Understanding the Nervous System: Regulated vs. Dysregulated and the Impact of Trauma
The nervous system is a complex and vital part of our bodies that allows us to interact with the world around us. It is responsible for sending and receiving signals to and from the brain, controlling our movements, regulating our internal organs, and managing our emotions. While a regulated nervous system can help us respond to stress and challenges in a healthy way, a dysregulated nervous system can lead to a range of physical and emotional problems.
What is the nervous system?
The nervous system is divided into two main parts: the central nervous system (CNS), which includes the brain and spinal cord, and the peripheral nervous system (PNS), which includes all the nerves that extend from the CNS to the rest of the body.
Regulated vs. dysregulated nervous system
The window of tolerance is a crucial concept for understanding the functioning of the nervous system. It refers to the range of emotional and physiological states in which an individual is able to function effectively, managing stressors and regulating emotions in a healthy way. A regulated nervous system allows us to remain within this window of tolerance and respond appropriately to stressors. On the other hand, a dysregulated nervous system can cause us to move outside of this window and experience fight, flight, freeze, or fawn responses, which can lead to a range of physical and emotional symptoms. This can be particularly true for individuals who have experienced trauma, as their window of tolerance may be narrowed by their past experiences. By understanding our own window of tolerance and learning strategies to expand it, we can better manage stress and live more fulfilling lives.
A regulated nervous system is one in which the body is able to respond to stressors in an adaptive and appropriate way. This means that we can activate our fight-or-flight response when necessary, but we can also return to a state of calm when the threat has passed.
A dysregulated nervous system, on the other hand, is one that is stuck in a state of high arousal, even when there is no immediate danger present. This can lead to a range of physical symptoms, including muscle tension, headaches, and digestive issues, as well as emotional symptoms like anxiety, depression, and irritability.
Four Forms of dysregulation
There are four main forms of dysregulation that can occur in response to stress and trauma:
- Fight: This is the classic fight-or-flight response, where the body prepares to defend itself against a perceived threat. Symptoms of fight dysregulation can include anger, aggression, and hyperarousal.
- Flight: Flight dysregulation is characterized by a strong urge to escape or avoid a stressor. This can manifest as anxiety, restlessness, or the desire to flee from a situation.
- Freeze: Freeze dysregulation involves a shutdown response, where the body immobilizes in the face of a threat. This can lead to dissociation, numbness, and a feeling of being “stuck” or unable to move.
- Fawn: Fawn dysregulation is a response where the person tries to appease or please the person or situation causing the stress. Symptoms of this form of dysregulation can include people-pleasing, difficulty setting boundaries and lacking a sense of self.
How trauma impacts the nervous system
Trauma can have a profound impact on the nervous system, leading to chronic dysregulation that can be difficult to overcome. Traumatic experiences can lead to changes in the brain and nervous system that make it difficult for the body to regulate its response to stressors. This can lead to a range of physical and emotional symptoms, including anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
Fortunately, there are a range of techniques and therapies that can help individuals with dysregulated nervous systems to find relief and healing. A few of these include EVOX Therapy, Emotional Freedom Technique, breathwork and more.
The nervous system is a vital part of our bodies, and understanding how it works can help us to better manage stress and lead happier, healthier lives.
3 Products that support the nervous system
More resources on the nervous system
- Podcast: Ep. 115 What is Your Default Stress State? Resources to Support a Dysregulated Nervous System
- Podcast: Ep. 111 Danielle Palmer – SCENAR Therapy for Chronic Pain, Nervous System Dysregulation, Inflammation, Injury Recovery & More
- Podcast: Ep. 105 How Understanding the Nervous System Has Helped Me & Patterns I’ve Observed in Myself
- Podcast: Ep. 104 Nadine Zumot – How is Your Nervous System Affecting Your Money Patterns?
- Van der Kolk, B. A. (2014). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. Penguin Books.
- Porges, S. W. (2011). The polyvagal theory: Neurophysiological foundations of emotions, attachment, communication, and self-regulation. WW Norton & Company.
- Feinstein, D. (2012). Acupoint stimulation in treating psychological disorders: Evidence of efficacy. Review of General Psychology, 16(4), 364-380