I’ve just been on a family holiday. We took off to South Wales and spent some time on the Gower Peninsula. It was beautiful!

Whenever I take a few days off, I tend to get really tired and run down with a cold…and it’s happened again! Does the same thing happen to you? Do you wonder why?

Autonomic nervous system

This nervous system controls the functions that we have little conscious control over (i.e. digestion, blood pressure, heart rate). It is split into two branches—the sympathetic and the parasympathetic.

Sympathetic branch: This branch is also known as the ‘flight or fight’ system. It directs blood away from the digestive system and to the muscles and brain, and it activates the thyroid and adrenal glands to provide extra energy when you're in a state of stress. In the long run, it is catabolic; it wears the body down. That adrenaline rush may feel great at first, but it is often followed by a state of fatigue as the body has used far more energy than necessary.

Parasympathetic branch: This branch is also known as the ‘rest and relax’ system. In complete contrast to the sympathetic system, it is anabolic in nature. Its primary concern is regeneration. It is essential for a balanced, healthy body!

Here’s the problem—the two branches are antagonistic, meaning they won’t really work at the same time. For example, imagine trying to stand on the accelerator and the brakes in your car at the same time. Another problem is that the sympathetic system is most dominant and therefore most active. Ever wonder why you feel fatigued? This is why! So what do we need to do?

What we need to do is remain in a parasympathetic state as often as possible. We should:

  • Rest often, including taking naps and getting eight hours of sleep. Exercise is a massive sympathetic stimulant. If you train to the max, you need to rest to the max, too. Ever heard the statement, "There’s no such thing as overtraining, just under recovery?"
  • Eat well. Consume things like eggs, meats, nuts, seeds, vegetables, water, and fish oils. Your digestive system is governed by the parasympathetic nervous system. Feed it!
  • Reduce your stress levels. This is easier said than done. We can’t control everything. We can, however, control our environment by reducing noise levels, artificial light, and electromagnetic stressors (i.e. television, computers, phones). Stop using these things in the hour or so before you go to bed. Try reading instead. Also, keep phones, lights, and alarm clocks away from your bed.


Due to the demands of modern day living, I think most people are in some state of sympathetic fatigue. We stress our bodies to the max, and when we take some (sometimes long overdue) time out, our sympathetic system expects the parasympathetic system to kick in and do its thing. Only due to its lack of use, it’s too ‘unfit’ to respond in the manner that it was designed and we end up tired, exhausted, and run down rather than relaxed, rejuvenated, and healthy. Autonomic balance is the key to health. The key to longevity and optimal performance is to stay healthy and balanced. Do yourself a favor—make time to relax every day!