How to Regulate Your Nervous System

Brad Stulberg
3 min readMay 17

Take a big inhale, hold your breath for five seconds, and release over three seconds to regulate your nervous system, posts a large Instagram account.

If your attachments aren’t secure, your nervous system won’t be either, writes a psychologist on Twitter.

Rock back and fourth to reset your nervous system when its dysregulated, explains a popular new-age self-help blogger.

The era of “nervous system dysregulation” (and regulation) is here.

I’ve got nothing against breathing exercises; they work wonderfully for some people in some situations. I agree that secure attachment is the best kind. And I suppose physical rocking can provide comfort to certain people who are in distress.

What I want to do here is define nervous system dysregulation in simple terms, and then talk about a key psychological concept that can help in a way that is broader and deeper than any one off behavior or hack.

Nervous System Dysregulation In Simple Terms

Your nervous system is the connection between your body and brain that gives rise to your subjective experience of feeling and related thoughts. The affective neuroscientist Antonio Damasio writes that when people talk about their “minds,” they are talking about their nervous systems.

Labeling it dysregulated is a fancy way of saying you are feeling panic, angst, lethargy, excitement, distress, or a range of other sensations when they are not called for, or in a greater degree than you want or would expect.

We could simplify even further by saying nervous system dysregulation describes someone who is feeling out of whack.

Hardiness Can Help

Developed by the research psychologists Suzanne Kobasa, from the University of Chicago, and Salvatore Maddi, from the University of California at Irvine, Hardiness is a mindset and practice with three crucial prongs:

  1. Commitment: Asks that you accept the situation you are in — whether you like it or not — and move forward anyway. You resist the temptation to turn away from obstacles and lean into them instead. Rather than slip into isolation and alienation, you do the hard work of…
Brad Stulberg

Bestselling author of The Practice of Groundedness ( Co-Creator of The Growth Equation. Coach to executives, entrepreneurs, and MDs.