YOUR NERVOUS SYSTEM
Evolutionarily, your nervous system plays an important role in both your survival and livelihood by serving three main functions: gathering, synthesizing, and responding to stimuli. How your nervous system operates determines how your mind, body, and heart respond to all threatening and non-threatening stimuli. It is your nervous system that is in constant command of how your body reacts—the automatic, patterned way a stimulus affects you—and responds—the thoughtful way you can choose to behave in reaction to a stimulus—with thoughts, feelings, sensations, and behaviors. Whatever your nervous system does is in an attempt to protect you from perceived harm and perceived death.
Symptoms Threaten Your Body, Life, and Livelihood
As human beings, we are naturally oriented to seek pleasure and avoid pain. The problem is that avoidance of pain is not possible when the pain is coming from inside of your own body. You can’t just walk away from it.
When you have a functional medical problem causing you pain or discomfort, your nervous system perceives it as threatening, perhaps highly threatening. Your symptoms threaten your body’s sense of comfort and ease. They also threaten your ability to live your life the way you would like to. Your nervous system’s response to a threat is stress, and stress is the last thing your body needs.
When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.
–Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Our bodies are designed to become stressed under life-threatening circumstances, and to know how to unwind from stress in times of safety. Our mental, emotional, and physiological functioning are altered when we are in danger, and if our body believes that we are in constant danger because we have a functional medical problem, then part of your healing process is helping your body to find its way out of this pattern of chronic stress.
The Threat Response System — Fight, Flight, and Freeze
When we are under a physical or emotional threat, the sympathetic nervous system, your “fight-or-flight” system, becomes highly activated, setting off a chain reaction in your body resulting in the following changes (just to identify a few):
- Increased heart rate
- Constricted breathing
- Slowing/shutting down of digestion—Digestion can be greatly affected by stress. Click here to learn about your Enteric Nervous System (ENS), your “second brain”.
- Dilation of pupils
Functional medical problems indicate that your body has been experiencing a freeze response in reaction to something you haven’t completely registered, addressed, or resolved consciously.
When this happens, we experience a surge of energy intended to enable us to escape the threat by either running (flight) or defending ourselves (fight). However, if neither fight nor flight appears as though it will lead to succeed in helping us to escape the threat, the parasympathetic nervous system, your “rest and digest” system, will generate a “freeze” response. I explain the threat response system and the freeze response in greater detail on the Stress page.
Functional medical problems indicate that your body has been experiencing a freeze response in reaction to something you haven’t completely registered, addressed, or resolved consciously. As long as you are caught in the cycle of exposure to this threat, your body keeps experiencing or re-experiencing the freeze response, and the symptoms continue.
Your body is under stress when you have a functional medical problem. It’s your Autonomic Nervous System, the part of your nervous system that functions without conscious control on your part, that’s generating it.