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Stress

Stress is a form of tension. In order to perform optimally, we need a certain degree of tension and therefore stress. Positive stress, for example, is the tension that a pleasant event evokes, such as before a competition or on vacation. After some time, this tension disappears and the body returns to a state of rest and relaxation. If there is no balance between tension and relaxation in your life, body and mind have no time to recover from tension. If that is structural, body and mind will be in a permanent state of overload and 'normal' actions to relax are no longer sufficient. The battery can no longer be charged as easily as it used to be. You can get complaints such as fatigue, being quickly irritated, forgetful, depressed, poor sleep, headache, etc.

Ignoring these signals can lead to mental and physical issues, such as burnout, depression, cardiovascular disease, intestinal complaints, back pain and other chronic pain complaints and many other. 

The autonomic nervous system

When stressed, the body does what it takes to activate and arm you against a threatening situation. This is regulated by your autonomic nervous system. This part of the nervous system is involved in controlling activities necessary for survival.

The autonomic nervous system consists of two parts (see picture):

  • The sympathetic nervous system.

  • The parasympathetic nervous system

 

The sympathetic system (the gas pedal of your body) is the branch that enables us to survive in (life) threatening situations; to fight, to flee and to perform. The substance that goes with this is adrenaline and the key word is: ACTION. When we activate the sympathetic system, your heart rate, muscle tension, blood pressure and breathing rate increase and the number of bowel movements decreases. In this position, your body uses energy.

 

The parasympathetic nervous system (your body's brake pedal and "battery charger") opposes the sympathetic nervous system, and is responsible for restoring, repairing, building up and resting. When the parasympathetic nervous system is active, your heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension drop, your muscles and organs get enough blood and oxygen again and your digestion gets going again. This part of the nervous system provides regeneration, physical relaxation and repair processes. The keyword for the parasympathetic is: RECOVERY.

With a healthy day pattern, there is a balance between sympathetic and parasympathetic activities. Effort and stress are alternated with relaxation and rest.

You can imagine the autonomic nervous system as a balance or a seesaw: when one part becomes more active, the other part becomes less active. This balance ensures that we can continuously adapt to a changing environment. Our "accelerator pedal" and our "brake pedal" must be well matched and both must be of equal strength to balance each other.

To maintain balance, it is necessary to let the sympathetic system work only when necessary: in life-threatening situations or in situations where extra physical or mental effort is required. And to then switch off the sympathetic nervous system as quickly as possible and let the parasympathetic nervous system dominate, so that your body can recover.

Stress and disruption of the balance of your autonomic nervous system

In our current society we often lead a busy life with a full agenda and many stimuli. The central nervous system makes no difference between an actual life-threatening situation (e.g. a car you didn't see crossing the street) and something that we perceive as threatening (e.g. your own fear of being fired due to a reorganisation). This leads to a disturbance of the balance between our sympathetic and parasympathetic system: on the one hand the sympathetic system is frequently activated, on the other hand there is less time and space for the recovery of the parasympathetic system. And often activities that we think of as relaxing are also an activation of the sympathetic system - think of sports, watching an exciting movie or sitting in front of a screen.

Your body cannot be in an 'action mode' or heightened state of alert all the time. If this continues for too long, the balance of the autonomic nervous system will be permanently disturbed. This causes anxiety and depression. It also has a negative effect on the body. Insomnia, fatigue, concentration problems, headaches, neck and shoulder complaints, wrinkles, high blood pressure, heart palpitations, back pain, skin and intestinal problems, chronic inflammation, infertility and sexual impotence can all be caused or exacerbated by stress. Chronic stress affects social relationships and professional skills, as it provokes irritations, poor listening skills, poor concentration, withdrawal and loss of team spirit. 

Meditation is a proven effective way to activate your parasympathetic system and thus restore balance in your autonomic nervous system. 

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