Chapter 12Becoming Your Best Self: Rest, Engagement, Boundaries, and Deep Work

For thousands of years, humans kept their energy engines idling most of the day. They only accelerated to occasional bursts of exertion to hunt or escape danger. Pets give a good window into how the autonomic nervous system was designed to function. Our four dogs—Iris, Annie, Daisy, and Donnie—sleep most of the day and then spring to DEFCON 1 when the UPS delivery person comes within 100 feet of the house. When they finish defending the turf and letting the house and neighbors know it's all clear, they go right back to where they left off—full rest. Humans also go from rest to full alert in a split second. But it takes us a long time to return to full rest mode. Stress keeps our engines running high.

Dogs act in accordance with their fine-tuned senses for protection. But human responses include a very vivid imagination. Our imagination is powerful enough to activate fight-or-flight—with or without an outside trigger. That's why we live with the switch flipped “on” most of the time. We relive yesterday's regrets, coil like a panther against today's threats (real or imagined), and fret about tomorrow's unknowns. Between those moments of stress, many distractions keep our brains in the shallows of life. That keeps us from finding recuperative rest or the vital restorative balance.

Part of the problem is the imbalance between our parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) and our sympathetic nervous system ...

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