I drank too much coffee this morning, and as a result, I want to put my fist through the wall, or better yet, someone’s face. The caffeine has activated my adrenals into a sympathetic (fight-or-flight) neurologically driven mode of action. At this moment, if you test my vital signs, I would look like a person facing a threatening situation. One that requires either a fight or flight response. The problem...there is no real threat. It is 5 am, Selina and Quinn are asleep, and Pickles (our cat) and myself are sitting in a very quiet, peaceful environment. My surroundings do not justify this jacked up, type A, let’s kill something desire. In other words, my nervous system is not in alignment with my environment. A great way to start the day.
Right now, I would be more comfortable driving on the Gulf Freeway in peak morning rush hour traffic. It’s no wonder we can find a Starbucks, open early for business, and located near every freeway. It may contribute to road rage, but it kinda works. I feel my arms wanting to smash something, anything. It reminds me of what I saw yesterday in a college football game. This defensive end totally destroyed the running back, and afterwards he banged his chest with exuberance. This player was exhibiting a full blown sympathetic response. His actions were in complete alignment with his nervous system. And as a result, he was doing what he was supposed to do, and with peak performance.
I’m starting to feel a little more like myself again. I hear the early morning birds, I notice how beautiful the sunrise is shining through the mountain clouds. Wow, I would hate to be on the Gulf Freeway right now. As my liver clears some of the caffeine, the chemically mediated sympathetic drive is waning. My autonomic nervous system (ANS) is calibrating to the appropriate balance relative to my true environment. My parasympathetic nervous system (rest or relaxation) is emerging, and my breath has deepened and Pickles is purring.
Anxiety, and their inability to relax, causes most people to assume they have an over-reactive sympathetic nervous system. But I often find a different situation. Imagine not getting enough sleep and not getting your morning coffee. You are tired, sluggish, and would rather stay in bed. Your nervous system is fully engaged in activities specifically related to rest and relaxation. But you are running late for work and you must now be on the Gulf Freeway, surrounded by road raging idiots. For your own safety, you need to be, and you should be, in a sympathetically driven state. But you can’t re-calibrate. You are operating through your parasympathetics and due to adrenal fatigue, you just can not align your nervous to the appropriate environmental requirements. I promise, you would feel anxiety, very much like I did this morning, but for the opposite reason.
Do you drink wine in the evenings because it feels like you need to wind down? Or coffee in mornings to meet the challenges of the day? These may seem like good short term strategies to move you through your day and night. But probably not for the reasons you think. That is important to know, because that knowledge can help you determine the best approach you need to take to improve your health. Here’s why.
Our autonomic nervous system (ANS) operates automatically by firing the appropriate neurologic system in response to what function is required. These systems, the parasympathetic and sympathetic, operate inversely. When one system is fully engaged, the other is disengaged. Think of it as a seesaw operation. It is common to see one system operating too much, not because it wants to, but because the opposite system is not operating with enough power. Our nature is to blame the overactive expression and overlook the quiet under active side. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.
Here is a good analogy. It is common to have a patient complain about the spasm-ed muscle, and not suspect that the opposite counter balancing muscle is really too weak. The weak muscle allows the strong muscle to over react. Would you rather weaken the strong muscle so that both are now weak, or strengthen the weak muscle so that both are now strong? Keeping this analogy in mind and consider the following.
If you are over the age of 50, and feeling anxiety and stress, the common cause is an under active sympathetic system (burned out), and an unopposed parasympathetic system. This will feel like an over reactive sympathetic response, but you are really feeling the anxiety of not being able to create enough neurological power to overcome the present perceived danger. Knowing we cannot deal with a threat in itself causes anxiety. The take away is, in many situations regarding your health, you cannot trust your feelings to guide you to the appropriate answer or response.
In many cases, the smart approach to address this conundrum, is to go with what we know. We know that the parasympathetics are made stronger with magnesium and they should be at their peak expression in the evenings to support rest and relaxation. So based on this knowledge, you should take magnesium in the evenings. We know the sympathetics are made stronger with calcium and it is appropriate to be in a sympathetic state in the mornings so we can embrace the day and drive in rush hour traffic. So based on this knowledge, take calcium in the morning. How many of you take calcium in the evenings? Not recommended, unless you know you are too parasympathetic. Then it is okay to do for awhile. Or how many of you take therapeutic doses of magnesium in the evenings to relax? Fortunately, it just so happens, that may help push you into the parasympathetic activation desired in the evenings. Unless...you are already too parasympathetic dominant. Then too much magnesium will just aggravate your ANS balance.
When our ANS is stuck in either a parasympathetic or sympathetic over or under reactivity, it can create some of the most unpredictable and bizarre symptoms. With a few neurological tests, we can determine if your ANS is out balance, and tell you what to do to correct it.