Why Understanding Our Natural Instincts Can Help us Understand Ourselves

Our brains and bodies are complicated. They have integrated systems that are continually working to record the information they’re overloaded with every day. Sometimes understanding these systems, how they work, and WHY they work, can help us better understand ourselves. And we all know, once we better understand ourselves, it’s easier to follow the path we choose.

The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) is responsible for the functions of the body that we’re not in control of, like digestion, breathing and our heartbeat. There are two primary components of the nervous system- the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) and the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS). Let’s take a look at each of these in a little more detail.


Parasympathetic or “Rest and Digest”

The PNS is the fairly boring part of our nervous system. It controls homeostasis, the body’s natural state.

The PNS is responsible for your body’s rest and digestive functions. It’s located in the sacral region of the spinal cord and controls your body when it’s at rest. It’s what tells your brain to relax your muscles, take slower breaths and just chill basically.


Sympathetic or “Fight or Flight”

Now, your sympathetic nervous system is the one that handles the tough stuff. Think of it as your body’s overprotective older brother. Once your brain perceives something as a threat, your SNS kicks in, raises your heartbeat, increases your breathing and sets your whole body on edge, ready to do what it needs to do to survive. This “come at me bro” state your body switches to when in danger is known as “fight or flight”.

This fight or flight response is a really helpful thing to have… if you’re actually in danger. However, people who experience anxiety on a fairly regular basis tend to have an overactive SNS. So how can you break out of that cycle? Self-awareness.


How to Recognize the Signs

The beautiful thing about being self-aware is that it allows you to take ownership of the things happening to your body. When you do that, you suddenly become in control of things that you may have otherwise thought were out of your control. So how do you become self-aware of the things that trigger your anxiety? Start to take a tally of what sets off your body’s fight or flight response. Maybe it’s every time you have to make a video call with a particular client, perhaps it’s when you have to give speeches in front of a room full of people. Whatever the trigger may be, identifying it is half the hurdle. After all, anxiety is normal. But the inability to calm yourself down is not.


Ok, So I know What’s Freaking me out. Now what?


In order to put the brakes on your sympathetic nervous system’s response to whatever it is that’s freaking you out, you have to mimic the actions of your parasympathetic nervous system until it kicks back in. Classic “fake it till you make it”, right? Take those deep breaths, do a quick roll of your shoulders, relax your back muscles and just calm down. Easier said than done, sure, but it is possible. This is no way means that Anxiety Disorder isn’t a real thing. It is. But we are more in control of our body’s responses to stressors than we’re led to believe.


Understanding Your Anxiety Can Change Your Life

This is a bold statement. Understanding your anxiety can change your life. But it’s true. Once you know what’s scaring you, and how to change your body’s response to it, you can start doing things that your SNS has been holding you back from. Take the leap. Nothing worth doing isn’t scary. I’m sure someone important once said that. It’s still going to be scary, but you can change your body’s response to that fear. Try it.

The Psychology of Entrepreneurship

For more insight into fight or flight check out volume 06 of the Psychology of Entrepreneurship podcast hosted by Ronsley Vaz and with special guest Dr Doug Brackmann.

Author: Ronsley Vaz

Ronsley is the founder & chief day dreamer at AMPLIFY. He is an author, speaker & serial entrepreneur.

He has a Masters’ degree in Software Engineering and an MBA in Psychology and Leadership. He is known as the creator of We Are Podcast – the first Podcasting Conference in the Southern Hemisphere, and the host of The Bond Appetit Podcast and Should I Start a Podcast. He has an audience of over 3 million in 133 countries.

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