Nervous System Dysregulation and How to Heal it
Trauma dysregulates the Nervous System, we explore evidence-based body-centered approaches to healing this dysregulation.
This article dives into nervous system dysregulation following trauma and highlights some body-centered approaches to heal it, our programs offer practical tools and techniques on how to implement these techniques. Learn more
Trauma can be incredibly debilitating and significantly impacts the quality of life of trauma survivors. Here at Rewire Therapy, we are passionate about providing practical tools and techniques to heal trauma.
This article aims to offer insights into nervous system dysregulation following trauma and how to heal it. We’ll begin by briefly discussing how trauma can result in nervous system dysregulation, then offer some evidence-based body-centered approaches that can be used to help regulate the nervous system and encourage healing.
Trauma causes Nervous System Dysregulation
Homeostasis is a process of self-regulation in which biological systems maintain stability while adjusting to changing external conditions. Accordingly, homeostasis retains a state of physiological harmony in the body. Trauma pushes us to the point where it is challenging to regulate our experiences and emotions, and our nervous system becomes dysregulated (Corrigan et al., 2020). When someone’s nervous system is dysregulated, it is impossible to achieve homeostasis, making self-regulation difficult. Read more about the mechanisms underlying this nervous system dysregulation here in our article: The Effect of Trauma on the Nervous System.
Body-centered Approaches to Heal the Nervous System
As seen above, we react on a physiological level to trauma, and this bodily response is maintained through sustained changes in our nervous system. There is strong evidence to support body-centered approaches to help regulate our nervous systems following trauma. In regulating our nervous systems, we can hope to heal and mitigate some of the debilitating impacts of trauma.
Three Restorative Body-Centered Approaches for Healing the Nervous System
1. Yoga is a physical practice that incorporates a combination of movement and breathwork. Recent research has demonstrated its effectiveness in helping survivors of trauma find relief (Benjamin et al., 2019; Braun et al., 2021; Danylchuk, 2019; Kelly et al., 2021; Tibbitts et al., 2021). Yoga or mindful movement has been shown to regulate the nervous system and move towards physiological homeostasis by increasing parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) activity (Streeter et al., 2012). This is achieved predominantly through a reduction in heart rate and blood pressure (Bashir et al., 2019). In addition, it helps promote stress resilience by improving the functioning of the parts of the brain that regulate one’s response to threats (Streeter et al., 2012).
Try our Trauma-Informed Yoga program to discover the value of conscious, embodied movement as a supportive tool to aid you on your healing journey.
2. Studies have found that Meditation and Mindfulness practices increase parasympathetic nervous system activity which helps bring a dysregulated nervous system back into balance. There are signs of greater relaxation in the body and a calmer state of mind following meditative practice (Tang et al., 2009). There is research to suggest that long-term practice of meditation or mindfulness can result in sustained changes to the autonomic nervous system (Bashir et al., 2019). There are a variety of different forms of meditation and mindfulness that can be used to help to bring a dysregulated nervous system back into homeostasis including mindfulness-based stress reduction, Vipassana meditation, Iyengar Yoga, transcendental meditation, and inward attention meditation (Bashir et al., 2019).
3. Slow, Deep Breathing has been shown to activate stretch receptors in the lungs, which influence electrochemical signals in the brain to increase parasympathetic nervous system activity (Jerath et al., 2006). Deep breathing has been shown to increase heart rate variability, a common indicator, and measurement of how well the autonomic nervous system is able to respond and regulate itself in response to changes in the environment (Cheng et al., 2019). Slow deep breathing has thus been shown to have a regulating effect on the nervous system(Jerath et al., 2006).
Bashir, M., Bhagra, A., Kapa, S., & McLeod, C. (2019). Modulation of the autonomic nervous system through mind and body practices as a treatment for atrial fibrillation. Reviews In Cardiovascular Medicine, 20(3), 129. https://doi.org/10.31083/j.rcm.2019.03.517
Benjamin, R., Haliburn, J., & King, S. (2019). Humanising mental health care in Australia: a guide to trauma-informed approaches. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.
Braun, T. D., Uebelacker, L. A., Ward, M., Holzhauer, C. G., McCallister, K., & Abrantes, A. (2021). “We really need this”: Trauma-informed yoga for Veteran women with a history of military sexual trauma. Complementary Therapies in Medicine; Complement Ther Med, 59, 102729. 10.1016/j.ctim.2021.102729
Cheng, K., Croarkin, P., & Lee, P. (2019). Heart Rate Variability of Various Video-Aided Mindful Deep Breathing Durations and Its Impact on Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Symptom Severity. Mindfulness, 10(10), 2082-2094. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-019-01178-8
Corrigan, F., Fisher, J. and Nutt, D., (2010). Autonomic dysregulation and the Window of Tolerance model of the effects of complex emotional trauma. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 25(1), 17-25. https://doi.org/10.1177/0269881109354930
Danylchuk, L. (2019). Yoga for trauma recovery: theory, philosophy, and practice. Routledge.
Jerath, R., Edry, J., Barnes, V., & Jerath, V. (2006). Physiology of long pranayamic breathing: Neural respiratory elements may provide a mechanism that explains how slow deep breathing shifts the autonomic nervous system. Medical Hypotheses, 67(3), 566-571. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mehy.2006.02.042
Kelly, U., Haywood, T., Segell, E., & Higgins, M. (2021). Trauma-Sensitive Yoga for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Women Veterans who Experienced Military Sexual Trauma: Interim Results from a Randomized Controlled Trial. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (New York, N.Y.); J Altern Complement Med, 27, S-59; 45. 10.1089/acm.2020.0417
Streeter, C., Gerbarg, P., Saper, R., Ciraulo, D., & Brown, R. (2012). Effects of yoga on the autonomic nervous system, gamma-aminobutyric-acid, and allostasis in epilepsy, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Medical Hypotheses, 78(5), 571-579. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mehy.2012.01.021
Tibbitts, D. C., Aicher, S. A., Sugg, J., Handloser, K., Eisman, L., Booth, L. D., & Bradley, R. D. (2021). Program evaluation of trauma-informed yoga for vulnerable populations. Evaluation and Program Planning; Eval Program Plann, 88, 101946. 10.1016/j.evalprogplan.2021.101946
Tang, Y., Ma, Y., Fan, Y., Feng, H., Wang, J., & Feng, S. et al. (2009). Central and autonomic nervous system interaction is altered by short-term meditation. Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences, 106(22), 8865-8870. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0904031106