of anger or stress the breath gets shorter and faster. This is because your mind and body are connected…whatever the mind does, the breath does.
A daily practice of breath work and meditation can help you to hang out WAY more in your PNS and make life so much sweeter. The more you take up residence in a calm mind, the less you react in harmful ways that cause damage to your mental and physical health.
– Close your eyes and take a couple slow belly breaths (like the exercise below), then relax and do this…
Feel yourself in the present moment. Feel the cool air as it enters your nostrils. Try to just notice where the inhales end and the exhales begin and then vice versa. Don’t try to control your breathing, just observe it. Feel the earth beneath you, the air around you and take notice of any sounds either close or in the distance. Notice the way your skin feels. Is it cool? is it warm?
Stay doing this for at least a minute. This is YOUR present moment.
Everything, other than this, is just the past. It only lives in your mind.
So, with your eyes still closed, choose to think of memories, people or events you’d like to rid yourself of. Think of whatever it is that might make you sad or angry. Tell yourself that you will no longer allow it to control you. Imagine these objects like a million strings that are attached to your body and extend to the infinite. Find the string to that object and CUT IT! Watch it be pulled into space and thank it for it’s teachings and lessons. Sit with it for a minute or two…then open your eyes.
The reason I ask you to do this is because most of us already know what is causing the external issues in our life…even if we don’t want to admit it. When you slow down the mind you can begin to observe what actually triggers your emotional responses. The thing is, though, our minds are so over cluttered with life we never get a chance to TRULY have that breakthrough.
It’s that one “A-HA” moment that can change your life forever…
In meditation we have a swarm of thoughts that enter the mind. By learning to continuously train the mind to not follow those thoughts is where true clarity begins.
The whole reason we meditate is to be able to learn to control your thoughts, instead of them controlling you.
When you train the mind to obey you during meditation it slowly starts to follow you into your everyday life.
Maybe next time a bad memory comes up you will be quicker to dismiss it and bring yourself back to the present moment. Maybe next time you start to get angry at something you will be quicker to pause, breathe, and not allow that situation to affect your day.
When you spend more time hanging out in your parasympathetic nervous system your body responds to the external world with more clarity and less judgement.
Yea, Yea, Yea, I know…this whole blog is a huge advertisement for meditation but that’s how important I think it is.
Transforming your life with a daily habit of meditation will change your perspective about EVERYTHING.
You’ll be a better version of the person you already are.
The present moment is all we have and too many of us completely waste it.
Live more today than you did yesterday.
More importantly, Live more IN today than you did yesterday.
Below is a simple breathing exercise that I shared in my earlier blog “Housebreaking the Untrained Mind”
Breathing Exercise (long exhales)
This can be done sitting or lying down.
Begin by taking a breath in through the nose for a count of 4 seconds.
Pause for a second. Then exhale, through the nose, for a count of 6 seconds.
Keep the breath as smooth as you can. REPEAT 5-10 times.
(If 4 seconds is too much you can do 2 second inhales, then 4 seconds exhales. Same goes if 4 seconds seems to short, you can do 6 second inhales and 8 second exhales.)
The important thing here is to try to make the exhales LONGER then the inhales.
Any questions, comments or for meditation appts please email at: firstname.lastname@example.org ( :