What you need to know about our autonomic nervous system and stress

An illustration showing the functions of the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Human beings have an autonomic nervous system (ANS), which controls a great deal of how our body works. The word “autonomic” means that the system functions without our conscious control. We don’t have to tell our lungs to breathe, our heart to beat, or our stomachs to start the digestive process. Our systems just do what they are supposed to do.

The autonomic nervous system has two streams operating in tandem. They are the sympathetic and the parasympathetic, and they fulfil different functions. For me, understanding how they operate and how to support them has helped me manage the stress created by complexity and increase my wellbeing. In this article, I share some insights into how stress affects our ANS, and a simple but remarkably effective tip for changing your experience of stress.

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Leadership Toolbox: what we need to know for living with complexity

Abstract art - lines of blue, green and white light criss-crossing a dark background
Reading Time: 13 minutes

Note: This article was originally published on 23rd March 2020.

There’s a lot going on in the world right now. We are seeing a massive global response to the COVID-19 virus, the likes of which we don’t often see. For more than a year now, we’ve been experiencing rapid change, both in the spread of the coronavirus and national and local responses to the evolving situation.

In some ways, what is happening with coronavirus is a perfect example of the kind of complex world in which we now live. The goalposts are constantly shifting, threats seem to be escalating, and no one really knows what will happen next. This complexity can make it feel like we’re fighting battles every day, leaving us feeling exhausted and pushing us away from creativity and connection.

So, how do we make sense of the world around us, and navigate complexity while keeping ourselves mentally and physically healthy, and ready to do good work? In this article, I share some knowledge and resources that have helped me at different times – and I’m sure something here will help you too!

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