The role of the autonomic nervous system (meaning “automatic”) is to automatically regulate your body's physiology by mobilizing various chemical and electrical signals to different parts of the body. All of these vast biological functions that create inner balance and homeostasis are occurring behind the scenes of your conscious awareness.
Because these infinite biological actions are not regulated by your conscious mind, it makes sense that it’s your subconscious mind (the mind below the conscious mind) that’s running the show. The multitude of health-related functions—from hormone secretion, to blood sugar levels, to body temperature, to digestion, to immune function, and so on—all fall under the control of the autonomic nervous system.
But let’s go one step further. Within the autonomic nervous system, there are two distinct branches designed to protect the body—the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems.
The Inciting Incident
When a potentially dangerous or harmful condition arises in our external world, the sympathetic nervous system helps us deal with these threats (which we perceive and/or interpret through our senses) by mobilizing enormous amounts of energy to run, fight, or hide from the imminent threat or danger.
You can think of the sympathetic nervous system as the gas pedal, which is designed for acceleration. This type of mobilization of energy causes the body to move out of normal balance and equilibrium so it can deal with the threat. All organisms use this survival adaptation in the short term, but as we now know, to remain in this heightened state puts the body under stress and duress, and over time this can create disease. If we live in a constant emergency mode and mobilize all of our energy and resources for our outer world, it makes sense that the inner world of our bodies will be compromised.
If the sympathetic nervous system is the gas pedal, think of the parasympathetic as the brake. When we feel safe in the environment, the parasympathetic response helps us slow down and relax so we can use energy in our inner environment to metabolize, assimilate, digest, excrete, reproduce, and so on. In other words, the parasympathetic nervous system performs metabolic functions that allow for growth and repair in the body’s internal environment. Whereas the sympathetic response deals with large, external threats like predators, fires, trauma, or storms, the parasympathetic response deals with microbes, viruses, molds, mutating cancer cells, and other factors within the body’s inner environment. One of the main leaders in this department is the immune system.
For a moment, think about the dispersion of an army. If the majority of an army at war is dispersed to, say, a western front, this leaves the eastern front vulnerable because the once-balanced strategy of defense has been diminished. The same goes for your body’s inner environment.
If you're tapping all of your body's resources for some emergency in your outer world, it makes sense then that there's no energy in your inner world to not only make white blood cells—which are your body’s internal army designed to fight infection and other diseases—but to allow them to function properly.
Over time, because the body is in an emergency state, the immune system, digestive system, and the cardiovascular system dial down because the energy required to maintain its optimal effectiveness is being dispersed to other parts of the body. In other words, the body is essentially conserving energy, which causes the immune cells to have less of a response. This redistribution of energy also alters a person’s blood flow from the brain and the heart.
As blood flow constricts, energy leaves the heart and the brain to attend to the adrenal center. Now the person is on high alert all the time, and that person is more in their animal nature than in their divine nature.
Elite Special Forces
The body’s internal protection system, the immune system, has specific white blood cells called T cells, or T-helper cells. This is the immune system’s elite special forces, and each T cell is armed with receptors. T cells look like a sphere and their receptors look like tiny trumpets projecting outward.
When a foreign enemy is detected—be it bacteria, virus, mold, cancer cells, and so on—T cells attack the invaders. They do so by using their receptors to connect with the bacteria or virus and release immunoglobulins (antibodies), which weaken and break down the foreign entity. Your body is doing this all the time; in fact, it's doing it as you read this—even to cancer cells.
The Internal Battle
What all of this adds up to is that the stronger your immune system is and the more energy you have, the more those T cells are activated to attack viruses or foreign agents—before the virus or bacteria has a chance to use its receptors to attack the T cell. So, inside your body, mini battles are being waged at all times.
When T cells are healthy and functioning properly, they release proteins (the building blocks of life) called immunoglobulins, which are ‘Y-shaped’ proteins. Their function is to block the attack from any bacteria, virus, and so on. With the exception of red blood cells, all cells make proteins.
In order for a cell to make a protein, a gene has to be signaled and regulated from outside the cell. Once the cell gets the right signal, it makes a healthy protein. In the case of T cells, if the body is back in chemical balance, the cells start making healthy immunoglobulins. This is how the good guys win.
If the expression of that protein is not activated due to a warning signal (the signal being what switches the sympathetic system on) from outside the cell—for example, to create fear—the body is tapping all its resources. Essentially, the body has to rob Peter to pay Paul. By the same means, if all of the energy is going towards some threat or danger in the outer world, there is not enough energy in your inner world for long-term building projects. It’s like this: If there is a hurricane approaching your home, it’s not a time to remodel your bathroom. The body functions in the same manner.
Because we now have to save all our resources for the external threat, there is a downregulation of those T cell receptors to stop making immunoglobulins, and this causes us to be susceptible to foreign agents. This is what stress does and this is how people get sick.
If this is how the war begins, stay tuned for Part II when the peacekeepers and diplomats step in.