For all the visual learners out there, here is a pictorial representation of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

Autonomic Nervous System

Autonomic Nervous System


A number of people have told me they have had to re-read the part of the book that talks about the Autonomic Nervous System a few times before they could really understand it; so I thought it may be useful to present the classic picture I have used in my seminar for years to see if it helps people visualise its two components.

The autonomic nervous system controls your internal organs and is made up of 2 distinct sets of nerves:

  • The sympathetic nerves cause an action response, like the bodies’ accelerator. Red in my picture.
  • The parasympathetic nerves cause the rest response, the bodies’ brake. Green in my picture.

If the sympathetic nervous system fires off e.g. when you are busy, rushing, anxious, experiencing intense emotions, excited, enthusiastic, fearful – In a millisecond, all the red body functions occur, which means you are pumped up and ready to react, but you do use up a lot of energy to maintain that response long-term.

While if you feel confident about your situation, you can activate your parasympathetic. This doesn’t mean you have to be lying on the floor under your desk – it’s not a brake that stops you in your tracks but it tempers your pace when appropriate.  You can still do life; but with more creative ideas, better composure, awareness of the big picture. And you are easier to be around!

You will have activated ‘brain down’ – positive thinking and coping skills.

Plus ‘body up’- your body out of the tension pattern, e.g. your shoulders dropped down, and  a calm breathing pattern.

Both systems are Magnificent and have their place.

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