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What is a dysregulated nervous system?

When we experience chronic stress and anxiety we can often begin to internalize that stress in our body begins to respond to it. This can cause what we call a dysregulated nervous system.

Our nervous system can be broken into two branches: the parasympathetic branch which is our rest and digest, and the sympathetic branch which is our fight or flight. When we are exposed to chronic stressors in our lives we often are tipped in the balance of a sympathetic nervous system response. This response will release cortisol and adrenaline to help to keep us safe. Our bodies are simply responding to internal and external stressors in order to protect us and ensure that we stay safe. The problem lies when we are exposed to these stressors consistently because we then begin to wear on our nervous system and it can’t keep up with this constant flooding of cortisol and adrenaline that comes with chronic stress and anxiety.

Some of the symptoms associated with a sympathetic dominated or dysregulated nervous system May be extreme exhaustion, feeling irritable or frustrated, feeling unmotivated in things that used to bring us joy, always feeling on edge or like something bad is going to happen, our thoughts keeping us up at night not allowing us to get the rest we need, always being hyper aware of our surroundings or of our bodies, and so many more signs that can indicate we are in a sympathetic nervous system state.

Now the opposite is true for the parasympathetic nervous system. Our parasympathetic nervous system wants us to slow down and wants us to Store some of the energy that we are taking in. Often in this state we feel calm, our heart rates are lower, we are digesting the food that we have consumed, and we’re storing energy for any time that we may need it. This state is often extremely restorative for many because it allows us to get the rest that we so desperately need in our lives. But when we live in a constantly stressful environment we can tip the balance further and further away from this rested state.

Now you might be wondering why do we have this sympathetic state to begin with? Well... Imagine this: you’re walking in the forest it’s quiet and calm and all of a sudden a bear steps out in front of you. Now I hope your first response is fear although beers are fairly cute from a distance and there may be a bit of like wow look a bear but in reality you most likely would experience fear in this moment. Now in this moment our sympathetic nervous system kicks in because we need to get out of there we need to either fight or flight or freeze or fawn. No most of us would choose the flight response but any of these responses would result in a flooding of adrenaline because our bodies want to mobilize some energy so we can get out of there or we can escape the bear. This is where our sympathetic nervous system is extremely important. Its job is to increase our heart rate and mobilize sugars so our muscles can begin to work harder to run away, and change our vision so we can focus in on what we need to do to get away. Our bodies are truly trying to protect us and when we’re just exposed to stressors we often have this dominant state even though we may not see the bear in front of us.

A dysregulated nervous system isn’t something that is forever. It’s important to recognize that we can bring ourselves back into a rest and digest paras pathetic state. If you’d like to learn more about how to get to the state read my other blog post here.

Sometimes understanding the physiology behind what we are experiencing can help us be more equipped to handle those experiences when they come up. Though knowledge isn’t the only aspect of healing it can be extremely valuable to understand what our bodies are going through as a way to help us navigate those experiences as they come up.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel and healing is possible.

I hope this was able to give you an understanding of why we are experiencing a dysregulated nervous system and what the branches of our nervous system really mean.

Sending you so much love,


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