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The Sympathetic Nervous System

By: Jack Claridge - Updated: 24 Dec 2012 | comments*Discuss
Sympathetic Nervous System

The human body is a very complex piece of equipment which, when treated properly, can run and run and help the mind to feel at peace with itself. However if the mind is stressed then the body can suffer the knock on effects and can sometimes feel as though it is about to give up.

The Sympathetic Nervous System

The autonomic nervous system is split into two sections – the Sympathetic Nervous System and the Parasympathetic. Both nervous systems work in tandem with each other offering what can seem like a push and pull feel to the body. The sympathetic nervous system does the pushing whilst the parasympathetic system does the pulling, tensing and calming the body respectively.

The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for such things as increased heart rate, indigestion, constipation, lung problems and even problems passing water. Whereas the parasympathetic nervous system has the reverse effect, causing the body to work more efficiently and thus reducing the likelihood of such problems.

So in essence it is fair to say that the sympathetic nervous system can been heavily affected by high levels of stress.

In some rare and extreme cases a surgeon may perform an operation referred to as an ETS; this involves deflating the lungs (one at a time) and then cutting the sympathetic nerve which is situated behind each lung. The operation is carried out using keyhole surgery with the surgeon gaining access to the lung via a small incision under the armpit. However this is an extreme solution to the problem and one that will only be offered after consultations with your doctor and also a psychologist.

In most cases the problems can be alleviated by making changes to your lifestyle especially if the problems stem from stress and an inability to relax.

Changing Your Lifestyle

Many people are often heard to say they wouldn’t know where to start if it came to changing their lifestyle. Likewise many of those people go on to suffer serious health problems; heart attacks, angina, mental illness etc. This may sound a rather frightening prospect and indeed it is but these issues can be avoided by making some slight, yet necessary changes.

Let’s look at your employment to begin with; do you work in a fast moving environment? Are you often working longer hours than necessary? Do you bring work home with you? If the answers to these questions are yes then it is perhaps time to have a rethink. Of course we aren’t suggesting quitting your job – not at all – however it might be worth while discussing with your employer or supervisor the fact you are struggling under a mountainous workload.

As perhaps mercenary as it sounds no employer wants to have to pay an employee if they are off sick for weeks or months at a time so he or she will be only too willing to help you with your workload by either finding someone to help you or by sharing your workload with others who are perhaps not as busy.


Too much fat in your diet? Eating unhealthy foods such as convenience foods, snacks etc? Or are you simply not eating because you don’t have the time? Food is important, not just for the body but for the mind also. The sympathetic nervous system will begin to work overtime if it isn’t properly maintained with diet, exercise and less stress so it is a necessity that – where possible – you take the time to sit down and eat properly, relaxing while you do so.

Cigarettes and Alcohol

There are many thousands of us in the United Kingdom who suffer from high levels of stress and who reach for the cigarettes or the alcohol whenever we have the chance. We already know the risks inherent from smoking and drinking too much but still many of us do it as a means to relax. It is important to note that we are not relaxing as much as we think we are but simply masking these stressful feelings with outside stimulus.

As and where possible reduce your nicotine intake and your alcohol intake and if needs be speak to your doctor about ways in which he or she can help.


Again as and where possible exercise as much as you can: cycle to work if you can or walk if you live nearby. Go for a walk during your lunch break if you can; a short walk can have major health benefits over time as well as allowing you the opportunity to break with routine and have a change of scenery during the course of the working day.

If you are struggling with stress-related illnesses then it is imperative that you make an appointment to see your GP who will provide help and support where possible and may refer you to a specialist or consultant or self-help group.

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