How to Balance Your Nervous System and Regulate Your Emotions

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A dysregulated nervous system can significantly impact well-being, manifesting in various symptoms and responses. Individuals experiencing nervous system dysregulation often feel on edge, agitated, nauseous, or anxious, with both physical and mental distress present. Various factors, such as poor diet, lack of exercise, and chronic stress, can contribute to this imbalance, highlighting the importance of understanding and addressing the issue.

Dysregulation not only affects the nervous system but also extends to emotional regulation. Emotional dysregulation is characterized by an inability to control or regulate one’s emotional responses, leading to mood swings, emotional lability, and a range of emotions, including sadness, anger, irritability, and frustration. Understanding the signs and causes of dysregulation is crucial for implementing treatment and coping strategies.

Techniques such as the TARGET model, which uses the acronym “FREEDOM”, offer a series of steps to help individuals move from high levels of distress to calm and clear thinking. By utilizing such tools and addressing the causes of dysregulation, individuals can work toward rebalancing their nervous systems and emotional responses, promoting overall well-being and improved mental health.

Dysregulated Nervous System Overview

The nervous system plays a crucial role in the human body, processing information and coordinating various functions. It is divided into two main parts: the central nervous system (CNS), comprising the brain and spinal cord, and the peripheral nervous system (PNS), which includes all other neural elements, such as peripheral and autonomic nerves.

The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is a key component of the PNS, controlling involuntary actions and regulating functions like heart rate, digestion, and respiration. The ANS is further divided into two branches: the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), responsible for the body’s response to stress or threat (fight or flight), and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which governs the “rest and digest” processes.

A dysregulated nervous system occurs when the body’s stress response becomes imbalanced, leading to potential health issues. This imbalance can manifest in various ways, such as an individual appearing lethargic, “out of it,” or experiencing prolonged “fight or flight” reactions.

Some of the consequences of a dysregulated nervous system include:

  • Brain fog
  • Chronic pain
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue

To restore balance to the nervous system, it is essential to strengthen the parasympathetic branch, thereby promoting the restorative “rest and digest” processes. Various techniques can be employed to achieve this, such as practicing mindfulness, engaging in relaxing activities, and prioritizing sleep.

The dysregulated nervous system is an important issue impacting an individual’s well-being. Addressing this imbalance through targeted strategies and interventions can help improve overall health and functioning.

Causes of Nervous System Dysregulation

Chronic Stress

Chronic stress occurs when the body constantly experiences stressors, causing the nervous system to remain heightened. This prolonged activation of the stress response can trigger dysregulation. The body’s inability to return to its normal state prevents the nervous system from reestablishing balance and can manifest in symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia, or physical pain. Factors contributing to chronic stress include:

  • High-pressure work environments
  • Financial struggles
  • Caring for a sick family member

Traumatic Events

A dysregulated nervous system can also result from traumatic events. When an individual experiences a threat or trauma, their body’s fight-or-flight response is activated. If the response does not complete its full cycle, it remains in the system, leading to thoughts, feelings, and behaviors consistent with a perceived threat, even when none are present.

Childhood Trauma

Childhood trauma is a significant predictor of a severely dysregulated nervous system. Chronic and ongoing trauma during formative years can impact the nervous system’s ability to regulate itself. The body becomes primed to respond to perceived threats, even in the absence of trauma, leading to symptoms such as:

  • Anxiety -Poor emotional regulation
  • Heightened fight-or-flight response
  • Insomnia

Emotional Dysregulation

Emotional dysregulation is the inability to manage emotions effectively and can contribute to the dysregulation of the nervous system. Such imbalances can lead to problems with emotional control, increasing the likelihood of experiencing anxiety, depression, or heightened stress reactions. Factors that contribute to emotional dysregulation include:

  • Genetic factors
  • Childhood trauma
  • Chronic stress or trauma in adulthood

Symptoms and Effects


Nervous system dysregulation can lead to a variety of physical symptoms. Some common manifestations include:

  • Headaches, which may be persistent or sudden in onset
  • Muscle weakness or loss of muscle strength
  • Loss of feeling or tingling sensations
  • Coordination problems and muscle rigidity
  • Tremors and seizures
  • Elevated or irregular heart rate
  • Nausea or feeling ‘off’
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Stomach pain and irritable bowel

These symptoms can vary in severity and frequency, depending on the individual’s nervous system dysregulation severity.


Mental symptoms associated with nervous system dysregulation may include:

  • Anxiety or agitation
  • Depression or low mood
  • Fatigue or lethargy
  • Insomnia or sleep disturbances
  • Difficulty focusing or concentrating
  • Memory loss or impaired mental ability

These mental symptoms can significantly impact an individual’s daily life, affecting work, relationships, and overall well-being.


Emotional dysregulation is a key aspect of nervous system dysregulation. This can manifest in several ways, such as:

  • Feeling overwhelmed by seemingly minor things
  • Struggling to control intense emotions
  • Irritability, which may involve snapping at people or reacting disproportionately to situations
  • Mood swings or instability

Individuals with emotional dysregulation may experience difficulties in social interactions and personal relationships and a reduced ability to cope with stress and challenging situations.

Conditions in Relation

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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. A dysregulated nervous system can play a significant role in PTSD symptoms. The “freeze” or “fawn” trauma responses, where an individual appears to shut down or lethargic, are examples of this dysregulation. When the nervous system is dysregulated, it can exacerbate feelings of anxiety, fear, and vulnerability in PTSD sufferers.

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity symptoms. A dysregulated nervous system can contribute to these symptoms, making it difficult for individuals with ADHD to regulate their emotional responses. Emotional dysregulation, including mood swings and emotional lability, can significantly impact daily functioning, relationships, and overall quality of life for those with ADHD.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic gastrointestinal disorder that can cause symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, and changes in bowel movements. Research has shown that there may be a connection between a dysregulated nervous system and IBS. The nervous system plays a crucial role in controlling gut function, and when dysregulated, it can lead to increased sensitivity and altered motility in the digestive tract. This can result in the various symptoms experienced by individuals with IBS.

Assessment and Diagnosis

Assessing and diagnosing a dysregulated nervous system often involves a thorough evaluation by a healthcare professional, such as a therapist or a psychiatrist. They will typically take a detailed medical history, perform a physical examination, and potentially conduct additional tests to rule out other conditions.

During the medical history, the healthcare provider may ask about the patient’s symptoms, such as anxiety, agitation, nausea, stomach pain, or difficulty focusing. They may also inquire about any history of traumatic events, which can be linked to nervous system dysregulation. Furthermore, discussing current stressors and emotional coping strategies can provide useful insights into potential triggers for dysregulation.

In addition to the medical history and physical examination, some healthcare professionals may employ specific assessment tools to evaluate nervous system functioning. Examples include:

  • Heart Rate Variability (HRV) monitoring: A non-invasive method that assesses the autonomic nervous system’s balance and an individual’s ability to regulate their emotions.
  • Functional assessments: These may include postural or movement assessments to identify muscles’ tightness or weaknesses associated with dysregulation.

Therapists might also utilize psychological assessments, such as:

  • Psychological questionnaires: Assessing emotional regulation, affective lability, and symptoms of anxiety or depression.
  • Interviews: Gaining further insight into the individual’s emotional experiences and behavioral patterns.

Once a thorough evaluation has been conducted, a healthcare professional can diagnose nervous system dysregulation and, if necessary, refer the patient for appropriate therapies. Treatment options may include:

  • Psychotherapy: A therapist can work with the individual to develop coping strategies and relaxation techniques and address any underlying traumatic experiences that may contribute to dysregulation.
  • Biofeedback: This therapy, often administered by a therapist or medical professional, helps patients learn to regulate their autonomic nervous system by providing real-time feedback on physiological functions.
  • Medications: In some cases, medications may be prescribed to address specific symptoms or co-occurring disorders, such as anxiety or depression.

Early detection and treatment of nervous system dysregulation can help minimize the impact on the individual’s daily functioning and overall well-being.

Treatment Approaches


Psychotherapy can be an effective way to address a dysregulated nervous system. Various forms of therapy can help individuals identify and address the underlying issues contributing to their dysregulation, offering techniques and strategies for managing their symptoms. For example, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help individuals identify negative thought patterns and replace them with healthier, more adaptive ones. Additionally, trauma-focused therapy may be helpful for those whose nervous system dysregulation has its roots in past traumas.

Mindfulness and Meditation

Incorporating mindfulness and meditation practices can greatly support the healing process for a dysregulated nervous system. Through these techniques, individuals can develop greater awareness of their thoughts and physical sensations, leading to improved self-regulation. Among the various forms of meditation and mindfulness practices are:

  • Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR)
  • Vipassana meditation
  • Iyengar yoga
  • Transcendental meditation
  • Inward attention meditation

Regularly practicing these methods can help restore the nervous system to homeostasis and promote overall well-being.

Lifestyle Changes

Making lifestyle changes can play a critical role in addressing a dysregulated nervous system. Some key areas to focus on include:

  • Exercise: Regular physical activity can help alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression while promoting a healthier nervous system. Exercise can also release endorphins, contributing to a general sense of well-being.
  • Deep breathing: Practicing deep breathing techniques, such as diaphragmatic breathing, can help activate the body’s relaxation response, counteracting the effects of stress and anxiety on the nervous system.
  • Diet and nutrition: Consuming a balanced and nutrient-rich diet can support nervous system function and overall health. Particular attention should be paid to consuming enough essential fatty acids, B vitamins, and minerals such as magnesium and zinc.
  • Sleep: Prioritizing sleep and establishing a consistent sleep schedule can help the nervous system repair and regenerate, improving its overall health and function.

Implementing these lifestyle changes with psychotherapy and mindfulness practices can provide a comprehensive approach to treating a dysregulated nervous system.

Techniques for Self-Regulation

Breathing Exercises

Breathing exercises are a powerful tool to help regulate one’s nervous system. Deep, slow breaths can help activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes relaxation and reduces stress. Some effective techniques include:

  • Diaphragmatic breathing: Inhaling deeply through the nose, filling the lungs and abdomen, and then slowly exhaling through the mouth.
  • Four-count breath: Inhaling for a count of four, holding the breath for a count of four, exhaling for a count of four, and then pausing for a count of four before repeating.


Yoga is another excellent method for self-regulation. Various yoga practices can help balance one’s energy, improve body awareness, and promote mindfulness. Some specific practices for nervous system regulation are:

  • Child’s pose: A gentle pose that fosters relaxation and stress relief.
  • Legs up the wall: A rejuvenating pose, particularly beneficial for highly sensitive or empaths, as it helps to ground energy.

Nature Walks

Spending time in nature can have a calming effect on the nervous system. Engaging in nature walks allows individuals to connect with their surroundings and practice mindfulness. Some suggestions for making the most of nature walks include:

  • Walking barefoot: This practice, also known as “earthing,” can help to ground energy and enhance the connection to the earth.
  • Focusing on the senses: Paying attention to the environment’s sounds, smells, and sights can promote a more mindful and present experience.


Tapping, also known as Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), is a self-help method involving gentle tapping on specific body points. This practice can help release emotional and physical tension while fostering a greater sense of balance within the nervous system.

Setting Boundaries

For individuals who identify as highly sensitive or empathic, establishing healthy boundaries can be crucial for nervous system regulation. By knowing one’s limits and maintaining healthy relationships, these individuals can prevent emotional and energetic overwhelm. Some ways to set boundaries include:

  • Communicating clearly: Expressing one’s needs and expectations can help to create a supportive environment that fosters understanding and respect.
  • Practicing self-care: Prioritizing personal well-being through regular self-care habits can ensure that a compassionate person or empath has the necessary energy and emotional resilience to navigate their relationships and experiences.

Supplements and Medications

Incorporating certain supplements and medications can help rebalance the body in managing a dysregulated nervous system. Some key effective supplements supporting healthy nervous system function include magnesium, ashwagandha, and Rhodiola rosea.


Magnesium is an essential mineral that is crucial to overall nerve function. A magnesium deficiency can lead to symptoms such as muscle cramps, irritability, and insomnia. Supplementing with magnesium may help alleviate these symptoms and support the nervous system’s proper functioning. Common forms of magnesium supplements include magnesium citrate, magnesium glycinate, and magnesium oxide.

Rhodiola Rosea

Rhodiola rosea is a herbal adaptogen known to help the body manage stress and maintain balance. It has been suggested that Rhodiola rosea may support nervous system function by enhancing neurotransmitter levels and promoting overall brain health. Studies have shown that supplementation with Rhodiola rosea may help reduce anxiety, depression, and fatigue.


Ashwagandha, another adaptogen, has been found to modulate the body’s response to stress, supporting the nervous system by reducing anxiety and enhancing mental clarity. Some studies suggest that ashwagandha may improve brain function and potentially assist nerve regeneration.

Aside from these supplements, it is essential to consider the role of medication in managing a dysregulated nervous system. Depending on the specific symptoms and underlying causes, a healthcare professional may prescribe medications such as antidepressants, anticonvulsants, or pain-relievers to mitigate symptoms and improve quality of life. It is crucial to consult a healthcare professional before beginning any supplements or medications to ensure the appropriate treatment is utilized for individual needs.


A dysregulated nervous system can negatively affect an individual’s health and well-being. Poor diet, lack of exercise, and chronic stress can contribute to this imbalance. Symptoms may include yawning, daytime fatigue, difficulty concentrating, disrupted sleep patterns, and physical pain.

To help restore balance to the nervous system, consistent engagement in activities that promote relaxation and reduce stress can be beneficial. These may include practicing mindfulness, engaging in physical exercise, and maintaining a balanced diet.

Furthermore, seeking professional guidance from a healthcare provider for more tailored advice and treatment options can be instrumental in resolving nervous system dysregulation. Early intervention and addressing the root causes of the imbalance can significantly improve an individual’s quality of life and overall mental and physical health.


What are the signs of a dysregulated nervous system?

A range of uncomfortable symptoms can identify a dysregulated nervous system. Individuals experiencing dysregulation may feel on edge, agitated, nauseous, or anxious1. Other manifestations include appearing lethargic, shut down, or “out of it” as part of the “freeze” or “fawn” trauma responses2.

What causes nervous system dysregulation?

Several factors contribute to nervous system dysregulation, including:

  • Poor diet
  • Lack of exercise
  • Chronic stress[^11^]

These factors negatively impact nervous system balance and can lead to various problems such as anxiety, depression, and physical pain3.

Ways to re-balance a dysregulated nervous system

Various approaches can help re-balance a dysregulated nervous system, some of which include:

  1. Meditation and Mindfulness: Different types of meditation aid in rebalancing the nervous system, such as mindfulness-based stress reduction, Vipassana meditation, Iyengar Yoga, transcendental meditation, and inward attention meditation4.
  2. Exercise: Regular physical activity helps maintain nervous system balance and improve overall well-being.
  3. Healthy Diet: Consuming a well-balanced, nutritious diet supports a balanced nervous system.

What is the polyvagal approach to regulating the nervous system?

The polyvagal approach views the nervous system as a muscle that can be trained5. When one is chronically in a dysregulated (sympathetic) state, the sympathetic “muscle” strengthens. Therefore, one can train the nervous system to be more balanced and resilient over time by consciously engaging in activities that activate the parasympathetic nervous system, such as deep breathing and relaxation techniques.

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