The Autonomic Nervous System - Fight, Flight or Freeze (Part 2) | Heal For Life

The Autonomic Nervous System – Fight, Flight or Freeze (Part 2)

The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS)

The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) (fight/ flight/ freeze – alarming) is activated at moments of perceived danger. It is the accelerator and functions with actions requiring quick responses.

When in this state, we are unable to think, speak or feel our feelings as the brains main focus is on survival.  In nature, a threat would only last for a matter of minutes at most and this system is designed to cope with an immediate threat.  It is not designed to cope with permanent activation (Levine, 1997).

The Para-Sympathetic Nervous System (PNS)

The Para-Sympathetic Nervous System (PNS) (rest/digest – calming) is in action when we are calm and relaxed, it is the brake, and functions with actions that do not require reaction.  It is in this state that the body will assess any damage and take the necessary action to repair that damage and recuperate, restore and reserve energy (Levine, 1997).  The PNS can be activated by meditation, relaxation, sleep, nurturing, slower breathing, rhythm, yoga exercises, etc.

The symptoms of alarming vs calming body functions:


Repeated and/or unresolved trauma exposes the brain and body to excess amounts of stress chemicals for extended lengths of time, putting further stress on the internal systems.  Survival is dependent on SNS arousal and healing requires a re-balancing of the ANS allowing the body to enter the PNS state to relax and repair any damage if it can (Levine, 1997).

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