The nervous system and emotions – how disease is created

An outline of the mechanics of the mind-body connection

An understanding of the way the nervous system regulates bodily functions can give insight into how illness is created.

The autonomic nervous system

The autonomic nervous system (ANS) controls all those processes that happen automatically and which are not under voluntary control. This includes the functions of the glands, the digestive system, the pupils of the eyes, the heart and blood vessels and all the processes carried out without conscious participation.

The ANS consists of two parts – the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems – that normally act in balanced opposition to one another. The actions of the parasympathetic nervous system can be characterized as “rest and digest”, while the actions of the sympathetic nervous system can be characterized as “fight or flight”. The PNS is anabolic in that it builds and repairs, while the SNS is catabolic and involved in tearing down the body, or converting matter into energy.

The link between emotions and the body

Emotions of fear or anger stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, which gets the body ready to either flee a situation or fight an antagonist. The heart beats faster, blood pressure rises, digestion slows, and blood supply to the sexual organs is diminished. This response is only turned off when the emotions that triggered it have had a chance to be released through catharsis.

In man’s long evolution, this usually happened through the physical act of running away or of engaging physically with an enemy. However, with the development of the cortex – part of the central nervous system – man began investing more and more energy in rational, critical thought processes, and eventually learned to suppress the expression of fear, anger and other emotions deemed to be unacceptable. Nowadays, it’s not regarded as socially acceptable to just get up and attack people who anger us. Despite the suppression of this behaviour, however, the biochemical reactions induced by the alarming emotions continue to excite the fight or flight response – only now there is no way for catharsis to happen and for the reaction to be turned off. The result is that most of us are living life with an over-stimulated sympathetic nervous system, constantly tuned for action. This imbalance is responsible for the vast number of psychological and physical symptoms that drive people to seek therapy or medical care.

Restoring the balance

An effective therapy will aim to uncover the suppressed emotions behind the symptom. When these emotions and the incidents that evoked them have been identified they can be reassessed and brought to catharsis and resolution. One of the most effective ways of doing that is through regression hypnotherapy.

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