Top 10 Signs of a Dysregulated Nervous System

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body emotional signs of a dysregulated nervous system

The nervous system is a crucial part of our body’s functioning, regulating our responses to stimuli, and maintaining our bodily functions. While a regulated nervous system ensures optimal health, when it becomes dysregulated due to factors like chronic stress, trauma, or genetic predispositions, it can have a profound impact on our health and wellness. 

In this blog post, we’ll take a deep dive into the top 10 signs and symptoms of a dysregulated nervous system, explore the common causes, and provide guidance on how to navigate this often complex health issue. This essential knowledge can help you understand and address chronic health issues related to nervous system dysregulation, providing you with the tools needed to start a journey toward a more regulated state.

What is the Nervous System?

Our bodies are remarkably complex, consisting of several systems that work together to maintain optimal health and function. One of these systems, the nervous system, plays a crucial role in our overall health. It’s a vital part of our body’s communication system, connecting every part of our body to the brain, transmitting signals back and forth. It ensures our body responds appropriately to stimuli, be it responding to an injury by feeling pain or feeling excitement when we see a loved one.

The nervous system is made up of two main parts: the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system. Together, these systems regulate our consciousness, movement, responses to the environment, and bodily functions like heart rate, digestion, and breathing.

The central nervous system, composed of the brain and spinal cord, serves as the main control center. It interprets incoming signals, formulates responses, and plays a crucial role in higher-order functions like consciousness, memory, and cognition.

The peripheral nervous system is an extensive network of nerves branching out from the central nervous system, connecting it to the rest of the body. This enables a seamless flow of communication, ensuring that our internal environment responds correctly to changes happening both inside and outside our bodies.

Under the umbrella of the peripheral nervous system, there’s a critical subset known as the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system operates mostly unconsciously and controls essential functions like heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, and even the ‘fight or flight’ response in stressful situations.

The ‘fight or flight’ response, or stress response, is one of the most critical functions of the autonomic nervous system. It’s an automatic reaction to perceived danger or threat, designed to protect us from harm. When triggered, it leads to physiological changes like increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and sharpened mental focus – all aimed at enhancing our ability to face or escape the threat.

While this response is vital for survival, problems can arise when it becomes chronically activated, leading to a dysregulated nervous system. Nervous system dysregulation can profoundly impact our health and well-being and is often the underlying cause of many common health issues such as chronic stress or anxiety, burnout, and various types of chronic pain or illness.

What is Nervous System Dysregulation?

A regulated nervous system is crucial for optimal health. It ensures that our body can adapt to the changes in our environment and maintain a state of homeostasis. This involves processes like our regulating our body’s response to stressors, sleep regulation, appetite and digestion, mood management, focus and attention, and the general functioning of all our bodily systems.

However, there are times when our nervous system becomes dysregulated. This can occur due to various factors, including chronic stress, trauma, or genetic predispositions. When our nervous system is dysregulated, it can’t perform its roles efficiently, which may result in numerous symptoms such as chronic stress or anxiety, burnout, as well as various types of chronic pain or illness.

Dysregulation of the nervous system can have a profound impact on most of the functions in our bodies. Many people are not aware that this is the underlying cause of many of the symptoms they experience, and so they can’t start the journey to a more regulated state.

Causes of Nervous System Dysregulation

A dysregulated nervous system can be caused by a variety of factors. Here are some of the primary causes:

1. Chronic Stress: Chronic stress is one of the most common causes of a dysregulated nervous system. When your body is continually exposed to stress, your nervous system stays in a state of high alert. Over time, an overactive stress response can result in hypervigilance and overwhelm. 

Additionally, the way individuals perceive and manage their stress plays a critical role. For instance, poor coping strategies or maladaptive beliefs can amplify the body’s stress response.

2. Trauma: Both physical and emotional traumas can lead to nervous system dysregulation. This includes events like accidents, surgeries, abuse, or witnessing distressing events.

3. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs): Negative experiences during childhood, such as neglect, physical or emotional abuse, or living with a family member who has mental health or substance use issues, can impact the development of the nervous system and cause dysregulation.

Moreover, adverse childhood experiences or unresolved emotional traumas can cause the nervous system to be stuck in a state of hyperarousal or hypoarousal, leading to dysregulation.

4. Genetics: Genetic factors can predispose individuals to a dysregulated nervous system. Certain gene variations can make people more susceptible to stress and anxiety, contributing to nervous system dysregulation.

5. Lifestyle Factors: Poor diet, lack of physical activity, and inadequate sleep can disrupt the normal functioning of your nervous system. In particular, stimulants like caffeine and alcohol, as well as certain medications, can overstimulate the nervous system and lead to dysregulation.

6. Underlying Health Conditions: Certain health conditions, such as autoimmune diseases, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and hormonal imbalances, can contribute to nervous system dysregulation.

In terms of nutrition, deficiencies in certain nutrients essential for the proper functioning of the nervous system, like B vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, and others, can also contribute to its dysregulation.

7. Environmental Factors: Exposure to toxins in the environment, such as heavy metals, pesticides, mold, and certain chemicals, can negatively impact nervous system function. Stressors such as noise pollution or a high-stress work environment can also contribute to dysregulation.

Understanding these causes is crucial in addressing the issue and beginning the journey toward a regulated nervous system. It’s also important to note that these factors can often interact, and the cause of a dysregulated nervous system is typically multifactorial. Now that we understand the causes of dysregulation, let’s discuss the common signs and symptoms of a dysregulated nervous system.

Common Signs of a Dysregulated Nervous System

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of a dysregulated nervous system is the first step toward regulation and optimal health. Here’s a list of the top 10 bodily and emotional signs of a dysregulated nervous system:

1. You’re constantly on edge and overwhelmed

One of the telltale signs of nervous system dysregulation is a sense of overwhelm. This seems counterintuitive, but it happens when you’re not able to let go or feel like there are too many demands on your attention and energy at any given time.

You may feel like you can’t keep up with everything, and you constantly feel on edge, worrying about what’s next.

You tend to be stressed out and experience an ongoing sense of overwhelm, even when things seem to be going well.

You have difficulty relaxing. It’s difficult for you to calm your mind enough to get into a state of relaxation. You might find yourself constantly worrying or thinking about your to-do list, your future, relationships, etc.

2. You’re frequently snappy, irritable, and reactive

Do you feel like you’re constantly on the verge of snapping or losing your temper? This could be a sign that you’re not managing your emotional stress well.

You may feel frustrated and antsy, all at once. Even small things can set off an intense reaction because it feels like there’s too much sitting on top of this pressure building up inside you.

You tend to overreact in certain situations. It becomes difficult for you to control the way you react or feel. This can affect your relationships and the way you think about yourself.

You may wonder why you can’t control your reactions and emotions, especially if your feelings are swinging from one extreme to another without any warning or build-up.

You tend to overreact in certain situations. It becomes difficult for you to control the way you react or feel. You may be easily upset, frustrated, and angered by things. Your mood changes quickly (e.g., from sad to happy) without any reason.

3. You experience chronic pain and illness

Life stressors such as chronic stress, trauma, adverse childhood experiences, and illness can lead to nervous system dysregulation. Chronic nervous system dysregulation can lead to any variety of chronic pain and illness.

Suppose you’ve been to multiple doctors, specialists, chiropractors, physical therapists, and more that lead to only temporary relief and no long-term solutions. In that case, you could be experiencing nervous system dysregulation.

You may also experience symptoms and pain flair-ups without any apparent cause or trigger. This is often a sign that your body has been experiencing high levels of sympathetic arousal for an extended time, leading to all sorts of physical problems over time.

You may feel pain or illness for a long time, even when you make an effort to eat right and exercise. You may feel like your symptoms are never going away. It’s not just physical, either; sometimes you have trouble sleeping well or concentrating on anything other than how bad the pain is in your head.

4. You’re highly sensitive to sensory stimuli

You are easily overwhelmed by strong sensory stimuli and probably identify as a highly sensitive person (HSP). Loud noises, certain smells, and being in big crowds, certain noises, and other sensory input can be tough to manage.

You also have a strong reaction to pain and are easily irritated or stressed by small things that others don’t notice, like clutter or the sound of chewing gum. You may find yourself becoming fearful, anxious, or depressed because sensory input is always overwhelming for you.

HSPs often have a low threshold for sensory stimulation. Loud noises, glaring lights, and strong smells can be distracting to you. You might even experience these stimuli as painful or unpleasant.⁣

5. You experience sleep problems and daytime fatigue

You don’t sleep well and feel tired during the day. You may find yourself yawning, feeling sleepy or groggy during the day, and having difficulty concentrating.

Nervous system dysregulation can disrupt the sleep cycle. This is because your nervous system has a hard time relaxing during sleep.

You may also experience problems regulating your temperature and heart rate, making it difficult to fall asleep at night. You might have a constantly elevated heart rate or feel too hot or cold despite the room’s temperature. And you could be tossing and turning all night long because of these issues with regulating your body’s systems.

You might not have enough energy for your daily tasks or enjoy activities with friends, family, or coworkers. It’s hard for you to get motivated when you’re exhausted all the time.

6. Chronic attention and concentration problems

You have trouble focusing on tasks or conversations. When the nervous system is on high alert, it’s hard to concentrate because your nervous system is always on the lookout for danger.

Even if you’re not in a dangerous situation, your body stays alert, making it hard to concentrate or focus on long-term goals.

Maybe you misplace things, forget to complete assignments at school, lose track of your thoughts when talking with others–or all these symptoms at the same time! You feel like you’re not as able and sharp as other people are.

7. Cravings and extreme appetite changes

Your appetite might go up and down. You could be hungry all the time, or you might feel like you can’t eat enough. This is because your body’s stress hormones are in a constant state of flux, and that can cause changes to your appetite.

Or maybe it’s just binges with no apparent trigger: one minute you’re eating average amounts of food, then suddenly you’re overwhelmed by a need to consume large quantities of sugar, salt, fat.

If you have trouble controlling what you eat, this could be a sign that something is not right with the way your nervous system regulates its metabolism.

8. Immune and Hormonal Symptoms

Your nervous system regulates every system in the body, so one of the most common symptoms of dysregulation is having a reduced or excessive immunological response to stressors, as well as hormonal imbalances.

9. Skin and Gut Conditions

People who suffer from conditions like Rosacea and IBS often suffer from a dysregulated nervous system. They’re often told to “reduce stress” in their life but have a hard time understanding what to do and how to heal. Once they take care of their nervous system health, and create a resilient, regulated system, their rosacea and IBS subside.

10. You’re highly sensitive to other people’s emotional states

You may identify as an empath. But your sensitivity to other people’s emotional states is damaging your mental and physical health in the long run. You feel the need to take care of other people, even when they’re not asking for it. No matter how much you do, there’s never enough, and you end up getting drained. This leaves you feeling miserable and resentful toward the person who is taking your energy without giving.

Recognizing these signs is critical as leaving a dysregulated nervous system untreated can lead to serious symptoms. Over time, chronic dysregulation can contribute to anxiety and burnout, chronic pain conditions, sleep disturbances, hormonal imbalances, and a weakened immune system.

Discovering Nervous System Regulation for Yourself

If you’ve recognized the signs of a dysregulated nervous system, the next step is to learn how to regulate it again. Regulating the nervous system is not an overnight process; it requires a combination of appropriate interventions and lifestyle changes, patience, and consistency.

So, how do you heal a dysregulated nervous system?

Most articles will advise you to focus on stress management with relaxation techniques like progressive muscle relaxation, or mindfulness practices like meditation and deep breathing. While stress reduction practices can certainly benefit the nervous system, healing nervous system dysregulation requires a more direct and comprehensive approach.

The good news is that with the right interventions, it is possible to help regulate your nervous system. Healing your nervous system can take time, but it’s worth the effort. The health of your nervous system can affect your quality of life on a day-to-day basis, and the earlier you begin to heal, the better.

If you’re interested in: 

  • Learning how sensitivity impacts your nervous system
  • Get in control of how your body and mind feel
  • Reducing emotional and physical symptoms in your life

Take the first step by taking the quiz “Are you an Orchid, Tulip or Dandelion?”

If you’re ready to build a flexible, thriving nervous system and start feeling calm and in control, check out our world-class program The Nervous System Solution. In this affordable program, our team of professionals will guide you through our comprehensive approach to healing a dysregulated nervous system. The Nervous System Solution provides valuable resources, structure, and hands-on guidance and support in strengthening your nervous system.

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Nervous System Regulation – Best Resources to Get Started

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Dr. Linnea Passaler

Dr. Linnea Passaler

Dr. Linnea Passaler has dedicated 20+ years to serving patients, first to a small number of individuals as a successful surgeon and then to thousands of people worldwide as the CEO of a digital health startup. After overcoming her own struggles with a dysregulated nervous system, she created Heal Your Nervous System (HYNS) to empower others in their healing journey. Her combination of neuroscience and somatic work helps those struggling with overwhelm, trauma, burnout, and anxiety to heal their dysregulated nervous systems and thrive.