Understanding and managing your dysregulated nervous system

In the hustle and bustle of modern life, it’s common to find ourselves caught in a whirlwind of anxiety, worry, frustration, fear, nervousness, and heightened excitability. These emotions are natural responses hardwired within us to help us face the challenges we encounter, but when they become our constant companions, they signal a deeper issue: they become the cause of a dysregulated nervous system.


The sympathetic nervous system: Friend or foe?

The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is part of your autonomic nervous system, operating largely outside your conscious control. It’s designed to protect you by preparing the body to react quickly in stressful situations — the classic “fight or flight” response. However, when the SNS is overactive, it can lead to a state of chronic stress.

Symptoms of a dysregulated nervous system

When the SNS takes the driver’s seat, it can manifest in various ways:

  • Physical symptoms: High blood pressure, digestive issues, and insomnia. Accompanied by increased heart rate.
  •  Emotional symptoms: Anxiety, irritability, mood swings, and a pervasive sense of unease.
  •  Cognitive symptoms: Difficulty concentrating, memory problems, and a constant feeling overwhelmed. 

The toll on health

If left unchecked, an overactive SNS can compromise both physical and emotional health. Issues of chronic stress have long been linked to a host of poor health issues, including heart disease, diabetes, depression, and anxiety disorders caused by the weakening of the immune system, making you more susceptible to illness and slowing down the healing process.

Finding balance: Activating the parasympathetic nervous system

The key to managing a dysregulated nervous system lies in activating its counterpart: the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The PNS helps to calm the body down after a stressful event, promoting relaxation and healing.

Strategies for regulation

  • Mindfulness and meditation: Practices including mindfulness and meditation can help shift the body from a state of stress to calm, activating the PNS.
  • Breathing exercises: Deep, slow breathing is a powerful tool for signalling the body to relax. Techniques like diaphragmatic breathing can help regulate the nervous system.
  • Physical activity: Regular exercise, especially activities like yoga or tai chi, will reduce stress hormones and stimulate the production of endorphins. These become the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators.
  • Healthy sleep habits: Getting into a routine of quality sleep is essential. A little lavender on your headboard will help if you struggle with this.
  • Nutrition: If possible, maintain a balanced diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, and vitamins B and D. These can support your nervous system health.
  • Professional support: Therapy, especially cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), provides the tools to effectively learn and manage the symptoms of a dysregulated nervous system.

Living trapped in a state of heightened stress is uncomfortable and detrimental to our overall well-being. Once you gain knowledge of the role of the sympathetic nervous system and how implementing strategies to activate the control of the parasympathetic nervous system benefits the body, you can regain control and restore balance to your life.

In essence, managing a dysregulated nervous system is about recognising the signs of stress and taking proactive steps to address them. It’s about creating a lifestyle that supports your mental and physical health, allowing you to navigate life’s storms with resilience and grace. By doing so, you improve your quality of life and enhance your ability to contribute positively to the world around you. 

Remember, taking care of your nervous system is not a luxury; it’s necessary for a healthy, fulfilling life.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London E1 & E14
Written by David Pender, MBACP, Integrative Psychotherapy | Specialising in Anxiety
London E1 & E14

David S. Pender is a qualified BACP therapist who provides counselling and psychotherapy services to adults throughout London & the UK. He has extensive experience in dealing with problems related to anxiety, trauma, chronic stress, social anxiety, panic attacks, generalised anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Free discovery calls

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