Parasympathetic Nervous System & Touch

Parasympathetic Nervous System & Touch

Running Head :Parasympathetic Nervous System & Touch 1

Parasympathetic Nervous System & Touch

Parasympathetic Nervous System & Touch

Sandy Pennington

Southern New Hampshire University

Parasympathetic Nervous System & Touch

Research Introduction

The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for maintaining ordinary processes which are vital for a normal life. Some of the key functions of the parasympathetic nervous system include regulating digestion, sexual arousal, lowering the blood pressure and slowing the heart rate. The parasympathetic nervous system, therefore, plays an important role when it comes to ensuring that the body is well monitored and is able to carry out its normal daily activities (Colman, 2006). This paper is going to examine the parasympathetic nervous system and touch; which will be subdivided into, lovers touch, touch through cuddling and touch through massage.

Lover’s Touch

The reproductive organs are receive parasympathetic innervation from the spinal cord. Via the pelvic nerve, the sacral parasympathetic pathway send these signals to the target organs. When ganglionic neurons are activated in the target parasympathetic ganglia, dilation of penile and clitoral arteries occurs. The corresponding smooth muscles of the cavernous sinusoid relax which lead to expansion of sinusoidal spaces (Purves, Augustine, Fitzpatrick, et al., 2001). As a result of this, blood in the aforementioned tissue is increased which in-turn leads to a drastic rise in pressure and expansion of the cavernous spaces thus achieving arousal. The parasympathetic nervous system also raises the heart rate and excites the brain.

Touch through cuddling

When cuddling, the physical touch works to activate pressure receptors within the body. Immediately, signals are sent to the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is an important element in the parasympathetic nervous system. It acts as a safety valve when the body or brain is suddenly overexcited or put under heightened stress. When cuddling, the vagus nerve relaxes and the feeling is carried all along the body. As a result of the nerve relaxing, blood pressure drop and one feels calm and secure.

Touch through massage

Many a times, stressful situations affect individuals. During the stressful period, stress hormones are released resulting in physiological changes such as increased heart rate, quickening in breathing, muscle tension and sweating. Knowing how to use the parasympathetic nervous system to control anxiety and stress promotes long lasting sobriety by reducing the urge to turn to addictive substances (Diego & Field, 2009). When the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, changes in the body occur rapidly. Once the parasympathetic nervous system is activated to decrease activity, calmness and relaxation is achieved. Through massage, the parasympathetic nervous system works to reduce the body’s blood pressure and the heart rate. Massage stimulates the sensory and proprioceptive nerve fibers of the skin and underlying tissues (Diego & Field, 2009). Through the PNS, the stimuli is dispersed to the target body part. This achieves a soothing effect that enhances relaxation. Massage often causes the skin and muscles to dilate through receptor stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system.

What happens when the parasympathetic nervous system gets activated?

As one progresses in recovery, worry and anxiety tend to creep in. The environment, such as deadlines, family issues, may at times induce stress. When the stress hormone is released physiological changes occur. These responses are better known as fight or flight responses. We will look into this response when the parasympathetic nervous system is activated. The response is meant to be a survival tactic that allows mammals to react fast to a situation that was threatening. Unfortunately, the same response to non-life threatening stressors that trigger high anxiety levels receive the same fight or flight responses from the human body. Stress contributes to high blood pressure and anxiety. The parasympathetic nervous system works to relax and slow down the body’s response. It counter-acts the effects of the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system once activated has rapid changes to the body. The brain continually releases corticotropin and adrenocorticotropic hormones that keep the body on high alert until it perceived that the danger is over. When the threat is deemed over, the hormone levels decline and the parasympathetic system works to inhibit the stress response by slowing down high energy activities within the body. When the parasympathetic system is activated, it enhances relaxation to the mind and body. Activation of the parasympathetic system can be learnt. When achieved, individuals’ moods are lifted, the immune system is strengthened and blood pressure lowers to a normal rate. Some of the techniques that can be used can be; getting a massage, spending time in nature, meditation, exercise, hobbies, among numerous others.

What benefits do we get?

There are several benefits that can be derived from parasympathetic nervous system when activated. The benefits include: Improving self-esteem and reducing stress and anxiety. Improving self-esteem occurs when the hormones are released and they calm the body, therefore, the body is able to sense security and safety. Studies have been able to show that lovers who often cuddle and hug each other tend to have high self-esteem (Colonnello, 2016). Improved self-esteem can be observed from social interaction and connection and image that is portrayed within the public. Reduced stress and anxiety, on the other hand occur when one is hugged or cuddle to feel better. The brain will naturally produce dopamine which makes the body to relax, dopamine will reduce the pressure and make one feel relaxed (The Autonomic Nervous System, 2016). Dopamine and Oxytocin when released as a result of a hug, they tend to lower the level of cortisol in the body which increases stress or anxiety.

To sum it all up, activation of the parasympathetic nervous system has a long effect on the health of an individual. This is because one is able to trigger the release of important hormones that benefit or improve the health of an individual. A good example of health benefit would include: better heart health and increased immunity. Lack of it has been found to have some health effect on some individuals as they cannot cope in certain stressful situations and also, they tend to have problems with their self-esteem. Therefore, activities such as cuddling, massages, and touching of lovers is an important part of one’s health.


Colman, A. M. (2006). Oxford dictionary of psychology. New York: Oxford University Press.

Colonnello, V. (2016). Oxytocin and Self-Consciousness. PMB Med.

Diego M. A, Field T, (2009). Moderate pressure massage elicits a parasympathetic nervous system response. Int J Neurosci. 119(5):630-8. doi: 10.1080/00207450802329605.

Purves D, Augustine GJ, Fitzpatrick D, et al., (2001). Neuroscience. 2nd edition. Sunderland (MA): Sinauer Associates.

The Autonomic Nervous System. (2016). Regulation and Intergration, 529-534.

Parasympathetic Nervous System & Touch


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