Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Rediscovering Parasympathetic Mode

In this day and age, we are so go-go-go all. the. dang. time. to the point where we think stopping equates to laziness. Even when we are trying to 'relax', we are often making to-do lists in our heads. This is what sympathetic mode looks like. It is that constant go, blood is shunted to our extremities, cortisol and adrenaline pump and we move. The sympathetic nervous system increases heart rate, increases blood flow to extremities, diverts sugar to the blood (increases blood sugar levels), increases blood clotting, increases inflammation.


But we can run on adrenaline all the time, so our bodies have a built in counter balance- paraysmpathetic mode. This is also knowns as rest-and-digest, and it happens when stress decreases. Our bodies divert blood back to our internal organs, our digestion increases, our adrenals relax and we relax. Our parasympathic side also regulates deep sleep (stage 4), stimulates sex organs (libido and fertility).
But when is the last time you were truly in parasymptathetic mode? Go ahead, think about it. When your mind wasn't racing through a to-do list, where you weren't multi tasking, where you weren't running from one place to the next. Hard to remember? Would it surprise you to know we *should* be getting into parasympathetic mode multiple times/day?
The hormone cascade is pretty intricate. When we don't get into parasympathetic mode and our adrenaline and cortisol remains elevated it can wreak havoc on our bodies and mental health, and eventually those adrenals who are working so hard can't keep up with the constant demand and we get run down. 


Ever get lightheaded on standing quickly? Crash at night and still feel exhausted in the mornings? Mind racing at night or waking around 1-2am? Lack of motivation but push through because you *have* to?
These are all signs you are running on empty. Supplementation can help you feel better and give yourself some extra nourishment but if you don't change what caused the issue, it will just keep on coming back.

Changing your whole life routine can seem daunting but even simple changes can make a difference.

Add in some breathing exercises

This can actually be an easy add in. I often recommend people add in a simple breathing exercise before each meal. It's easier to remember to do the exercises when can associate it with an activity you are already going to do. Just taking that 2 minutes before you start to eat can help you switch into parasympathetic mode which will also benefit your digestion- remember, the parasympathetic nervous system is also known as "rest and digest" because it regulates our digestion! Check out our previous blog post by our RMT, Megan Prenty for some easy breathing exercises.

Try an app

Even though I want people to reduce their electronics use, this is one time where you can use your phone for good instead of....constant swiping. There are a tonne of meditation and breathing apps out there now with various capabilities including reminder alarms. Check out this list of apps we've found to be good options.

Focus on the bedtime routine

It is imperative to give yourself that time to switch from sympathetic to parasympathetic before hitting the pillow at night. This allows your body to start producing the hormones that create that deep, restorative sleep. If cortisol remains too high, you can have restless, light or broken sleep. Ditch the electronics at least an hour before bed (blue light messes with melatonin production) and instead engage in a calming activity like adult colouring, reading or knitting. Get into any routine that allows you some down time like taking a bath or having some tea, and make sure your bedroom is conducive for deep sleep such as completely dark and a cool, comfortable temperature.

Just sit

It's kind of weird when you think about it, but we have sort of forgotten how to just be. When is the last time you just sat and did nothing, no reading, no list making, no phone. Just. Sit. Start by adding a few minutes every day. Have your morning coffee in the backyard, front porch or a comfy chair inside and just sit and enjoy the space around you. 

Get support

The majority of our stress these days is kind of unavoidable- we have to get to work (traffic), we have to take care of kids, we have to have jobs, etc. so to say remove your stress is not realistic but it is important to find ways and tools to manage your stress. Get a massage; Participate in mindfulness; Take a yoga class; Talk to your Naturopathic Doctor about optimizing diet, nutrients and lifestyle to help deal with stress and cope. Herbs and supplements can also help support those adrenal glands and give them the nourishment they need after chronic stress. 

Don't go it alone, involve the whole family

Stress doesn't just affect adults either. Children are often overlooked when we talk about stress management. Going back to school, conflicts with friends, after school activities, can all cause stress in kids as well. But the good thing is that children are like sponges and learn by example. Involve your kids in the changes as well to help them learn healthy ways to cope with stress. In our own house we discussed what we want as a bedtime routine and have even started incorporating a guided meditation after books and tuck in. Peace Out by Bedtime FM is our current Podcast of choice which runs through a guided meditation for kids discussing various topics from deep breathing, to anxiety and how to change your reaction- just take a breathe before responding when you're upset. It's been a very welcome addition and is requested every night. Family yoga is also a great way to get kids involved and give some special time with parents. Check out our family friendly yoga routine here.



Start with small changes and don't worry about being perfect. It's a marathon not a sprint, you will always have ups and downs. Just remember, every journey starts with just a single step.


Disclaimer: The information contained in these topics is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, it is provided for educational purposes only. This information shouldn’t take the place of seeing a Naturopathic Doctor or your primary care provider for individualized health recommendations.

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