Sympathetic and Para-Sympathetic Nervous Systems
Humans have two nervous systems – the sympathetic and the para-sympathetic. We evolved primarily to use our calmer para-sympathetic system. That’s where we eat, hunt, work, sleep, make love, create shelter, play and trek. Only when facing a threat would we shift into the sympathetic mode.
When we encounter life-threatening danger such as fire, an attacker, exposure to storms or becoming lost we increase the Adrenal hormone Cortisol to help us survive. Blood pressure, heart rate, glucose and cholesterol all rise in response to prepare us to fight or flee.
But digestion and the immune system stop!
We may need to fight or run. We don’t need to digest food, attack bacteria, replace gut cells or sleep.
In the modern world, we call this “STRESS” or “ANXIETY”
We face many such “dangers” every day. Beeping phones, sirens, deadlines, the news, illness, isolation, WIFI, toxic chemicals and financial worry now trigger this sympathetic response instead of predators. It’s the way we feel now, as if in danger most of the time.
What is Sensory Overload?
Too much Sight, Sound, Taste, Touch and Smell: Noise, traffic, fragrances, artificial flavors and violent games activate the Thalamus and Amygdala in the brain to prepare us to fight or flee.
Without even noticing, we may have become fearful, scattered, impulsive and overwhelmed. And then, sick and exhausted…
How GABA Can Help
The neurotransmitters Serotonin and GABA promote balance and stability in all body functions, so they too become depleted by high-pressure living. Like the adrenals and thyroid, these neurotransmitters control dozens of body functions. If they’re exhausted, we’re in trouble.
GABA is our chief inhibitory neurotransmitter, a wonderful ally. When we worry or stress too much, we deplete GABA. Eventually, we become anxious, startle easily, can’t sleep properly and don’t digest our food well. We begin to think stress and worry are normal and this wears us down more every day.
Once GABA is depleted, the immune system dysregulates. We’re more prone to chronic infections, fatigue or autoimmune problems. It’s a vicious cycle of stress and immune dysfunction causing more stress.
Tips For Restoring GABA and Managing Sensory Overload
1). Acknowledge you have become a worrier or have anxiety. I didn’t realize this for myself until in my 50’s. (Read more about this here). Learn to recognize and stop when overthinking, planning for the worst or feeling rushed or fearful. I call it “Catastrophizing”.
2). Quiet and calm your life. Turn off screens, “music”, loud chatter and speedy visual inputs.
3). Start GABA support. I have many blog posts and podcasts on this. My favorite helper is Eclectic Herb’s superior Passion Flower. It comes in a variety of forms and can be taken day and/or night. The glycerin tincture in my online store and clinic is easy to take, night or day, the number of drops you need to feel better depending on what’s up.
5). Manage every element of stress you can. Face the facts about relationships, your health, the amount of EMF’s and WIFI you’re exposed to and the toxicity or carb content of your food. Get to work and fix your life.
6). Learn to say NO. Manage your commitments and take better care of yourself. But don’t forget the Passion Flower!
The Thyroid – Adrenal Connection
Driving the adrenals to produce endless “emergency” Cortisol (just to get to work on time) eventually will exhaust them. But the thyroid and adrenals work in tandem. Tire one and the other, working harder to make up the difference, can tire too. See more on this in my articles and podcasts on The Thyroid Adrenal Connection here and here for starters. You may be treating your Thyroid when stress, low Cortisol and low GABA are really the cause of your low thyroid numbers. (Do not stop taking prescription Thyroid medication, but your doctor may be able to reduce your dose if you work on these points).