It’s natural to experience an elevated sense of anxiety when a threat arises. Then your system quickly calms down when the danger subsides. Hypervigilance happens when this feeling becomes your normal and your system has an impaired ability to calm itself.
If you grew up in a home with emotional abuse and neglect your system became flooded by these episodes of arousal because of the constant threats. Both abuse and neglect can make a child feel unsafe because of the lack of protection and care.
Symptoms of hypervigilance
A child who faces attack or has to look after itself does not get a chance to relax. Therefore, hypervigilance can lead to the emotional dysregulation many of us experience. It’s so exhausting to live in this state all the time that sometimes we explode.A child who faces attack or has to look after itself does not get a chance to relax. Click To Tweet
It also leads to isolation because you’re less likely to feel triggered when you’re by yourself. Hypervigilance makes it hard to form connections. You can barely carry on a conversation without wondering how this person is perceiving you or whether they are safe.
So you wear a social mask and try to appear normal. It’s why you feel most alone in a room full of people and often can’t wait to leave a social situation so you can let your shoulders down.
It leads to numbing out with drugs and alcohol. Feeling nothing seems better than living with the constant flood of cortisol (stress hormone) that comes with this elevated sense of threat.
If you startle easily or overreact to stimuli, that may be a symptom of hypervigilance. When a siren goes off, do you clutch your heart, stop dead in your tracks, and fight to recover while everyone else hardly notices?If you startle easily or overreact to stimuli, that may be a symptom of hypervigilance. Click To Tweet
Hypervigilance causes disease and illness in the body because of the toll this endless state of stress takes. It’s one of the reasons those of us with six or more ACEs (adverse childhood events) can see our lifespans cut short by 20 years.
How to cope
What can help heal hypervigilance is being kind to yourself. Love yourself in spite of your heightened state of arousal and remind yourself it’s not your fault. Negative self-talk only makes things worse.
Focus on your breathing to help you stay present and grounded when you start to panic during a conversation or other social situation. Give yourself grace and leave to regroup even if it’s only for a few minutes.
Talk to someone about how you feel, whether it’s a trusted friend, trauma-informed coach, or other counsellor. Join a support group for people suffering with these symptoms such as ACA or another one that suits you.
Move, go for a walk, or otherwise shift your energy to get unstuck. Changing your scenery and getting into your body and out of your head can offer relief from the pain of hypervigilance.