What this heck is my nervous system anyways?
Welcome to the Head On app, created by Dr Anne-Sophie Bammens, a psychologist and Samuel Ade, marketing expert who wanted to create an accessible resource of science backed nervous system balancing practices for anyone navigating anxiety. You may notice there are many different categories of exercises to try, and that’s because each of us have a unique nervous system which will respond to different practices. Many platforms focus on the meditation and breathing aspects of calming our nervous system, but we hope here you are able to explore the many different ways to bring balance to your nervous system including grounding, bilateral stimulation, visualization, stress release, and more. We created this blog post to highlight the ‘why’ behind these exercises and to share with you a little bit more about what your nervous system really is and why this work is so important.
The two branches of your nervous system
To understand why these practices work, we first need to dive deeper into the two branches that make up our nervous system. This system is our bodies ‘wiring system’ if you will. It can fine tune our bodily functions to help keep up with the different stressors and experience we encounter on our day to day life. The two branches that make up our nervous system are the parasympathetic and sympathetic branch. Imagine these two branches on opposite sides of a teetertotter, they are both often active but the amount of activity depends on the state our body is in.
Our parasympathetic nervous system is all about calm, and is often called our ‘rest and digest’ branch because it is the most active when our body is in a state of calm and rest. When this branch is most active it can work to slow our heart rate, and promote digestion. When we are in a moment of rest, focus or calm, this branch is usually most active.
On the flip side is our sympathetic branch of our nervous system, often called the ‘fight, or flight’ branch. We now know this branch of the nervous system can contribute to fight, flight, freeze and fawning response (more about these later). This branch is active in any scenario where we may be under physical, emotional, or mental stress. Adrenaline (or epinephrine/norepinephrine) are the main drivers of the sympathetic nervous system and will cause our heart rate and blood pressure to increase, and can shut down digestion so more of our blood supply can fuel our muscles.
This is a very protective portion of our nervous system, BUT when we are under chronic stress or experience adverse events or trauma in our lives, it can shift our bodies to having a default sympathetic drive, often called ‘survival mode’. This can cause our body to become dysregulated and experience symptoms of anxiety, and chronic stress.
Why does this matter?
When our bodies are under chronic stress, as we mentioned above, our teetertotter can shift into a predominantly sympathetic state. This means we may struggle with relaxing, and experience physical symptoms of feeling jumpy or on edge, difficulty shutting your brain off causing sleep deprivation, muscle tension, digestive issues and more. The good news? We can bring our bodies back into a balanced state and into a rest and digest parasympathetic state. These practices, along with other healing supports like therapy, medication, meditation, and more, can help you bring more balance into your nervous system. These are meant to be incorporated into your life anywhere, and can help bring more balance into your day to day routine.
We are excited to have you join us in this space, and hope these practices are helpful in navigating your experience with anxiety.