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Alexander 30. May 2016

Stress Facts: The Autonomic Nervous System

Blausen_0838_Sympathetic_InnervationThe autonomic nervous system (ANS) regulates all vital functions of the human body such as breathing, water balance, digestion, metabolism and more. It’s like a mediator between these bodily processes and the brain and plays a key role in our stess response.

As the name suggests the ANS operates mostly “autonomic” and therefore unconsciously and even when sleeping. It’s actually impossible to stop essential functions like digestion deliberately.


The ANS’ regulatory power involves organs and organic systems such as the heart, the inner eye muscles, the stomach, glands and the sexual organs.

The ANS allows the body to adapt quickly to external conditions. When feeling warm, the blood circulation in the skin is raised and the perspiratory glands are stimulated in order to cool down the body.

The autonomic nervous system has a key position in relaxation and activation. Driving forces behind these modes are the two integral parts of which it consists: The sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic nervous system.


The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is, in brief, responsible for preparing the body for action. It controls and stimulates most of the body’s internal organs.

When facing threats, the SNS triggers the so-called “fight-or-flight” and “freeze-and-dissociate” responses. It counteracts and also complements the parasympathetic nervous system.


The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) also regulates the inner organs. It manages metabolism, regeneration and building up bodily resources.

Two of the most symbolic states, that sum up the PNS functions perfectly, are the “rest-and-digest” and the “feed and breed” mode. In short, it covers most tasks related to eating, drinking and sexuality but also eye muscles and the lacrimal glands.

The PNS is the part of the autonomic nervous system , that needs to be strengthened when facing anxiety and stress. Biofeedback with breathing, mindfulness trainings or meditation, Yoga and so-called light jogging.