Nervous System Basics

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This lesson is about the nervous system. Maybe you're familiar with the nervous system, maybe you’ve never learned about this. Either way, this lesson is going to educate you a little bit on your body and your anatomy and also give you some insight into how our nervous system works and how important it is for us to take care of our nervous system. So, let's dive in.

Your nervous system is comprised of your brain, your spinal cord, all your nerves and then all your sensory receptors. If you don't know what sensory receptors are, they’re these specialized cells in our body that take in input from the environment. So touch for example, there's touch receptors that let us know if something is smooth or rough. There's hot and cold receptors so we know not to touch something that's hot, that may burn us. There's receptors that let you perceive light and color through your eyes. There's receptors in your inner ear that let you know your position in space and if you're moving forward or backward or side to side. There's sensory receptors that let you know where your body is in space, if your arm is up in the air or down by your side. So, our nervous system really creates our experience of life.

Everything we see, touch, feel, hear, think, perceive, it all comes from this nervous system doing its work. So, it's pretty interesting to think that you never really experience anything, you get to experience your nervous system interpreting, processing, and creating these experiences for you. So, in theory, to optimize your experience of life, optimizing your sensory function and your nervous system function should lead to improved quality-of-life and improved experience. That's part of why you're here, that's part of why I'm challenging you into daily ritual and mindfulness and presence so that you can take the time to learn about yourself, to learn about your nervous system, and to actively take care of yourself and your nervous system.

The next part of this lesson is about the fight, flight, or freeze response. If you've heard of it great, if not that's ok too. It's a pretty common term “fight or flight", and it is a protective response. This is a response that is not within our conscious control. We do not say, "oh I'm going to have a fight or flight response today”. This response is autonomic or automatic, it just happens, our nervous system just responds in this fight or flight way to danger or to stress. Historically, this fight or flight response was meant to save our life. The nervous system of our ancestors who had to fight predators, who hunted and gathered, the fight or flight response could save their life by attuning their senses to their environment and letting them know when danger was coming.

Fast forward to modern life, which has changed so drastically in the past 10 years, 20 years, hundred years, and yet while the world around us has changed so quickly, I believe our nervous system is basically still the same. This is where the protective response of fight or flight has now become a problem for us and for our health in modern life. Our nervous system has a hard time discerning between a predator attacking us and a difficult day of traffic that causes stress. Our nervous system and that automatic response of fight or flight is just responding to stress and it doesn't know that we're not in eminent danger of death or attack, we're just stressed from work, stressed from lack of sleep, stressed from deadlines, stress from whatever it may be.

I believe many people have been living in a prolonged stress response for a long time. The stress of modern life has that fight or flight response overworked and over utilized. A little more science into the fight or flight and what it does to us, is it takes blood from our guts and our digestive system and moves it out into our skeletal muscles. So, a prolonged stress response may affect our ability to digest food and we may see gut issues arise based on this autonomic response of our body that's taking the blood for our guts out to our muscles because it's ready to fight or flight. Another example is you see heel cords or achilles tendons, back behind at the back of your ankle and your foot, and children who toe walk, people who have plantar fasciitis and tight heel cords, I have been noticing that this may also be part of this prolonged stress response.

Cognitively when we are in a stress response, even a low fight or flight response, or mild fight or flight response, it means that our pre-frontal cortex, which is near the front of our brain, doesn't work, doesn't function as well… And that pre-frontal cortex is where we do a lot of our consciousness, thinking, our problem-solving, our empathy, our spirituality. So, being in fight or flight means that we are disconnected from that deeper sense of self and that deeper awareness of our part and our place in the world.

Research is showing that daily mindfulness can de-escalate or reverse that fight or flight response and get you back into the calm state that your nervous system desires to be in, in order to feel joy, think clearly, problem solve, have healthy emotional relationships. So, thinking about the nervous system and stress and anxiety in this way is the reason why I have created Current Ritual and I encourage you to do daily mindfulness and daily practices to take care of your nervous system. We unfortunately cannot change the modern stress around us and the world continues to change, and there is a lot to sort through at this point in human history.

I believe that we will all be better able to move forward into a healthier future if we focus on this daily ritual of slowing down, having space for learning, having space for reflection, and having space for ritual in order to care for our systems, so that they can function at their best to optimize our experience of life. So, I thank you for being here and taking the time. I encourage you to reflect on this idea of our ancient system being in a modern world and the modern stress not interacting well with these autonomic, protective responses of our nervous system. Thank you for being here.