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Nervous System Dysregulation Explained: What It Is, Why It Happens, & How to Fix It

This guide digs deep into science and offers several practical techniques you can implement today that will nourish and recalibrate your nervous system. Step-by-step, through implementing these tools, you will find ease in your life.

What is nervous system dysregulation?

Nervous System Dysregulation happens when the nervous system enters an endless state of survival; signaling danger throughout your body when, in reality, there is no danger. Basically, your brain and body stop working together the way they are supposed to which has the potential to affect every part of your life.

This extended state of high alert produces several side effects including: anxiety, under/over-reacting in any given situation, feeling scared, feeling unsafe in your body, panic attacks, overwhelm, depression, and feeling numb, disconnected, and dissociative. Eventually, your body can no longer naturally return to a state of balance or homeostasis and thoughtful intervention is needed. This guide will discuss both ancient and modern techniques you can learn to both understand and regulate your nervous system.



Frequently Asked Questions

  • What Is Nervous System Dysregulation?
  • How Does The Nervous System Work?
  • What Causes Nervous System Dysregulation?
  • How Can We Heal Nervous System Dysregulation?

“Healing your nervous system doesn’t happen overnight. But with the right tools and understanding, you can say goodbye to overwhelm and build healthy coping strategies.”


 The nervous system is the master control system of the body. It regulates and coordinates all the activities of the body.

When your body perceives a potential threat, it releases stress hormones that prepare you to fight or take flight, by manipulating things like your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing. A threat appears and our bodies react before we even have a chance to think about it; potentially saving our life. 

However, this stress response is meant to be temporary. Chronic activation of survival mode can lead to nervous system dysregulation. When we are repeatedly subject to stressful situations and lack the coping skills to deal with that stress, the nervous system approaches dysregulation. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to bring your system back into balance which we will discuss later in this guide.

What Causes Nervous System Dysregulation?

Nervous system dysregulation can happen for a variety of reasons. It can be caused by a single traumatic event, or it can be the result of chronic stress. It can also be caused by exposure to toxic substances, such as heavy metals, pesticides, and other chemicals.

Traumatic events that can lead to nervous system dysregulation include car accidents, natural disasters, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and military combat. But a traumatic event is measured not by what happened but how we processed the event. In the words of Epictetus, we are not disturbed by events, but by our opinion of them. So, it’s not the event itself that causes nervous system dysregulation but our perception of the event and how we deal with it. It is the story we tell ourselves about the event that has a lasting impact whether positive or negative.

For example, someone who experienced a car accident may have been able to process the event and move on with their life without any long-term effects. But someone who was in the same car accident and blames themselves for what happened may struggle with anxiety, depression, and survivor’s guilt long after the event has passed.

So, even a one-time event can cause nervous system dysregulation if it is intense enough. Chronic stress, on the other hand, is a long-term stressor that can wear down the body and mind over time. It can be caused by a variety of things, including poverty, a high-pressure job, a difficult home life, chronic illness, or caring for a loved one with a chronic illness.

Exposure to toxins can also lead to nervous system dysregulation. Toxins can come from the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the products we use. They can be physical, such as heavy metals and pesticides, or emotional toxins, such as verbal abuse and manipulation. Some notable causes are listed below.

  • Abuse
  • Repeated and Unmanaged Stress
  • Traumatic Events
  • Repeated Denial of Ones Needs
  • Habitual Destructive Thought Patterns
  • Mold Exposure
  • Heavy Metal poisoning
  • Infections
  • Lyme disease
  • Bartonella
  • Poor Gut Health
  • Inflammation


How Does Nervous System Dysregulation Happen? According to Science

When a stressful event is experienced, the amygdala, a part of the brain that facilitates the processing of emotion, sends a signal of distress to the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus acts as a sort of command center for the autonomic nervous system, the part of the nervous system that controls involuntary processes like heart rate and digestion. In response to the amygdala’s signal, the hypothalamus sends out its own set of orders via the sympathetic nervous system to the pituitary gland which awakens the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands then which release adrenaline through the blood stream. This triggers the fight-or-flight-or-freeze response. This all occurs before our brains can even visually grasp what is happening.

The problem is that when stress becomes chronic, the amygdala gets stuck in a state of high alert and keeps sending out distress signals to the hypothalamus, which keeps sending out orders to the adrenal glands to produce adrenaline. This response was meant to be used in short bursts for survival, not for long-term exposure. When these hormones are continually released, it takes a toll on our bodies and can lead to nervous system dysregulation resulting in inescapable fight, flight, and freeze states. This can manifest into serious health problems like high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, insomnia, etc.

Going Deeper

The Nervous System: Explained

The nervous system is a complex network of cells and tissues that helps the body communicate with itself and the outside world. Your whole inner world (the world you make up in your head, the stories you tell yourself) is based upon the state of your nervous system. The nervous system is made up of the brain, spinal cord and a web of nerves that spread from head to toe. Scientists still don’t fully understand the nervous system so attempting to learn about the scientific side might leave you feeling a bit overwhelmed. Feel free to skip over this part if that is the case. If you can hang on, I think this scientific foundation will set the stage for long-lasting change. 

There are two main types of nerves in the body- the Central Nervous System (CNS), which includes the brain and spinal cord, and the Peripheral Nervous System (PNS), which includes all the other nerves.

Central Nervous System (CNS)

The CNS is made up of the brain and spinal cord. It is responsible for processing information from the outside world and coordinating the body’s response. It differs from the PNS in function because it is not just a highway for carrying information to and from the brain, but it also processes that information. This means that the CNS is responsible for things like thoughts, emotions and memories

The CNS consists of three main parts:

  • The Brain– which is responsible for processing information and coordinating the body’s response
  • The Spinal Cord– which carries messages between the brain and the rest of the body
  • The Nerves– which create the highway for carrying information to and from the brain

Peripheral Nervous System (PNS)

The PNS is a network of nerves that help send information to the brain and spinal cord using sensory nerves which send information about changes in the environment to the brain and spinal cord and motor nerves which carry messages from the brain and spinal cord to the muscles, glands and organs. The PNS also decides whether the changes in the environment are harmful or not and then sends that information to the central nervous system.

Further, the PNS can be divided into two systems:

The Somatic Nervous System

The Autonomic Nervous System

Somatic Nervous System (SNS)

The somatic nervous system is responsible for the movement of our skeletal muscles. It consists of motor neurons, which send signals from the central nervous system to the muscles. These signals tell the muscles when to contract or relax. The somatic nervous system also includes receptors, which send information back to the central nervous system about touch, temperature, pain, and pressure. This feedback helps us to coordinate our movements and to avoid damaging our tissues. Without the somatic nervous system, we would be unable to move our bodies in a coordinated way. We would also be unable to feel pain, which would make it difficult to avoid injuring ourselves unintentionally. Thanks to the somatic nervous system, we are able to move our bodies with precision and to keep ourselves safe from harm.

Autonomic Nervous System (ANS)

This system is responsible for carrying information to and from the involuntary muscles such as those in the heart and digestive system. This part of the nervous system helps us to adapt to changes in the environment and is largely responsible for how we respond emotionally. The ANS constantly fine-tunes all of these functions to keep you alive when your nervous system is working effectively.

Further, the ANS can be divided into two systems:

The Sympathetic Nervous System

The Parasympathetic Nervous System

Sympathetic Nervous System (SYNS)

This system is responsible for carrying information to and from the voluntary muscles such as those in the arms and legs

Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS)

The primary goal of the parasympathetic nervous system is to conserve energy. It accomplishes this by slowing down the heart rate and decreasing the amount of blood that is pumped out of the heart. It also relaxes the muscles in the gut which allows the body to digest food more efficiently.

The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for “rest and digest” activities, such as slowing the heart rate, increasing digestive secretions and reducing stress responses. It is activated by relaxing activities like yoga or meditation, good food, and positive social interactions.

The parasympathetic nervous system is often called the “rest and digest” system because it’s responsible for calming the body down after a stressful event. 



Finally, it increases urination and sweating to help rid the body of wastes.



Autonomic Nervous System: Balancing Two Opposites

The autonomic nervous system is further divided into two parts- the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for our fight-or-flight response, while the parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for our rest-and-digest.

The Stress Response

Your sympathetic nervous system is like a security guard, constantly on the lookout for danger. When it perceives a threat, it activates your fight-or-flight response, releasing stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones help you to deal with the threat, but they also have some unpleasant side effects, like making your heart race and making you feel jittery. Normally, once the threat has passed, your sympathetic nervous system will go back to its normal state. However, if you’re constantly under stress, it can get stuck in a chronic stress response. This can lead to long-term health problems, like high blood pressure and anxiety. The good news is that there are things you can do to break the cycle of chronic stress. Exercise, relaxation techniques, and counseling can all help to restore balance to your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.


The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the “fight or flight” response, which is designed to help us deal with acute stressors. However, when this response is activated too frequently or for too long, it can lead to a chronic stress response. This is because the sympathetic nervous system is not designed for sustained activation – it’s meant to be a short-term response to an immediate threat. Unfortunately, in our modern world, we are exposed to more chronic stressors (such as work deadlines, financial worries, and family conflict) that can keep our sympathetic nervous system turned on for too long. This can lead to problems such as anxiety, insomnia, and difficulty concentrating. The good news is that there are things we can do to help break the cycle of chronic stress. Exercise, relaxation techniques, and spending time in nature are all great ways to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and promote a state of calm. By taking steps to reduce our exposure to chronic stressors and incorporating some self-care into our daily routine, we can help prevent the sympathetic nervous system from getting stuck in a chronic stress response.


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