Divide & Conquer: How Is Our Nervous System Arranged?

As crazy as it may sound, the most defining moment of your life occurred before you were ever born. At around the 3rd week of gestation every...

As crazy as it may sound, the most defining moment of your life occurred before you were ever born. At around the 3rd week of gestation every embryo begins to undergo neurulation, the beginning stages of neural development (Ranbir Singh & Sunil Munakomi, 2020). It is at this time, that much of who we are begins to take shape. With the development of our nervous system comes consciousness, personality, and the genetic determination for our susceptibility to neurological disease. As our nervous system continues to develop it begins to differentiate different tasks to different tracts of nervous tissue. Understanding these divisions can help us to better understand our own mental health. Today we are going to break down the nervous system.

Scientists separate the nervous system into 2 large categories: 

  • The Central Nervous System (CNS) → includes the brain and spinal cord.
  • The Peripheral Nervous System (PNS) → includes all other nervous tissue.(Ludwig, Vamsi Reddy, & Varacallo, 2020).

Within the Peripheral Nervous System we divide nervous tissue into 2 more categories:

  • Autonomic Nervous Tissue → can be thought of as the “automatic” nervous system. It works to control all of the things we don’t actively have to think about to control.
  • Somatic Nervous Tissue → what we use to actively move our bodies and perform voluntary movement. (McCorry, 2007).

Now if you will bear with me once more, we can divide the Autonomic Nervous System into our last 2 categories:

  • The Sympathetic Nervous System → This is what controls our fight-or-flight! It is designed to mobilize your body for action.
  • The Parasympathetic Nervous System → This controls, what we scientists like to call, Rest-and-Digest. It is designed to bring us back to our normal state after activation of fight-or-flight. (McCorry, 2007).

Now I know what you’re thinking, “Why should I care about these different systems?” Simply put, these systems control almost everything that goes on inside your body. In fact, dysregulation of components of these systems is what underlies all neurological and psychiatric disease. In this podcast, we have discussed things like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Panic Disorder, both of which are conditions that come from our body’s trigger-happy activation of the sympathetic nervous system (Li, 2011; Sherin & Nemeroff, 2011)! 

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