Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Parasympathetic vs. Sympathetic: The Nervous System And How It Works


The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is also called the involuntary nervous system. It regulates important bodily functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, sweating, temperature, pupil dilation, and digestion. The system allows us to react and adjust these functions without consciously thinking about them.

The ANS is further divided into two components: The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. These two systems work in conjunction to provide input to your body at all times, acting to decrease or increase activities.

In a healthy system, when it’s time to act or there is a perceived threat, the sympathetic will dominate, when there are no threats, the parasympathetic dominates.


The ANS directs your body’s rapid and involuntary response to strain, such as danger, disease, and exercise. It sends messages to organs, muscles, and glands to increase heart rate, dilate the bronchial tubes to your lungs, increase perspiration, and cause pupil dilation.

This “fight or flight” response is an evolutionary survival mechanism, enabling humans and other mammals to react quickly to life-threatening situations such as an oncoming car or a buffalo speeding towards them. But your body may also react during non  life threatening stress too, like traffic jams, making a presentation at work, or family arguments.

While your body is busy responding to stressors, the SNS inhibits non-vital functions such as digestion and salivation to stop energy from going to those organs and focus it on saving your life or nailing that presentation.

The SNS does not calm you down after it’s wound you up though, that role is performed by the parasympathetic system.


The parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) works in opposition to the sympathetic system, controlling the body’s ability to relax. It mainly function to downregulate the body using the vagus nerve, which sends impulses from the brain to the body and back. The PSNS works to tell your brain what’s happening within your body, instead of your brain telling your body what to do. It usually activates when you are feeling relaxed or in a mundane situation.

The PSNS slows your heart and respiratory rates, narrows pupils, and increases digestion. It’s called the “rest and digest” or “feed and breed” system as it conserves the body’s natural activities until after a stressful situation has passed. Once the danger is over, the PSNS returns the body to homeostasis.


Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is a measure of how the SNS and PSNS affect your heart beat. When your nervous system is balanced, your heart is constantly being told to beat slower by your parasympathetic system, and to beat faster by your sympathetic system. These mixed messages result in a constant state of variation in your heart rate. HRV is the variance in time between beats.

For example, if your heart beat is 60 bpm, the time between beats is likely not exactly 1 second. It may be 0.9 seconds between two beats and 1.1 seconds between two others.

When you have high heart rate variability, it means that your body is responsive to input from both the SNS and PSNS. This is a sign that your nervous system is balanced, and that your body is capable of performing at its best.  

Conversely, a low HRV means that one branch is dominating and sending stronger signals to your heart than the other. This may occur during a race for example, when the SNS is focused on allocating resources to your legs (sympathetic activity) as opposed to digesting food (parasympathetic activity). But it may also occur when you’re tired or sick, leaving fewer resources available for tasks like exercising or giving a work presentation.

Essentially, if one system is dominating, it means the SNS has less ability to take over when it needs to, such as when you’re facing down a bear.  

How to restore balance

Once we understand the difference between SNS and PSNS we can actively try to stimulate our PSNS. Here are 7 fixes to restore the balance between your SNS and PSNS.

1. Reduce Stress - Stress is ubiquitous. Good health depends on removing or reducing whatever stressors we can control, and reduce our reactions to those we can’t.

2. Meditation - We can’t remove all external stress. Meditation is the best way to decrease our reactivity to stress we can’t control. It teaches us to ignore triggers. It reduces our breathing, slows our heart, and decreases our blood pressure: all signs of PSNS activation. Meditations reduces lactic acid in our muscles, promoting recovery.

3. Massage - Regular massage has been shown to restore balance between SNS and PSNS. Massage makes us stronger, calmer, and more able to fight infection. By activating the PSNS, massage promotes recovery. It retrains the body to move more readily into PSNS even when we’re stressed.

4. Breathing - Breathing straddles the peripheral nervous system and the autonomic system. It happens automatically but we can also control it. We can hold our breathe for example, but we cannot stop our heart. Slowed breathing is a hallmark of PSNS. But it’s not just a symptom, it’s a signal. Slowing your breathing intentionally tells your SNS than things are okay. This activates the PSNS.

Daily breathing exercises will strengthen your lungs, improve your immune system, and decrease your resting heart rate. Here’s a simple way to activate your PSNS. Inhale for a count of 2. Hold that breathe for a count of 5. Exhale for a count of 7. Repeat.

5. Yoga - Like meditation, yoga will bring you into PSNS, It also bolsters your ability to decrease SNS activation when you are stressed.

Daily or weekly yoga classes, or even a quick yoga video at home, will improve your strength, flexibility and breathing.

6. Nutrition - Can what you eat affect your SNS/PSNS balance? Yes. Avoiding stimulants such as caffeine and sugar will facilitate PSNS. An anti-stress diet brings the right mix of protein, minerals and other nutrients to support PSNS.

7. Exercise - Yes, intense exercise, even the idea of it, stimulates our SNS. But regular aerobic exercise such as light jogging can actually decrease SNS activity and activate our PSNS. The key is moderation and measurement.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Belly Laughs Can Improve Your Life


Stressed? No worries. We have a really good remedy for that. And it’s super easy, we promise. If you want more joy in your life, all you have to do is laugh. Invite the chuckles, giggles, and downright cackles into your life and watch your world shift.


Laughing feels SO good. It’s a natural medicine that improves your mental and physical health, helps you build stronger relationships, and makes you more fun and attractive to be around.


What does laughing mean in biological terms?


It means that when you are laughing, you are showing emotion with a vocal sound. Laughter is contagious from person to person. And I mean contagious in a really good way. Laughing is a form of communication between humans. It can mean that we are having a great time, are bonding and showing understanding, or even that we are uncomfortable or embarrassed. 


It’s not too surprising that laughing occurs more often in people that are already happy. Laughing gives the stress hormone cortisol the boot and replaces it with feel-good hormones and neurotransmitters like dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins. All of these awesome chemical reactions happening from laughter can help to increase social bonds, boost motivation, reduce pain, cause stress to plummet, and draw others closer to you.  


There are many benefits to laughing. A study from 2016 that you can find right here on found that people with a strong sense of humor had a long life expectancy, while those who didn’t, had a higher risk of health issues. 


So what exactly are all of the benefits of laughing?


Improves mood disorders like anxiety, depression, and anger

Boosts immunity

Relaxes muscles and tension

Increases blood flow and circulation

Decreases pain

Boosts social bonds and attractiveness

Encourages forgiveness

Forms new perspectives with challenges

Increases alertness, productivity, and memory

More positive and optimistic outlook on life


Studies have also shown that true laughter is more about connections and relationships, rather than individuals laughing at things happening on electronics. When we laugh together, it invites more opportunities for other funny things to show up in the conversation. And remember what we said about it being contagious? Keep it rolling together!


We are going to invite you to take some steps to set yourself up to catch more humorous moments in your life so that you can enjoy the fullness of a good laugh more often.


-    Laugh together. Bring up certain things that you know the other people with you are going to find funny.

-    Put your phone away to avoid distractions and actually catch each other's jokes. I feel like so much humor has been lost because we are missing it. And when it continues to be missed, those who are trying to deliver it are eventually going to give up trying.

-   Spend time with funny, playful, and happy people.

-   Set up game nights with friends5.

-   Tell jokes and funny stories.

-   Watch/listen to funny movies, books, podcasts.

-   Smile more. Smiling is the precursor to laughter.

-   Practice gratitude.

-   Try laugh yoga or laugh therapy.

-   Be silly and spontaneous. Don’t take yourself so seriously.


Laughter is one of the greatest medicines available to us because it literally pummels stress in every fight. Chronic stress is the root of so much disease and unhappiness, so if we can knock out stress with a 1-2 punch, we will experience the happiness that we were created to enjoy.