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Nervous System Dysregulation: Not a disease, but serious indeed

For months now, Foysal (pseudonym), a 27-year-old man in Dhaka, has felt tired. It’s not like he has been overworked or stressed about anything in particular – he just feels fatigued all the time. Even after a 12-hour sleep or a day of doing nothing, and anything that happens, he only waits for things to turn into the worst-case scenario.

When asked about his symptoms, he said that when he wakes up, it’s difficult for him to get out of bed, as if there is no motivation or reason to do so.

What Foysal is displaying symptoms of is a dysfunctional nervous system. Before digging into that, the first question is what a nervous system is.

A person’s nervous system is made of the brain, spinal cord, and nerves, and what it basically does is transmit messages from different parts of the body to the brain. For example, if a person feels the cold wind on their skin, the nerves in the skin send out the message to the brain that it’s cold, and then the brain decides to take actions to deal with that cold, i.e. putting on warm clothes or rubbing their hands to get the body warm.

The nervous system’s functions include – Thoughts, memory, learning and feelings, movements, senses, wound healing, sleep, response to stressful situations, etc.

However, that is just the gist of it. The nervous system is extremely complex, and even experts have trouble understanding it totally.

The nervous system has two main parts, the central nervous system – made up of the brain and the spinal cord – and the peripheral nervous system – made up of the nerves.

The peripheral nervous system has two parts – the somatic nervous system and the autonomic nervous system. The first one controls the behaviours a person does voluntarily, while the second one does the automatic ones.

Part of the automatic system is the sympathetic system and parasympathetic system. The sympathetic system deals with the body’s preparation for stressful tasks, activities, or situations, and the parasympathetic system works on the body’s rest. And this is where nervous system dysregulation comes in.

Nervous system dysregulation basically means an imbalance between those two systems. What happens when this imbalance happens is that the nervous system cannot properly process the stimuli it receives, meaning that it results in several physical and psychological reactions.

There are some very obvious physical symptoms such as irregular sleep, constant fatigue, constant pain, bladder and stomach issues, and hormonal imbalance.

The dysregulation also has emotional or psychological symptoms as well, such as – lack of concentration, being constantly stressed out and anxious, rapid mood swings, being irritated and feeling disturbed easily, etc. People with this dysregulation may also lose appetite, become extra sensitive to sound, light, or smell, and procrastinate.

However, before discussing how to deal with these issues, one thing must be remembered, nervous system dysregulation is not a disease. According to medical professionals, these are “functional” or “somatoform” illnesses, meaning these ailments happen due to an imbalance in the nervous system, and cannot be attributed to any known diseases.

What are the reasons behind a nervous system dysregulating? There are several ones. As the nervous system is the first part of the body to form during conception, there are researches that show that if a pregnant woman is prone to extreme stress and trauma, then the child has a higher chance of having nervous system dysregulation or other issues with the nervous system. Many also state that the reason might be trauma during birth.

However, when adults face this issue, the reason behind might be chronic stress, overloading the body and nervous system, trauma, irregular social experiences, lack of physical activity, inadequate sleep, substance abuse, and others. Many researchers say that nervous system dysregulation may get triggered or worsened by conflict, trauma, or abuse.

Sometimes small stress or trauma triggers may lead to one’s nervous system collapsing into dysregulation, while for someone else, it can be irregularity built up for a long time, which eventually leads to the nervous system haphazardly dysfunctioning.

As nervous system dysregulation is not a disease, it cannot be solved through medicine or surgery, rather, the person suffering from the issue generally needs to find the solution themselves, with some help of others.

They need to find a connection between their body and mind to ensure that they find a solution, as per the “somatic experiencing” process suggested by psychotherapist Dr Peter A Levine, where he suggests people connect with their internal or physical desires instead of psychological ones.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is another process believed to work, where a therapist uses auditory or physical stimuli to help the affected person deal with their trauma or stress.

Some suggest breathing, while some suggest bringing changes to their lifestyle. For example, one suggestion is to cut off caffeine and processed sugar from the diet as these are highly-simulating ingredients.

There are other suggestions as well, such as meditating, listening to music that helps alleviate stress levels, drinking more water, and leading a life that follows a routine as it allows the body to get adjusted to a system, which will in turn result in the nervous system falling in place.

Nervous system dysregulation, on the face of it, might not seem like an issue that needs immediate attention as it is not a disease or illness. However, if a person’s nervous system is dysregulated for a significant period of time, that might lead to it being permanently damaged, and there will be no solutions then.

Thus, it must be treated with the utmost care, and if a person feels that they are facing the issue, should immediately seek help from a medical professional because a stitch in time, saves nine.


Author: Neel Rahman

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