I had a moment while adventuring in South America that brought this home to me. I was sitting on a bus from Mendoza, Argentina to Portillo, Chile. After taking some time out in the wineries around Mendoza, my ski buddies had messaged me that I should return as the storm of the season was about to hit.
If I was not back by Tuesday, I risked being trapped down the bottom of the pass while they skied epic powder without me. I was on a bus within 4 hours of the note! Halfway through the journey, our second stop, I walked out of the service station to see my bus driving away without me. I was running in a flash, yelling “Amigo, Amigo” frantically waving my arms. Like a movie, the bus slowly pulled away from me, leaving a trail of dust blowing across the arid landscape. I swore profusely to myself; I had left my bags on the bus, passport, laptop, ski bag all gone. I am 100km from Mendoza, 150 km from Portillo with 50 odd peso’s, two credit cards and phone with 10 % charge. I panicked.
I can feel my chest tighten, my heart pounding out of my chest. There is this insane urgency to run. I notice myself waving my arms frantically at passing cars trying to get someone to stop. No-one stopped. I began running, running in the direction my bus went. Then I stopped. I looked up at the Sun. I could taste the dust in my mouth and hear my breathing in my ears.
My limbic brain had had its world rocked and was firing madly.
The very moment I saw that bus take off, my limbic system perceived a threat. Instantly I was in real fight and flight. I was fighting and ‘flighting’ to regain my passport, belongings, and what at that moment was my life. My limbic brain had had its world rocked and was firing madly. The first thing it did was override all Brain 3 functions, shut down the vagus nerve and dump a set of chemicals, hormones and sugar into the body.
Essential survival hormones like adrenaline, norepinephrine make you more awake and focused. Blood is also rapidly shifted away from your gut, and into the big muscles of the body that will power you fighting and flight and power up sugar metabolism, so you have instant access to energy. That’s me powered up to run after the bus.
Cortisol comes a little later (minutes) and takes care of things like fluid balance, blood pressure and keeps non-essential things like reproduction and immunity protected at that moment. It puts them on pause. The nervous system in action here is sympathetic. I call it the Red Baron. Much like the WW1 fighter pilot, the Red Baron is all about action and getting things done. To get things done, we need energy. It’s a system that delivers power. It breaks down bigger molecules to release energy. We all have this system and any time the Sun is up it’s on to some degree.
After all this destruction, the body is wired to clean up. Ideally, in the same 24-hour cycle, we have absorbed proper nutrients from our food and during a night of deep and restful sleep, our body expertly re-buildings broken tissue and powers up our energy for the next day. The nervous system in action here is parasympathetic. I call her the Green Goddess. She fires up the vagus nerve and without her life is only about survival.
The Green Goddess is ignored at your peril
Red and Green. Both critical for health. You need your Red Baron to workout, think critically and navigate your day safely.
Your Green Goddess must kick into repair, rebuild and restore that night.