The Overstimulated Nervous System

Let me ask you this: Do you find it hard to relax? Maybe you feel worried or anxious a lot. Maybe your neck and shoulders always feel tight. Or you always have to be doing something—it’s hard to just sit and relax.

If those issues ring a bell, how about these: Would you say your digestion and elimination are great? How about your sleep, do you usually sleep well? And your energy? Are you bursting with vim and vigor or do you feel worn out a lot?

If you didn’t fare too well with those questions, your body is trying to tell you something. You’re likely pretty stressed. Many people have no idea how stressed out and overstimulated they are. The signs may creep up…or feel so familiar you don’t recognize them as problems. What do I mean by an overstimulated nervous system?

Let’s start with your autonomic nervous system. It controls all of the bodily processes not under your conscious control, things like breathing, heart rate, and digestion. And it’s divided into two parts: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems. You may know these as your fight or flight and rest and digest systems.

Fight or flight helps protect you from danger. It gears you up to fight or run away from stressors. And it shunts blood away from systems that don’t help you do that—like digestion. Rest and digest is the return to equilibrium. It lets your body nourish, heal, and repair.

Normally, the body cycles fluidly between these two systems. But sometimes…we get stuck in fight or flight. It becomes the new set point. And over time, this can wear you down and make you sick.

So what causes all of this overstimulation? Many things…

  • Chronic stressors: like illness, financial strains, grief, noisy neighbors
  • Stimulants: caffeine, nicotine
  • Electronic devices: blue light from electronic screens has a stimulating effect
  • Stimuli of the modern world; like bright lights, loud sounds, graphic images
  • Highly sensitive wiring: some people are extra sensitive to stimuli
  • Trauma: trauma locks cycling fight-or-flight energy in the tissues

In this busy modern world, full of stressors that our caveman-era wiring never dreamed of, it’s easy to get overstimulated. So it’s a good idea to find ways to slow down and calm down. Nature works for me. Deep breathing, good sleep, and pottering with favorite hobbies work for most. What works for you?

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