Automatic Nervous System (ANS) 101

Happy Thursday everyone. As promised, below you will find the first blog installment of how your ANS works. Lack of understanding about the automatic nature of most of our body’s responses can cause confusion and often lots of anxiety. In order to feel good and live with joy and vitality your ANS must be regulated and in good working order.

The ANS controls many body processes and hums along outside of our conscious awareness most of the time. Some of the more important processes include; digestion, elimination, heart rate, breathing, and preparation for danger and/or survival. This last automatic process is usually where the excess anxiety begins to creep in. Sometimes the ANS broadcasts a danger signal when there really isn’t any danger or does not stop sending the signal after the danger is over. This is one way our Nervous systems get dis-regulated.

Because our ANS signals to our body that we are in danger our heart rate increases, our breath shortens and we feel anxious, tense and jittery. I have some clients who live like this 24/7. As you can imagine, this is very hard on the body and causes eventual physical, relational, and emotional problems in the long run.

In order to understand why the body/ANS may signal danger when there is none it helps to understand how our brains work. To simplify matters we will split the brain into 3 main parts, listed in the order which they develop as we grow into adulthood. The first is the primitive brain, the brain stem, controlling most automatic processes. The second is the limbic system or the emotional brain, this area includes memory and attachment processes. The third and last to fully develop is our pre-frontal cortex, our rational brain; this part of the brain helps us function well in society and can work as a brake to help reign in the emotional and primitive brain.

To put it in a nutshell, when we have way too much anxiety our emotional and primitive brains are running the show and they are not rational in any shape or form. Our rational brain is shut down and we are often even briefly in survival mode which can cause us to have an visceral reaction that believes it’s either me or you that will survive.  This is why people sometimes say the most terrible things to their loved ones when fearful or anxious. Anxiety often causes tremendous anger as well because we hate being helpless.

Stay tuned for the next installment to learn more about the amygdala, the “smoke detector” of the brain and how to use your rational brain to help with your anxiety and how this helps to re-regulate your nervous system.

Remember the 3 legged stool of self-care. The way we treat ourselves on an every day basis impacts the way we feel.

Take good care, Wanda Brothers

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1 thought on “Automatic Nervous System (ANS) 101

  1. Hi Wanda!
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and expertise on ANS. I love reading this. When I figure out how to link you to my FB and blog I will do it.

    Big love,
    Lee

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