What are the Signs of a Dysregulated Nervous System?

What are the Signs of a Dysregulated Nervous System?

Our nervous systems play a vital role in our health and well-being. 

This fascinating, complex system, which comprises our brain, spinal cord, and nerves, can help us respond appropriately to our environment and allow our bodies to function effectively, all factors that lead to optimal health. 

A regulated nervous system is a happy system! It allows us to get on with our lives without facing some of the challenges and difficulties that those with a dysregulated or imbalanced nervous system often have to deal with.

For instance, individuals with a dysregulated nervous system may experience more physical and emotional health issues than those with healthy nervous systems, such as:

Many people grappling with the above health issues are often misdiagnosed or undertreated for their symptoms, and although things are improving, more needs to be done to cultivate nervous-system-informed practices within our healthcare system.

 

This article explores the signs of a dysregulated nervous system.

But, before we dive in, if you are concerned about your mental health or experience any of the symptoms discussed in this article, it may be time to speak to a mental health specialist, who can provide further resources and information.

 

Here’s how we can help

The Lighthouse Bali offers bespoke addiction and mental health treatment programs for the following mental health conditions, all of which can contribute to a dysregulated nervous system:

  • Substance addiction, such as alcohol or drug use disorders
  • Depression
  • Anxiety 
  • Trauma

We offer one-on-one treatment programs that give our clients the undivided attention, care, and support they need and deserve as they navigate their recovery journeys.

Our programs are personalized to the individual, meaning they cater to your needs, preferences, and goals instead of focusing solely on symptom management. Although effective, this latter approach often only works in the short run and is not recommended.

The ‘one-size-fits-all’ treatment model often doesn’t work, particularly when treating complex mental health issues such as substance use, trauma, or a dysregulated nervous system.

Instead, treatment programs that utilize a ‘whole-body’ approach are the most effective, as they address the root cause of your symptoms and any underlying health issues, current challenges, belief systems, coping skills, and more.

The Lighthouse Bali team delivers personalized alcohol and substance abuse programs as well as comprehensive, customized trauma and behavioral treatments such as:

  • EMDR (eye movement desensitization reprocessing)  
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Individual therapy
  • Schema therapy
  • Mindfulness-based modalities

To learn more about our bespoke treatment programs, contact our friendly team at our Bali recovery center today for further information and support.

What are the signs of a dysregulated nervous system?

As mentioned, a regulated nervous system is crucial for optimal health and well-being. 

People with regulated nervous systems often feel calm and emotionally stable and can maintain this homeostatic state despite life’s inevitable challenges.

Individuals with healthy nervous systems do not experience the emotional rollercoaster of health and mood fluctuations that those with a dysregulated system often contend with.

 

As we’ve already covered, a dysregulated nervous system can manifest in various unpleasant ways. It may present as anxiety and depression symptoms and even physical health issues like skin disorders and stomach problems.

However, there are many more signs of a dysregulated nervous system, five of which are outlined below.

1. Constantly feeling anxious or on edge

One of the hallmark symptoms of a dysregulated nervous system is when you constantly feel anxious, nervous, or on edge.

The scales can easily tip for those who are more sensitive to stress or overwhelm, especially those with nervous system dysregulation issues.

 

For instance, if you are going through a stressful period at work, you may feel easily annoyed, irritated, or as if it’s all too much.

You may find yourself in a constant, hypervigilant state, unable to switch off, stop worrying, or relax.

Moreover, you may also find that your worries extend into other areas of your life, such as your relationships, health, finances, and so on.

No matter how hard you try, you cannot turn the worry button off in your mind.

If you find yourself in a perpetual state of anxiety or feeling on edge, this may be a sign that you have a dysregulated nervous system.

Working with a specialist who can help ground you and bring your nervous system back into a more regulated state can be highly beneficial, giving you the proper tools and coping skills to manage daily stressors more effectively and avoid further health complications.

2. Chronic health issues

As we briefly touched on earlier, another classic symptom of nervous system dysregulation is when a person experiences chronic health issues.

A dysregulated nervous system, more often than not, is responsible for persistent health problems such as skin disorders, including rosacea, chronic pain, fatigue, or digestive issues.

As well as the above, other health conditions are associated with a dysregulated nervous system. These conditions include:

  • Asthma
  • Headaches
  • Allergies
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Cancer

Individuals with untreated nervous system issues often visit multiple doctors, specialists, physiotherapists, and dermatologists for the same health complaints.

Sadly, many are left feeling hopeless because their symptoms are alleviated for a short while and then return, or they experience no relief at all.

This is a prevalent issue in our society, where those with chronic illnesses continually experience exacerbations or flare-ups of their condition without an apparent cause or trigger.

Many people often find themselves desperately searching for answers as to why their conditions are not improving despite eating healthy, visiting the doctor, taking their prescribed medications, exercising regularly, and so on.

Their attempts to cultivate a healthy lifestyle do not seem to work, and many find their symptoms persistently getting worse.

If this sounds like you, it may be worth your while to speak to a healthcare practitioner who understands the nervous system and its role in physical and mental health. 

They may help you explore effective treatment avenues you have not considered or tried before.

3. Chronic fatigue

Persistent tiredness that doesn’t improve with sleep or rest is another common sign of a dysregulated nervous system.

You may find that no matter how much sleep or rest you get, you still feel utterly exhausted, and no amount of naps or siestas seems to make any difference. The net result of all this is often frustration and more exhaustion.

 

Many people with dysregulated nervous systems feel groggy, tired, or sleepy during the day despite having a good night’s sleep the night before.

This can lead to issues with functioning, such as difficulty concentrating at work, focusing on relationships, or completing daily tasks or responsibilities.

If you experience any of the above symptoms, you must speak to your doctor, who can advise you further.

4. High sensitivity to other people’s emotional states 

Research indicates that psychological trauma is one of the primary causes of a dysregulated nervous system.

Traumatic experiences, particularly those that occur during your formative years, such as exposure to domestic violence, physical abuse, parental abandonment, or other types of trauma, can cause your nervous system to become imbalanced, leading to all kinds of complications in later life, such as substance abuse and depression.

When we experience something traumatic or frightening, these events can cause us to engage in survival responses such as fight, flight, freeze, fawn, or flop.

These survival mechanisms are beneficial during a crisis or when we experience a life-threatening event like a medical emergency or a physical assault, as they can give us the energy to either fight or flee or find another solution, such as befriending our assailant to calm them down (this is called the “fawn response.”)

However, these responses can cause various complications to our health and well-being when we continue to engage in them, particularly when we don’t need to, for instance, when all is safe and well in our environment.

Those who witnessed parental violence in their childhood home learned to be highly attuned to the feelings and emotions of the aggressive parent to survive and are more likely to experience issues with hypervigilance, hypersensitivity, and other trauma responses later on.

These adaptive responses were once highly beneficial, allowing the individual to read the signs of safety or danger in their immediate environment and act accordingly.

However, this level of sensitivity or adaptation can carry into adulthood, where individuals are highly susceptible to the emotional states of others.

The above can manifest as a need to care for those around you and profound guilt when saying ‘no’ to other people’s requests.

Highly empathic individuals often have weak or nonexistent boundaries and are constantly in people-pleasing, hypervigilant states, all signs that point to a dysregulated nervous system.

5. Addiction issues

It’s common for people to turn to drugs, alcohol, or other addictive behaviors (such as gambling, compulsive shopping, or overeating) as a way to self-medicate and temporarily alleviate symptoms of anxiety, depression, or other presentations caused by a dysregulated nervous system.

Moreover, a dysregulated nervous system can lead to chronic stress, with the person’s body remaining alert (‘fight or flight’) or continuously shut down (‘freeze’). 

This type of chronic stress often fuels individuals to seek relief through substances or other addictive behaviors.

Dopamine dysregulation

Addictive substances and behaviors can profoundly impact the brain’s reward system, primarily involving the neurotransmitter dopamine. 

When someone has a dysregulated nervous system, their brain’s dopamine production and regulation are disrupted.

This makes a person more vulnerable to seeking out substances like alcohol and drugs, providing them with a temporary hit of dopamine.

Lastly, achieving emotional regulation can be hugely 

challenging when the nervous system is highly dysregulated. 

For instance, a person may struggle to manage intense emotions and environmental stress, causing them to rely on addictive substances or behaviors to cope.

What causes a dysregulated nervous system?

Various factors can lead to a dysregulated nervous system. 

However, the most common causes of a dysregulated nervous system are:

  • Trauma
  • Chronic stress
  • Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)

 

Treatment

Treating a dysregulated nervous system is crucial, particularly for those with mental health and addiction issues, as various complications can arise when these conditions are left untreated.

Effective treatments and strategies for treating a dysregulated nervous system include a combination of the following:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • Specialized trauma treatment, such as EMDR, Schema, etc.

The above therapies can help you develop healthier coping mechanisms and allow you to reprocess any past traumas, helping you view these experiences in new, more empowering ways.

Other strategies for addressing a dysregulated nervous system include:

  • Mindfulness and relaxation techniques, such as yoga, deep breathing, and meditation, can help you relax and regulate your nervous system.
  • Holistic approaches and self-care measures. This may include cultivating a healthier diet, regular exercise, and practicing better sleep routines.

Other effective ways to regulate your nervous system may involve the following:

  • Qi gong
  • Tai chi
  • Cold water therapy
  • Limbic retraining
  • Movement such as walking, dancing, or running
  • Having a healthy, supportive network of friends and family

Contact our friendly team at The Lighthouse Bali today to learn more about the signs of a dysregulated nervous system or to hear more about our bespoke treatment programs.

We are always here to answer your questions and guide you on the transformative journey to lasting health and wellness.

Additional resources

  1. Top 10 Signs of a Dysregulated Nervous System, Heal Your Nervous System, Dr. Linnea Passaler, June 12, 2023

 

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What are the Signs of a Dysregulated Nervous System?

Our nervous systems play a vital role in our health and well-being.

This fascinating, complex system, which comprises our brain, spinal cord, and nerves, can help us respond appropriately to our environment and allow our bodies to function effectively, all factors that lead to optimal health.

A regulated nervous system is a happy system! It allows us to get on with our lives without facing some of the challenges and difficulties that those with a dysregulated or imbalanced nervous system often have to deal with.

For instance, individuals with a dysregulated nervous system may experience more physical and emotional health issues than those with healthy nervous systems

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