We are perfect, intelligent beings with very complex organs and systems that harmonize and function beautifully. We were designed to survive and thrive in a world of challenges. We’re designed to forage for food, find and secure shelter, and create lasting art and language.
Somewhere we created a society affectionately known as “the rat race,” in which we work intensely for multiple hours, squeeze family time into an exercise in quality versus quantity, and struggle with monetary issues, relationship crises, and burnout. Furthermore, we now have evolved into a sandwich generation in which many of us are being saddled with responsibilities of caring for both our children and our aging parents. All this creates a significant problem for our health.
It is generally accepted that the nerve system is the controller and coordinator of all the organs and systems of the body. Our nerve systems have a yin and yang relationship. The yin is known as the sympathetic nerve system. It is responsible for the fight-or-flight response: When confronted with a danger, such as a sabertoothed tiger, it produces the chemicals necessary for an active response— adrenaline, norepinephrine, cortisol, etc. These chemicals stimulate us so that we can respond appropriately, allowing us to run, attack, or defend, whatever physical reaction that will help us survive at that moment.
The yang is the parasympathetic system. It is responsible for the activities of rest: sleep, digestion, tissue regeneration, and reproduction. These activities do not require active participation, and therefore do not require the same energy expenditure. Think of the yin as the accelerator of a car, and the yang as the brake. Most of the time the yang should be dominant, because we aren’t constantly being attacked by tigers or other threats to our survival.
While in sympathetic dominance, we produce incredible amounts of energy so that we can react physically to the perceived danger. Running or fighting burns that energy, and when that crisis is over we can return to a relaxed state. The problem is our stressors today are generally not physical—they are deadlines, tension, worries over finances, concerns over responsibilities, relationship pressures, etc. And they are practically constant.
The Law of Conservation of Energy states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. This Law of Thermodynamics essentially means that our bodies must dissipate any energy produced to respond to stress. Somewhere in the course of evolution, our fight-or-flight response has not adapted to this rat race. Even though our stressors are not so physically demanding, we produce the same chemicals as those required for running or combat. Since our modern stressors don’t require much physical activity, we develop an energy imbalance, which our bodies must compensate for by tensing our muscles until the energy is used up. For a brief time this is efficient, but over a long period it becomes overwhelming, because the muscles are already taut—and that is when we have disharmony, pain, sickness, and disease.
Imagine for a moment that your body is an empty drinking glass, and that the stressors we encounter are water pouring into it. Over a short span the glass will fill, and any further water—stress—will simply spill out. That is the point of crisis where our health becomes compromised.
While in this perpetual state of sympathetic dominance, we tend to be on edge, forgetful, careless, and restless. Sleep is fitful and sporadic, because we are ready to jump up and respond to a crying baby, a fire alarm—whatever we subconsciously perceive could occur. I call this “fireman syndrome.” When on duty, the fireman cannot rest because an emergency could happen at any time, and he or she has to be ready to immediately respond. The fireman sleeps with one eye open.
During sympathetic dominance we tend to rush, to lose things (keys, glasses), and we even injure ourselves unnecessarily (missing a step, banging our heads on car roofs as we enter, slipping when we fail to see things on the floor).
This state takes us out of present-time consciousness. It can be triggered by living in the past (never recovering from an early emotional trauma or slight), by living in the future (spending time worrying about what will happen), or by simply not prioritizing your personal needs (being the caregiver to your family, friends, or community).
Think back to the last time you had a fall, lost something important to you, or had an accident. Were you in present-time consciousness? Were you at ease, relaxed, and efficient? Or was your mind elsewhere while you operated on autopilot?
When you fly on a commercial airline, the flight attendants always inform you that if an emergency occurs, you should place the oxygen mask over your own nose and mouth before attempting to assist anyone else. This is because you cannot help anyone if you have passed out from lack of air. Even worse, you then become a burden in an already chaotic situation.
This can serve as a valuable life lesson. Taking care of yourself—being “selfish”— is actually being selfless and assuring that you can be there for others and not be a burden. In the late 19th century, British philosopher Herbert Spencer stated, “The preservation of health is a duty. Few seem aware that there is such a thing as physical morality.” Somewhere in our Puritan upbringing we became brainwashed to believe that being selfish was inherently wrong and undesirable. It became confused with being self-centered, which is completely different.
Selfish merely means taking care of yourself, treating yourself with the respect you deserve, and accepting the responsibility of managing your own health and welfare. Self-centered means putting your interests before any others and lacking compassion and love for others. They should not be confused.
If you find yourself tense, hurried, tired from fitful sleep, forgetful, and losing things, recognize that you are not in present-time consciousness. This is serious and requires some intense introspection.
First, are you in the moment? Where are your thoughts? Are they trying to relive some traumatic memory from your youth? Are you spending more of your time worrying about the future? Are you critical and unloving toward yourself? It may be time to work on solutions.
If you are living in the past, try to determine what the problem was—perhaps a parental opinion that you were not adequate, a sibling’s hurtful treatment, or a teacher’s statement that caused trauma. If you can recognize the insult and then realize that it was someone else’s reality—that what they said or did was merely their perception, their action, and not gospel—you have the power to recognize the error of that action, to dismiss it, and to reprogram your unconscious with positive affirmations. As difficult as it may be, you then need to forgive the offender. You might never be able to understand them or condone their action, but you must forgive them to have closure. The act of forgiving is for you, not them. It’s been said that holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
If you are constantly living in fear or concern about the future, recognize that it is unproductive, ineffective, and destructive. Whatever it is that concerns you, worrying will not help. Recognize that there is only the present, and rather than fret about tomorrow, the best solution is to do what you can today and accept the result.
If these two issues feel overwhelming, seek therapy, but interview several therapists before you commit to one. Recognize that there is someone out there appropriate for you, but it might require patience and persistence to find that person. The effort will prove well worth it.
If your issue is a lack of self-love, an inability to treat yourself with the same respect and attention you give others, repeat daily affirmations, such as “I deserve this. I am important. I am a child of the universe, and I am perfect.” You may not believe this, but if you repeat this it will begin to resonate and you can reprogram that inner child. If our friends spoke to us in the manner our inner voice does, they would not be our friends for long! Recognize that you are important, and that self-work is worth the effort.
Furthermore, if you are experiencing these issues, realize you are not in balance. Your health is challenged, and your ability to be of service to others will eventually become compromised. One of the most important things you can do is be evaluated by a chiropractor for subluxation. Subluxations—misalignments in the spinal column interfering with nerve communication—are a common occurrence of sympathetic dominance, and adjustments help restore present-time consciousness.
We are perfect…but we still require and merit attention.
This article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #56.
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