The subconscious reaction called the fight or flight mode is a primal mechanism that served ancient civilisations with the stamina needed to escape the jaws of a dangerous predator. Now, us humans are the most dangerous species! So why do we still have a need for this fight or flight response?
Here, we investigate this Autonomic Nervous System response that may be doing more harm than good. It actually has a name: ‘Sympathetic Dominance’ and it can cause a whole range of issues if left unchecked.
How does it happen?
Sympathetic Dominance can occur when the body is in a state of stress for periods of time. Although it can be harmless to become stressed from time to time, if it occurs frequently, or for extended periods of time, functions of the body will become worn. Stresses in everyday life such as work, financial, relationship or health pressures can become overwhelming to the mind and body. It’s not healthy to be consistently stressed or constantly in a state of survival.
Our flight or fight response used to come into play when you crossed paths with that pesky crocodile, brown snake or historically speaking, that saber-tooth tiger who is looking for its lunch! Your body decides whether to run, or stay and fight, and this puts stress on the body. Sometimes this stress can be good (think ‘good nerves’ before a competition that allows you to push that bit harder), and sometimes people react negatively to it (like when it becomes too much and you get performance anxiety). These days, more often than not, that saber-tooth tiger has become ‘work stress’, or ‘money troubles’ – everyday stress.
What’s the science behind it?
The Autonomic Nervous System is responsible for our unconscious bodily functions such as our heart beat and breathing. It’s broken into two parts which exist in a weighted scale type balance. When one side is more dominant, the other goes into recession. The two sides are called Sympathetic and Parasympathetic. Your Parasympathetic nervous system controls four key areas: rest, digestion, reproduction and repair. Sounds important, right? So, what happens when the Sympathetic side is more dominant? Just like Yin and Yang, opposite effects are often complimentary. Sympathetic dominance will cause your fight or flight mode to become activated, which basically feeds the body’s survival instincts. This can be shown through increased blood flow to skeletal muscles, sweating, increased heart rate, heightened blood sugar and blood pressure levels and tightened calf muscles. Too much of this can become dangerous as blood flow to intestinal organs decreases as a result.
Are there long-term complications?
When the body is in survival mode frequently or for lengthy periods of time, lasting adverse effects can occur. These include:
• High blood pressure
• Trouble sleeping
• Digestive upsets including bloating, diarrhoea or constipation
• Anxiety or depression
• Shoulder and neck tightness
• Sensitivity to light and noise
• Hormone imbalances and PCOS
• Headaches or Migraines
Some of the symptoms may be obvious. However, internal issues may be forming, little to your knowledge. These include: Thyroid or Gallbladder problems, increased blood clotting and issues with inflammation.
Are there linked conditions?
Longstanding Sympathetic Dominance can also cause Leaky Gut Syndrome. Leaky Gut Syndrome is where the body suppresses the digestive system, which causes the lining of the gut to become porous; allowing for undigested food particles, toxins and waste to seep into the blood stream. This can become apparent through symptoms such as:
1. Bloating and water retention
2. IBS, Crohns Disease or Ulcerative Colitis
3. Diarrhoea or constipation
4. Inflammation of the skin (dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis)
5. Autism Spectrum Disorders
It is important to be vigilant about these symptoms and understand that they can be indicative of a bigger underlying problem, such as Sympathetic Dominance. So, let’s address the question on everybody’s lips:
What can I do about it?
Dr Wayne Todd, Author of Sympathetic Dominance Protocol suggests there are ways to assess and treat these symptoms which are linked to Sympathetic Dominance. Here’s how:
1. Ask your Chiropractor for a functional neurology review at your next visit.
2. Book in for regular adjustments and complete at home posture exercises. Specific spinal and rib adjustments can respond with at-home treatment to help treat the issue.
3. Ask us about supplements that can help the body to process the inflammatory burden on your body.
4. Schedule time in your day to do nothing. Yep, you heard us correctly. Meditation, yoga, or a calming book can help the mind to rest, which in turn allows the body to rest. Remember, Sympathetic Dominance is caused by stress, so the best way to fight it is to de-stress.
5. Feed your body with the right nutrients. This one may seem obvious, but it is increasingly important to be wary of your diet in times of stress, despite how alluring the McDonalds drive through may seem after a long day at work.
So, there you have it, folks. Stressing about work is not worth it in the long run – especially when mental stressors start to manifest as bodily stress. It’s important to remember that the mind is one of the most powerful tools in recovery. Maybe it’s time to book some annual leave.
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