How Dysregulation Takes a Toll on our Body

How Dysregulation Takes a Toll on our Body
Nervous system dysregulation takes a toll on our body.


Our survival states like the intense sympathetic arousal or dorsal freeze - are meant to be a temporary state that serves the specific survival purpose of preserving life at all costs. These types of physiological responses evolved to provide short-term protection, turning on and off quickly to increase the survival response. However, they are not intended to function as long-term modes of being.

When we experience repeated or chronic stress these responses slowly begin to undermine the maintenance of homeostasis: the stability, balance, and constancy in the body's internal functioning. We call the wear and tear that accumulates in the mind-body system "allostatic load". An example of allostatic load is the repeated rise in blood pressure that occurs when someone has regular stressful work situations.

The body makes changes in blood pressure to respond to the stressors which in short and infrequent bursts would help the person adapt to stressful situations - it means we have better focus and sustained energy to deal with what's in front of us. However, when these blood pressure changes become chronic because the stressful situation has become prolonged - the physiological changes build allostatic load.

Our body conducts a constant balancing act, working to allocate resources to necessary functions without supplying too much or too little energy.

  • When the sympathetic system is dominant, we inhibit other functions such as digestion and our immune response, sending the physiological message that we are fighting for our lives.

  • When we spend a prolonged time in the dorsal vagal state, the body responds as if we are under such severe threat that we need to conserve all bodily resources at all costs.

Whilst it’s essential to be thoroughly assessed for these symptoms to rule out any organic issues, it is equally important to recognize that these symptoms (sometimes called medically unexplained symptoms) may have a common root as a stress-related disorder of regulation. 


Personal reflection:

  • Think back to a time you have felt stress in your body. How did you notice that you felt stressed? (e.g., changes in your breathing, heart rate, thoughts, etc.)

  • Was your response to the stress a sympathetic activation or a dorsal vagal activation?

  • Did you notice any changes in your digestion, sleep, or immune system?

  • How did you respond to the sensation of stress? Did you use any tools or practices to support your nervous system?

  • In what ways could you support yourself through stress in the future (e.g. breathing exercises, slowing down, grounding, etc.)


Re-establishing self-regulation through balancing the nervous system and increasing vagal tone can improve many chronic health issues. It gets to the root cause of stress-related illnesses, rather than just treating the symptoms that continue to arise until the nervous system is balanced.


If you’d like to learn more about dysregulation and how it impacts the body, you can sign up to our next “Education=Regulation” publication. It’s designed to educate and inspire you to take the driver's seat when it comes to your health. 


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We acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we share our work, the Arakwal of the Bundjalung, and we pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging. Always was, always will be.