Chronic over-activity or prolonged over-activity of sympathetic nervous system can manifest several health issues, such as high blood pressure, panic attacks, abnormal heart rate, irregular respiration, hyperthermia, just to name a few!
It is in your interest to understand when your sympathetic nervous system is overactive vs when it is absolutely normal. Because the better you understand better you can adopt different ways to calm your overactive sympathetic nervous system and reduce its adverse effects.
What is overactive sympathetic nervous system?
The autonomic nervous system is a constantly working regulatory machinery which supervises the essential life functions and processes that take place in our bodies, including digestion, heart function, excretion and inflammation.
It is also inextricably linked with one’s mental health. More thoroughly, autonomic nervous system or ANS can be divided into the parasympathetic and the sympathetic branches, each serving different purposes.
The former is associated with the so-called “rest and digest response”, while the latter pertains to the “fight or flight response”, meaning it keeps the organism alert and awake.
Accordingly, the state when the sympathetic branch of the autonomous nervous system becomes excessively dominant is professionally called overactive sympathetic nervous system.
In such a condition, the actions of the stress hormones like cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine are overly exerted on various organs.
Consequently, it leads to the development of multifarious diseases including hypertension, heart failure, ischemic heart disease, kidney disease, type II diabetes mellitus, obesity, metabolic syndrome, bowel disease, anxiety and depression.
Undoubtedly, it affects both the physical and mental health and hence can trigger somatic symptoms like heart palpitations, diarrhea, sweating and insomnia as well as panic attacks and chronic stress.
What causes overactive sympathetic nervous system?
Sympathetic branch of the nervous system is complex and multifactorial, as it possesses its own unique pathways and constituents, its over-activity can be generated in the miscellaneous parts of the body.
Since sympathetic nervous system issues are internal to human body, for that matter most nerve issues are internal. These are only observed in critical cases or while treating secondary ailment.
It is very common for any curious mind to question the causes for the sympathetic nerves to become overactive or hyperactive.
Some of the most common causes of this condition include:
- Stress and Overstimulation
As mentioned previously, the sympathetic nervous system bears on the “fight or flight response”.
Such a reaction can be correspondingly provoked by a stimulus or something that prompts focus and vigilance in us – it can be a stressful event or a demanding task at work.
Needless to say, the more the stimuli, the higher activity of the sympathetic nervous system.
- Not Enough Sleep
Not enough sleep and the sympathetic nervous system form a vicious circle that on its own is hard to escape. When we suffer from lack of rest and sleep, the sympathetic response is triggered in order to keep us alert in a more vulnerable state.
Accordingly, establishing healthy sleeping habits is a must when tackling the overactive nervous system.
- An Unbalanced Diet
If we eat a lot of simple sugars, the body is constantly stimulated to remain in its active state. That is, obviously, an unnatural condition where complex sugars seem like a notably wiser choice.
Similarly, if we do not eat high quality foods, the overall inflammation in our organism exacerbates.Consequently, aggravated inflammation stimulates the sympathetic nervous system as a form of defense mechanism.
Consequently, aggravated inflammation stimulates the sympathetic nervous system as a form of defense mechanism.
- Frequent Ailments or A Chronic Condition
In a comparable manner, any underlying condition like chronic heart failure or frequent ones like infections contribute to the overactive sympathetic nervous system.
Each of them can augment the overall inflammation in the body which induces the sympathetic response in the organism.
Stimulating your immune system as well as controlling an underlying condition can greatly help with the overactive sympathetic nervous system.
- An Unidentified Condition
There exist multiple health conditions which directly stimulate the sympathetic branch of the nervous system, mostly when stress hormones are excessively produced like in pheochromocytoma or hyperactivity of the thyroid gland.
Many of such diseases are relatively rare though – nonetheless, it is wise to go to your doctor for a check-up if the symptoms persist and other contributing factors had been eliminated.
How to calm an Overactive Sympathetic Nervous System?
There are two primary approaches to deal with overactive sympathetic nervous system. One is using pure medical treatments and the other is natural ways to treat or at least keep the hyperactivity of sympathetic nervous system under control.
Here, we will discuss two possible medical ways, and seven possible ways naturally, 9 different ways in total to calm your overactive sympathetic nervous system.
Treatment offered by medical sciences
Taking it into account, the fact that the overactive sympathetic nervous system can be both caused or/and propelled by an underlying disease, certain medication therapies can be applied to significantly reduce the symptoms.
What drug classes are to be used largely depends on the affected organ or system. In an overactive sympathetic nervous system we have to deal with increased heart rate (which can be felt as heart palpitations), hypertension, increased breathing rate, potential diabetes mellitus or DM, decreased digestive process, insomnia as well as anxiety.
At the same time, we should keep the long-term repercussions of these signs in mind. Accordingly, cardiovascular calming medicine like beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors etc. or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors may be prescribed.
Psychotherapy implements various techniques which relieve both chronic stress as well as the overall tension in the body, subsequently leading to soothing the overactive sympathetic nervous system.
Since it calms the whole body and mind, it also positively affects the course of any underlying ongoing condition. This paper explained how depending on one’s symptoms, psychotherapy can be the pivotal point of one’s therapy or serve as an adjunctive one.
Natural remedies to calm overactive sympathetic nervous system
Natural treatment through remedies, which are easily applicable in the everyday life, may be the key to success in relaxing the overactive sympathetic nervous system.
Even when considering a scientifically-based therapy, it has been stated that less than 50% of the desired outcome depends on the extra-therapeutic factors like everyday habits which make up a great part of a healthy lifestyle.
Below, there are some natural treatment options which you can effortlessly implement into your routine life.
1. Breathing Techniques
Controlled breathing techniques have been proven to efficaciously relieve the tone of the sympathetic nervous system.
Multiple studies such as this one and separately this study show that calm, slow breathing brings the brain into an idle, relaxed state and counteracts its activity associated with vigilance.
These observations have been noted during the EEG examinations on patients undergoing such a therapy.
Moreover, controlled breathing visibly increases the impact of the parasympathetic nervous system. That is the counterpart of systemic nervous system, which calms the body as well as tones down the influence of stress.
It can be seen, among other things, by the synchronizing blood flow and blood pressure with the rhythm of the heart.
2. Exercise Training
Exercise training is a widely applied non-pharmacological option in the case of the overactive sympathetic nervous system and related conditions.
The World Health Organization recommends that adults aged 18-64 years old should do at least either 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity every week.
It has been proven that regular exercise training effectively calms the overactive sympathetic nervous system and visibly reduces its symptoms like hypertension, signs of heart failure and diabetes as well as anxiety.
As per this published article, not only does it substantially diminish the blood concentrations of the stress hormones in the blood, but it also improves the responsiveness of the body in the times of stress so that the sympathetic nervous system is not overburdened.
Regular yoga practice confirmedly restores the balance between the parasympathetic and sympathetic branches of the autonomic nervous system.
It has been shown to correct the parasympathetic under activity and sympathetic over activity by a stimulation of the vagus nerve which subsequently lowers heart rate, blood pressure, hyperventilation, pain, overall tension as well as stress and anxiety.
It also promotes digestion, previously inhibited by an overactive sympathetic nervous system.
Furthermore, it is observed that yoga notably decreases the concentrations of the stress hormones in the blood. Together, the effects exerted by yoga on the body successfully calm the overactive sympathetic tone.
Similarly, routine meditation is proven to soothe the overactive sympathetic nervous system while promoting the activity of its parasympathetic counterpart.
Such effects have been noted by, inter alia, measuring the blood levels of chemical markers of each branch of the autonomic nervous system.
Accordingly, the concentration of the markers of the sympathetic nervous system including the stress hormones, have eminently diminished with regular meditation practice as per this research.
5. Gratitude Practices
Gratitude is an essential contributor to one’s mental well-being and is very much connected to one’s general happiness, life satisfaction and contentment.
It is also closely associated with lower levels of stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms, hence the signs of an overactive sympathetic nervous system.
Besides a direct, inversely proportional link between the occurrence of the mentioned conditions and gratitude practices, studies also confirm the positive impact of the treatment on particular symptoms of the increased sympathetic tone like increased heart rate, blood pressure and ventilation.
As per this scientific report, gratitude practice calms and effectively synchronizes the listed functions with one another.
6. Herbal Medicine
Herbal medicine offers a wide array of options when it comes to heal the overactive sympathetic nervous system.
Miscellaneous plants contain calming substances like a diverse group of terpenes which have been shown to tone down the sympathetic tone in multiple studies, for instance by reducing the concentration of stress hormones in the blood.
Accordingly, they have been effectively used in chronic stress, insomnia, anxiety and related conditions.
Two separate studies, one report here and another report here, had shown some of the richest sources of these compounds are chamomile and lavender respectively.
At the same time their smell and taste are also quite appealing to relax the senses.
As mentioned previously, a balanced, wholesome diet is imperative to one’s overall well-being, including the mental one.
Not only eating certain foods like simple sugars boosts the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, but a varied diet plays an equally important role when combating the overactive sympathetic nervous system.
Variation of the eaten foods is responsible for the healthy state of one’s gut flora which has been intrinsically linked to one’s mental health – every year, new research comes up in this fascinating field of medicine.
Moreover, the quality of food is also significant. Consuming low-quality meals will result in an increased general inflammation in the body which can both give rise to and exacerbate medical conditions, especially including those associated with increased sympathetic tone.