Get to Grips with the Physiology of Your Feelings

Long post warning! Your Autonomic Nervous system (ANS) is so important to your health and wellbeing and your emotional ‘temperature’ that I want to spend some time looking at it and why Psycho-Sensory Therapies are so effective at moderating your emotions.

Imagine your body is like a complex machine, and the autonomic nervous system is its automatic control system. It’s responsible for all the things your body does without you having to think about it consciously, like breathing, digesting food, or sweating.

3d video of nervous system

The autonomic nervous system has two main branches: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.

  1. Sympathetic Nervous System: Think of this as the “fight or flight” system. When you’re facing a threat or need to respond quickly, like if you’re being chased by a dog, your sympathetic nervous system kicks in. It increases your heart rate, makes you breathe faster, and sends blood to your muscles so you can run faster or fight harder. This is the ‘switched on’ system extremely effective for when focus is needed or weariness and caution. The Sympathetic system where engaged also makes other systems such as your digestion redundant. It’;s not designed for being social, or engaging in conversation but for survival. In fact when engaged it even tunes tour hearing to lower frequencies to scan for footsteps!
  2. Parasympathetic Nervous System: This is like the opposite of the sympathetic system. It’s often called the “rest and digest” system. When the threat has passed or you’re just relaxing, the parasympathetic nervous system takes over. It slows your heart rate, helps with digestion, and generally helps your body relax and recover. This is your more social system. when engaged you want to relax in company and your earring is tuned to the sounds of human voice. It’s readying you for rest and sleep. It’s your Safe Zone.
diagram of autonomic nervous system with sympathetic and para-sympathetic branches described
Sympathetic And Parasympathetic Nervous System.

‘Story Follows State’

When we experience uncomfortable or strong emotions such as anxiety, fear, depression and restlessness our experience of this feelings or ‘state’ is largely a function of the ANS and how it impacts on a variety of bodily functions. As humans we can also imagine ourselves into those states without any actual stimuli.

We then are prone to tell ourselves a ‘story’ about that state and create often elaborate notions of what it is, why we feel it, how long it will last and often engage in critical self judgment about how foolish we are or useless to be feeling this way. These stories are usually completely unhelpful.

In my work I get my clients to focus on the state and to use effective and powerful techniques to change this quickly. The chart below offers a more detailed explanation of the physiology of feelings – do you recognise yourself on the chart?

So how do you get to grips with your ANS

Many of my clients come to see me with long-term issues of overthinking, stress and anxiety often due to specific traumas. they effectively become ‘stuck’ in the sympathetic mode.

This is where hypnosis and psycho-sensory approaches come into play. By training my clients to focus on the ‘state’ and then use specific tools and techniques to engage the Parasympathetic nervous system I can effectively train them to ‘reset’ their emotional baseline and return to experiencing a state of calm-focus as their norm. When in this place it creates a resilience to external factors and reduces the likelihood of feeling overwhelmed. It also changes the ‘soundtrack’ to day to day life – you can learn more about that here