Sympathetic dominance is a condition that is becoming increasingly common. The medical literature surrounding sympathetic dominance is growing every day. This condition can be exasperated by stress from work, personal issues or from constant stimulation via TV and smartphones.
The real issue with sympathetic dominance is that it is a well-documented issue that is especially troublesome in our modern high tech environment. If you are wondering what sympathetic dominance is, I prefer the definition used on DrWilson.com:
“Sympathetic dominance indicates a person who is over-utilizing his or her sympathetic nervous system. In simple terms, the person is pushing himself or herself, or worrying too much.”
Without getting too much into the science behind this condition, it basically stems from being somewhat on edge, at a low level for an extended period of time. Sympathetic Dominance can be thought of as chronic, low level stress.
The main problem with sympathetic dominance is that it can cause the nervous system to deplete important substrates that are needed for normal functioning. This condition affects sodium and potassium levels in particular.
When someone has been going non-stop they will notice symptoms similar to those experienced by someone with chronic fatigue syndrome. In fact sympathetic dominance can be thought of as proceeding chronic fatigue syndrome.
Sympathetic dominance usually appears in people who are very thoughtful and driven. This makes sense as one of the main things that keeps the sympathetic branch of the nervous system operating in thinking. Constantly considering all the things that need to get done, or goals in the future is one of the most common expressions of this type of activity.
To understand why this type of thinking is a problem consider the following description of sympathetic dominance’s mechanisms by paleo blogger Robb Wolf:
“Symptomatically, a major difference between you (the human) and a primate like a gorilla is that once a gorilla has escaped an attack and the scenario is calm again, it returns to normal a normal state of stress fairly quickly. It goes back to it’s next meal, laying in the sun or finding shade. Humans on the other hand are cursed with a blessing called the imagination. We don’t need to see a hammerhead/lion/robbery to imagine that it’s there. Unlike the gorilla, we possess the ability to ask ourselves “What if a lion attacked me?” This poses a problem that is unique to us because the thought of a stressor can actually trigger the same response as a real life attack given the vividness of thought.”
This is the same description of the condition used all over the internet. What I like about Robb’s description is that he talks specifically about the imagination. It is not just that people have thoughts about things they have to do or people they have to talk with.
The majority of people’s worries come from thinking about people and events that they will most likely never encounter.
A mental device that was designed to help us account for possible dangers in our surroundings is hijacked by our mind and used in a context it was not designed for.
For example, imagining that you might be struck by a car if you don’t look both ways provides a useful warning at an appropriate time, right before you cross the street. You look both ways, see there are no cars and cross.
The same mechanism gets out of control when you consider something less binary then car or no car. If for example you begin to imagine all the possible outcomes of a high pressure business meeting, your imagination can quickly get out of control.
You might imagine that you say the wrong thing and freeze up, you can’t get any more words out without hedging your words. Then you misspeak and cause a flurry of followup questions that reveal weaknesses in your presentation, this leads to a negative evaluation report which then prevents you from getting a promotion ect..ect….
Unfortunately, many people are way too familiar with this type of thinking pattern. Your imagination, left unchecked, can easily get out of control.
While the above is an extreme example, much milder forms of imagination can easily lead to a milder form of sympathetic dominance.
The point is that anyone with sympathetic dominance can benefit from developing pattern interrupts for their thinking.
While deep breathing and meditation are the most common forms of pattern interrupts, anything that interrupts an uncontrollable stream of thoughts can help.
What about Parasympathetic Dominance?
Yes, Parasympathetic Dominance is actually a real condition. However, because our culture reinforces those activities that lend themselves to sympathetic dominance, this is less of a concern for most people. As Robb Wolf notes, “There are very few training facilities with the slogan “Meditate like a champion tonight” on their walls.”
While this is true, there definitely are some issues if you are a meditation champion. If all you do is sit around in a parasympathetic state, you will have a whole host of issuies related to proper nervous system and metabolic function.
This is one reason that stressful, sympathetic dominant, activities like weightlifting are so beneficial. You definitely want and need these activities to keep you functioning at your peak. The real issue is that you do not want the sympathetic system activated all the time by your imagination.
Activating the Parasympathetic Nervous System
In order to activate the parasympathetic system you need to find relaxing activities, or non-activities that allow you to shut our brain off. For many people the only activities that do this are deep breathing and meditation. If you are not willing to take that route, walks in nature are an often cited way to calm down a racing mind.
Other activities include anything that will absorb 100% of your attention so that there is no undercurrent of thought going through your mind. Other than that, there are many different nutritional recommendations to help heal the micronutrient deficiencies caused by sympathetic dominance.
The most common recommendation given by nearly all health practitioners is to slow down, get more sleep and find a way to relax more as part of your day to day routine.
This shouldn’t really be much of a surprise as learning to relax and getting sleep are something I have preached as part of the TestShock program since day 1. Anyway, hopefully you got something out of this article and at least gained a new point of view on health and endocrine balance.