Nothing really jazzed me more than the apprehension of climbing a mountain. The mere mention of a peak with its rocky crags and treeless vistas creates a cascade of hormones and neurotransmitters I can feel in my fingers and toes. This is quickly followed by constant powerful heartbeats and an explosive development originating from deep within my soul. The odd experience is filled by joy, but physically seems to contain quite a bit of anxiety. Ultimately, my situation lead me to need a calming meditation period rather than pushing my resilient self up the side of a mountain or in this case my day's activities. Reducing my physical response allowed me to press forward, but not without negative ramifications in mental and physical performance.
Over time, the consistent symptoms became a bit of a hurdle, so I began exploring some potential causes leading to implications in my mind and body experience altitude without being at altitude. You know the psychosomatic stuff you have heard about, but did not really understand. When some pieces of the puzzle started to fit, my perspective on anything relating to performance in altitude endurance abruptly changed. I recorded my ideas on a whiteboard along with possible connections, then began testing each to determine potential outcomes and comparing them with other research studies. The number of variables in play overwhelmed my 8 foot by 4 foot whiteboard, so I began prioritizing each to determine which ones had the greatest effect for improvement without degrading the body I normally experienced.
Cardiovascular. Pulmonary. Endocrine. Lymphatic. Blood. Renal. GI. Hormones. Neurotransmitters. Enzymes. The sheer volume of base understanding is immense, then adding some major variables pushing the boundaries of what the human body is capable of adapting is expounds the mental processing capacities. However, there seemed to be a trend to a starting place. The control center of the human body. The autonomic nervous system continued to be the most prevalent variable in my schematic and haunted me creating an autonomic response within myself. These anxiety experiences are building. Argh!
Chronic anxious experiences can cause the body to take normal, every day events to become these jazzed feelings known as a sympathetic nervous system response. So far I have had two in just the four paragraphs I have written. Wait, you are probably asking yourself, "when was the first one?". Do you remember the first sentence about me being jazzed at the thought of climbing the mountain? Yes, the excited, stimulated, anxious, or jazzed state is a sympathetic nervous system response. They arrive in varying intensities. Some are minor, but others are major. Continued reactions or major emotional experiences can result in the minor to be a big deal. And the effect they are on the body. Well, temporarily you win, but long term you lose.
Why can you lose when you constantly are focused and feel fully energized? Well, in a simple answer: You do not recover. The body is always trying to maintain homeostasis by allowing the body to be excited when necessary, then pulling itself back to a normal state with recovery and rest protocols. This rest and recovery experience is the opposite of the sympathetic response. It is call the parasympathetic. Every cascade response in the sympathetic is directly negated by the parasympathetic if the control center, the hypothalamus, sends the signal to do so. Otherwise, we continue in the state of sympathetic or parasympathetic. You can see a bit of this in those who crave coffee or those who crave sleep. You pick which is which.
The implications in altitude endurance is short term massive focus and accomplishment, but for long term recovery and consistent activity not so much. Being active on a mountain requires focus over a long period of time while the body is being rocked with a large physiological demand. In a nutshell, the sympathetic and parasympathetic autonomic systems need to maintain near a homeostasis balance as possible. To disregard how your body is responding to its internal and external environment greatly reduces your short term and potentially long term success. By ignoring symptoms such as a faster or slower heart rate, short or longer respiration rate, diarrhea or constipation, or simply stimulated or relaxed, you can miss out on important cues in your ability to achieve your current goals.
Knowing my bias and when these symptoms should exist in my activity and daily routine have been vital to my normal physical activity, but something is missing. A big inquiry. The ultimate question concluded as: Could I be training my mind and body to prep its ability to adapt faster for higher altitudes while being at lower altitudes? The answer eluded me until I met the right people with the right perspective in several disciplines.