The Sympathetic Nervous System

Associated with the central nervous system by connecting nerves--but

located outside of it in various parts of the body--are groups of

nerve-cells (gray matter) and their fibers, forming what we call the

sympathetic nervous system--the direct connecting link between mind

and body.

The central nervous system is the director of all conscious action of

the body; the sympathetic orders all unconscious action.
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The beating of the heart, the contraction of the blood-vessels, hence

the flowing of the blood, the processes of digestion, the functioning of

the glands, are all directed by the sympathetic. In other words, the

central nervous system normally controls the movements of the

voluntary muscles; the sympathetic controls those of the involuntary


The quick blush, the sudden paling of the cheeks, the start of fear, the

dilated pupils of fright are the direct result of the action of

involuntary muscles under control of the sympathetic system. The

stimulus is received by the central nervous system; the fibers

connecting the central and the sympathetic systems carry the message

quickly to the latter, which immediately respond by ordering contraction

or expansion of involuntary muscles. So tears flow, we breathe freely

again or we quake and tremble, our pupils widen or contract, the heart

beats suffocatingly, or seems almost to stop.

The sympathetic system, as the name implies, is influenced by

suggestions from the emotions rather than from the intellect. We might

say that it is controlled by the "feeling mind" rather than the thinking

mind, for intellect cannot influence it in the least.

The wise nurse, who knows something of the laws of the mind, soon

realizes that the sympathetic nervous system, rather than physical

disability, causes many indigestions, headaches, diarrheas, dry mouths,

chills; is responsible for much nausea, much "exhaustion," etc. When she

has had wider experience she finds that almost any known physical

disorder can be unconsciously imitated by the suggestible patient, whose

sympathetic nervous system causes physical reactions to respond to the

feelings of a sick mind. Let the nurse remember, however, that is it not

for her to decide whether the disorders from which her patient suffers

are of physical or nervous origin. It is for her, on the other hand, to

study her patient's mentality and reactions, and to become expert in

reporting symptoms of nervous as well as of physical significance.