The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is responsible for controlling all of the unconscious (autonomous) functions of the body. These autonomous functions maintain internal homeostasis, and also prepare the body to support appropriate voluntary (ie, non-autonomous) responses to external stimuli.
As such, dysfunction in the ANS can contribute to problems maintaining internal homeostasis in general (including problems with digestion, heart rate, and blood pressure, among others), but also problems involving maladaptive responses to external stimuli.
Many levels of control and regulation ultimately feed into control of the ANS, so by no means is this “autonomous” system detached from conscious and voluntary thoughts and behaviors, but understanding the inner workings of the ANS is very helpful as a foundation for understanding the physiological regulatory processes of the body, including emotional and cognitive processes.
To that end, this article will provide a general overview of the structure and function of the ANS, and a brief discussion of some problems with the common “fight or flight” versus “rest and digest” dichotomy of ANS function.[Read more…] about Autonomic Nervous System 101: Anatomy and Physiology