If you’ve landed here, you’re likely seeking answers to persistent unpleasant symptoms, or maybe you just have that relentless nagging feeling that something isn’t right. You KNOW you just shouldn’t feel this way. We get it. We’ve been there. And if, like us, you’ve explored every other avenue imaginable, you might be now wondering if the answer lies in a dysregulated nervous system. Let’s delve into that possibility. 
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore exactly what it means to have a dysregulated nervous system, including the effects, signs and symptoms. By the end, you’ll be armed with all the resources you need to navigate your way back to nervous system resiliency.

What is The Nervous System?

Before we plunge into the depths of nervous system dysregulation, let’s have a quick high school biology recap. No snoozing at the back – we’ll try to make this enjoyable.

The nervous system acts as your body’s command center. It’s responsible for an array of (crucial) functions, from processing sensory information to governing voluntary and involuntary actions. Everything from breathing (I think we’d agree that’s pretty crucial), to delighting in the latest flavor of Ben and Jerry’s (again, pretty crucial).[*]

The nervous system branches into two fundamental divisions: the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS). The CNS primarily consists of the brain and spinal cord, while the PNS extends throughout the body via nerves. The PNS is further divided into the somatic and autonomic nervous systems. Still with us? Good.

The Autonomic Nervous System

Our main focus today is on the autonomic nervous system (ANS), the unsung hero that manages the behind-the-scenes tasks. The ANS has two primary branches: the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems.

Sympathetic State:

This is the body’s “fight or flight” mode. Picture yourself taking a leisurely swim when you happen upon Ursula the sea witch – Triton’s still on the throne and she’s having a bad day. Your heart races, your muscles tense, and you’re primed for action. The sympathetic system ramps up energy production, dilates your pupils, and makes you more alert than a squirrel on an espresso binge.

Ursula the sea witch - 'Fight or flight' mode.

Parasympathetic State:

In contrast, this is the “rest and digest” mode. Envision a serene evening by the fireplace with the charming Prince Eric – your heart rate slows, your digestion operates smoothly, your body focuses on repair and rejuvenation. All the while you’re mesmerized by his lustrous locks.

A healthy nervous system thrives on the flexible dance between these two states. A frazzled nervous system however gets trapped in a sympathetic loop, keeping you in a near-constant state of fight or flight – even once Ursula has retreated to her lair. If stressors continue, this state can become your baseline, resulting in a dysregulated nervous system.

What Should a Healthy Nervous System Feel Like?

A healthy nervous system is adaptable and responsive. You remain alert when needed, relaxed when appropriate, and bounce back quickly from stressors. Think of it as having a trusty GPS for the journey of your life. If you misread the route (like my husband does, frequently), you will be swiftly guided back on track.

Signs of Nervous System Regulation

So how do you know when your nervous system is on track? Experiencing true nervous system regulation looks like:

  • Emotional Resilience and Regulation You face challenges with flexibility, bouncing back from setbacks without tipping into anxiety or depression.[*]
  • Balanced Energy Levels: Your energy ebbs and flows naturally throughout the day, and you’re not perpetually wired or overwhelmingly exhausted.
  • Restorative Sleep: You effortlessly slip into dreamland and wake feeling refreshed.
  • Effortless Digestion: Meals are enjoyable – not a source of digestive dread – and you rarely encounter gastrointestinal discomfort.
  • Steady Heartbeat: Your heart rate has a steady, healthy rhythm. It’s not racing or crawling.

Nervous System Dysregulation: A Loss of Equilibrium

If a healthy nervous system is one that is flexible and resilient, what happens when the balance is interrupted? We become dysregulated. A dysregulated nervous system is one that has lost its ability to respond and recover appropriately from stressors, keeping us stuck in a fight, flight or freeze loop.[*]

Signs and Symptoms of a Dysregulated Nervous System

So, what exactly does a dysregulated nervous system look like? It may manifest differently depending on the individual, but here are some of the more common signs and symptoms[*]: 

  • Chronic Stress: You perpetually feel as if you’re in a state of emergency, with cortisol levels through the roof.
  • Anxiety and Panic Attacks: Sudden surges of sympathetic dominance, resulting in heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and overwhelming fear.
  • Digestive Woes: Frequent bloating, IBS, constipation, or diarrhea, caused by excessive sympathetic activity.
  • Insomnia: Nights spent tossing and turning, unable to switch off an overactive sympathetic system.
  • Persistent Fatigue: Ongoing exhaustion that is not remedied with rest.[*]
  • Mood Fluctuations: Emotional rollercoaster rides that seemingly occur without warning.
  • Autoimmune Disorders: Nervous system dysregulation may compromise your immune system and lead to chronic inflammation. This may result in, or exacerbate, existing autoimmune diseases like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.[*]
  • Social and Emotional Struggles: You may find it challenging to maintain healthy social interactions and experience heightened irritability, emotional outbursts, or even social withdrawal. 
  • Chronic Pain: Dysregulated nervous systems can heighten your perception of pain.

What Causes a Sensitive Nervous System?

There are multiple factors that may contribute to developing a dysregulated and sensitive nervous system. These include:

It’s important to note that the nervous system does not function in isolation. It interacts with other systems, such as the endocrine system (which regulates hormones) and the immune system. Dysregulation in one system can trigger dysregulation in others, causing overlapping symptoms.

Understanding the Effects of a Dysregulated Nervous System

A dysregulated nervous system may be more than a minor pain in the ass; it can impact every waking moment of daily life. Its ability to upset your mental and physical health can have many knock-on effects, including how you:

  • Show up in your personal relationships
  • Relate with those around you
  • Perform at work
  • Take care of yourself
  • Parent
  • Achieve your goals

How to Heal a Dysregulated Nervous System

Learning how to heal a dysregulated nervous system requires:

With these things in place, you can make significant progress.

How to Regulate Nervous System Dysfunction

Wondering how to regulate nervous system dysfunction? It starts with finding practices to calm an exaggerated sympathetic response while encouraging a healthy parasympathetic response. There are tons of practices to explore, but here are a few of our favorites to get you started:

  • Wearable Devices: such as the Apollo Neuro can be a great way to start regulating your nervous system with ease
  • Diet and Nutrition: A balanced diet rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids may help in calming inflammation and supporting your nervous system
  • Calming Practices: Finding practices that you can easily drop into your daily routine is the foundation of nervous system regulation. Find practices that resonate with you, such as tracking unhelpful thoughts, or mindfulness meditation
  • Regular Exercise: Physical activity releases feel-good hormones, which can help regulate mood and stress levels. Hatha yoga is a nice, gentle option for those looking for something low-intensity.
  • Sleep Hygiene: Creating a regular sleep schedule and soothing sleep environment may significantly benefit your parasympathetic system, helping you get better sleep. 
  • Addressing Relationships: Our relationships can contribute to nervous system dysregulation – in BIG ways. Surrounding yourself with authentic, loving people who inspire and uplift you goes a long way to regulating your nervous system.

Woman in standing yoga pose

Regulating Your Nervous System with a Practitioner

After a lot of trial and error in my own nervous system journey, I can confidently say that working with a practitioner hugely accelerated my healing. Sometimes, even with all the gadgets, gizmos, and education, something still doesn’t quite fit, and you hit a wall. Finding the right practitioner for you can bring many benefits, such as:

  • Community Support in the form of Facebook groups, forums, etc.
  • A More Structured Process – sometimes a step-by-step plan is better than just diving in unsupervised.
  • A More Bespoke Approach – what calms one nervous system might aggravate another. A trained practitioner can design a tailored approach that suits YOU.
  • Delivery of Education – sometimes we can read the same information over, and over again, but it just takes somebody else to deliver it in a way that really sticks.
  • Emotional Support – co-regulating with someone who ‘just gets it’ can be a huge part of the puzzle.

Check out our directory of trusted experts to start regulating your nervous system with a qualified practitioner.

Key Takeaways

So you survived my biology lesson and now understand the basics of nervous system dysregulation.

If there’s one thing you take away from this article it should be understanding that nervous system dysregulation can be complex, but with the right tools, it is possible to restore a healthy, resilient nervous system.

You are not alone on this journey. We are here to guide you to the right tools and practitioners for you!


  • Emma Clark, BA (Hons) - Author

    Emma Clark holds a BA (Hons). She cut her marketing teeth in the health and dieting niche before co-founding Regulate Co. She has an unhealthy obsession with Bon Jovi, aspires to own 1000 guinea pigs, and feels best in the sunshine with an ice cream in hand.

  • Qiana Jaia - MPA, BSc Soc., RBT

    Qiana is a Registered Behavior Technician specializing in therapeutic interventions for individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders. She holds an MPA (Social Work Concentration) and is currently completing a Post-Grad Certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis. She likes true crime, collecting random overheard conversation snippets, and carrying her dog around on her hip like a toddler.


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Our website, resources, and advice are offered as guidance, drawing from our personal experiences and research, and reviewed by experts and medical professionals. However, they should never be considered a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please consult with a qualified medical professional for any health-related concerns, symptoms, or conditions you may have.