What’s a Dysregulated Nervous System? (14 Signs You Have One)

What is a dysregulated nervous system?

As someone who has experienced numerous traumatic experiences throughout my life, but didn’t start healing from them until I had a severe breakdown, I had never heard of a dysregulated nervous system before.  

But once I started my healing journey, I couldn’t escape the term and ended up learning a lot about it. That is why below I am going to share what a dysregulated nervous system is and 14 signs that you have one. 

What is your Nervous System? 

Our nervous system is a big part of our body’s communication system, which connects every part of our body to our brain and transmits information back and forth.  

Our nervous system is split into two parts: the peripheral nervous system and the central nervous system. These parts work together to regulate our movement, consciousness, and how we respond to our environment, and regulate our bodily functions such as our breathing, heartbeat, and digestion. 

The central nervous system is made up of the brain and spinal cord. It accepts incoming signals, responds, and plays a role in memory, consciousness, and cognition. 

The peripheral nervous system is a series of nerves that branch out from the central nervous system. Our peripheral nervous system ensures that our central nervous system responds to what is happening both inside and outside of our bodies.  

The peripheral nervous system can also be broken up into two main parts. The somatic nervous system controls muscle movement and transmits information from our eyes, ears, and skin to the central nervous system, and the autonomic nervous system which controls involuntary bodily functions like our heart rate, respiration, digestion, and our responses to stress. 

Our responses to stress are one of the most crucial functions of our autonomic nervous system. It chooses from responses such a fight, flight, freeze, or fawn when it perceives a danger or threat. When it triggers this response system, it can lead to increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, increased oxygen uptake, and sharpened focus. 

While these responses are critical for survival, they can cause problems when they continue to be activated, eventually causing them to become stuck in the on position and lead to a dysregulated nervous system.  

Nervous system quote

What is a Dysregulated Nervous System? 

We need our nervous system to be running normally in order for us to be healthy. It controls processes like regulating our body’s response to stress and danger, mood management, focus, digestion, sleep regulation, and our all-around functioning.  

However, when our nervous system becomes dysregulated, it can’t do the job that is required of it which can result in anxiety, stress, burnout, and other types of chronic illness or pain.  

Most people with dysregulated nervous systems are not aware that this is the underlying cause of the majority of their symptoms, which makes it difficult to diagnose and correct. 

What causes a dysregulated nervous system?  

There are several factors that can cause a dysregulated nervous system. Some of the causes are: 

Trauma 

Any traumatic event can lead to a dysregulated nervous system. This includes things like abuse, accidents, neglect, or witnessing traumatic events.  

Negative childhood experiences 

This can include childhood trauma and is often called Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE). When you experience a traumatic event in childhood it can negatively impact the development of your nervous system and cause dysregulation. 

Adverse childhood experiences can also cause your nervous system to become stuck in a state of hypo or hyperarousal.  

Constant stress 

When your body is continuously exposed to stress over an extended period, this causes your nervous system to stay in a heightened state of alert. This heightened stress response can cause hypervigilance and overwhelm which can make things even worse and continue to amplify the body’s stress response.  

Genetics 

There are certain genetic factos that can predispose you to a dysregulated nervous system, such as the genes that make you more susceptible to stress or anxiety.  

Certain health conditions 

If you already have an underlying health condition like fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, hormonal imbalance, or an autoimmune disease such as lupus, it can contribute to a dysregulated nervous system.  

Lifestyle conditions 

Poor health choices, such as an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, and lack of sleep can disrupt how your nervous system functions. Also, certain medications or stimulants like alcohol or caffeine can overstimulate your nervous system which could lead to a dysregulated nervous system. 

Environmental factors 

Being exposed to things like mold, pesticides, chemicals, and heavy metals can cause your nervous system to begin to malfunction. Environmental factors can also contribute to some of the other causes, like a high-stress career can contribute to increased stress which contributes to dysregulation.  

Signs of a dysregulated nervous system 

It is important to learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of a dysregulated nervous system to learn how to return your nervous system to normal.  

Here is a list of the top 14 signs of a dysregulated nervous system:

Signs of a dysregulated nervous system

1. Difficulty concentrating 

When it becomes difficult to stay focused on a specific task or conversation, this can lead to decreased productivity and increased misunderstanding. This can be frustrating and confusing for people who are used to being able to concentrate easily.  

It can be hard to concentrate when your nervous system is focused on looking out for danger. Even though you may be perfectly safe, your body will stay in high alert meaning your mental resources are focused on other things.  

2. Forgetfulness or memory lapses 

Important details may start to slip through the cracks, appointments may be missed, and conversations can be forgotten.  

3. Frequent irritability 

Experiencing frequent irritability can make even the smallest thing feel like the biggest annoyance which can start to damage your relationships with others. If you feel like you are about to snap and lose your temper at any time, this can be a sign that you aren’t handling stress well. 

Any small thing might set you off and cause you to freak out or overreact to situations that you would normally not react to at all.  

4. Increased anxiety 

Heightened anxiety can leave us worrying about the future and feeling a general sense of unease.  

5. Being Overwhelmed 

Feeling overwhelmed or on edge can make it difficult to focus and increase the amount of stress you are experiencing. It is common to feel like you can’t keep up with your life, and like one more thing on your plate is going to push you over the edge.  

This was the biggest symptom that I noticed when my nervous system was dysregulated. One tiny new task that would only take a few minutes of my time and I would normally be able to handle with no problems completely pushed me over the edge and led to a full breakdown.  

6. Chronic pain 

Many people who experience chronic pain often find that they have a dysregulated nervous system. They often experience symptoms and pain flair-ups without any cause or trigger. 

7. Chronic illness 

Although this is also a cause, it can be a symptom as well. A chronic illness can increase your stress which causes you to be in fight , flight, freeze or fawn for an extended period of time and lead to nervous system dysregulation.  

8. No energy 

If you don’t sleep well and feel fatigued throughout the day, you may have a dysregulated nervous system. 

Nervous system dysregulation can interrupt your sleep cycle because your nervous system is overactive during the time you should be sleeping.  

A dysregulated nervous system can also cause problems regulating your body temperature or heart rate which can make it difficult to fall asleep at night.  

9. You are a highly sensitive person 

If you are someone who is overwhelmed by strong sensory stimuli, also known as a highly sensitive person, you may have a dysregulated nervous system. 

Loud noises, strong smells, and crowded places can be difficult to handle. You may also have a low threshold for pain and are easily irritated by small things like other people chewing with their mouths open, or chewing gum.  

10. Hormonal imbalance 

If you experience hormonal imbalances this could be because of your dysregulated nervous system.  

11. Extreme changes in appetite 

If you feel like your appetite is constantly changing between being starving, and then not hungry at all, it could be because of a dysregulated nervous system. When your dysregulated nervous system causes hormone fluctuations, this can cause your hunger to change. 

If you have trouble controlling what you eat this could be an important sign that something isn’t right with how your nervous system is regulating your metabolism. 

12. Gut and skin conditions 

People who have been diagnosed with conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Roseacea often suffer from a dysregulated nervous system. They can be told that stress is affecting these conditions, but have a hard time figuring out what to do to fix it. Often once they can fix their nervous system and return it to a normal state their rosacea and IBS will subside. 

13. You are an empath 

You probably consider yourself as someone who is highly sensitive to the emotions of the people around you. However, your sensitivity to the emotional states of others can damage your mental and physical health over time. If you feel the need to constantly take care of the people people around you it can leave you feeling drained, exhausted, and with a dysregulated nervous system.  

14. You have a poor immune system 

If you are constantly catching colds, the flu, or feeling run-down this can be a sign that your nervous system is dysregulated.  

When your nervous system is focused on fighting off a threat that doesn’t exist, it can’t focus on the real threats—like bacteria or the flu—which leads to a poor immune response.  

Final Thoughts… 

The most important step to regulating your nervous system is learning when your nervous system is dysregulated in the first place. 

Once you are able to understand what the problem is, it makes it much easier for you to search out how to heal your nervous system and improve your life. 

Take care of yourself. 

If you liked this post check out:

Scroll to Top