What is the autonomic nervous system?
The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is the part of the nervous system that controls automatic functions. The ANS controls the bodily functions that you don’t think about such as breathing, blood pressure regulation, digestion and temperature regulation to name a few.
Almost every organ in your body has an autonomic nerve supply and is constantly adjusting for changes in your environment. For example, when you stand up and walk somewhere it is your autonomic nervous system that adjusts your heart rate and blood pressure to the upright position. Or when you eat a meal it is your autonomic nervous system that redirects your blood flow to your stomach to aid digestion. If you are in a very warm environment and begin to sweat it is your autonomic nervous system that allows you to sweat so you won’t overheat. These are just a few examples.
Broadly speaking there is the sympathetic side of the autonomic nervous system which is also called the “fight or flight” system. The other part is called the parasympathetic side of the autonomic nervous system which is also called the “rest and digest” system. The rest and digest part of the autonomic nervous system is active most of the time and then you use your fight or flight system during more intense activity.