What Is Hypervigilance? Healthline Blog



“Hypervigilance is a state of increased alertness. If you’re in a state of hypervigilance, you’re extremely sensitive to your surroundings. It can make you feel like you’re alert to any hidden dangers, whether from other people or the environment. Often, though, these dangers are not real.


Hypervigilance can be a symptom of mental health conditions, including:

post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
anxiety disorders

These can all cause your brain and your body to constantly be on high alert. Hypervigilance can have a negative effect on your life. It can affect how you interact with and view others, or it may encourage paranoia.


Hypervigilance symptoms
There are physical, behavioral, emotional, and mental symptoms that can go with hypervigilance:


Physical symptoms

Physical symptoms may resemble those of anxiety. These may include:

a fast heart rate
fast, shallow breathing
Over time, this constant state of alertness can cause fatigue and exhaustion.


Behavioral symptoms

Behavioral symptoms include jumpy reflexes and fast, knee-jerk reactions to your environment. If you’re hypervigilant, you may overreact if you hear a loud bang or if you misunderstand a coworker’s statement as rude. These reactions may be violent or hostile in a perceived attempt to defend yourself.


Emotional symptoms

The emotional symptoms of hypervigilance can be severe. These can include:

increased, severe anxiety
worrying that can become persistent
You may fear judgment from others, or you may judge others extremely harshly. This may develop into black-and-white thinking in which you find things either absolutely right or absolutely wrong. You can also become emotionally withdrawn. You may experience mood swings or outbursts of emotion.



Mental symptoms

Mental symptoms of hypervigilance can include paranoia. This may be accompanied by rationalization to justify the hypervigilance. It can also be difficult for those who experience frequent hypervigilance, like those with PTSD, to sleep well.


Long-term symptoms

If you experience recurring hypervigilance, you may start to develop behaviors to calm your anxiety or counteract perceived threats. If you fear assault or danger, for example, you may start carrying a concealed weapon. If you have severe social anxiety, you may rely on day dreaming or non-participation in events. These symptoms can result in social isolation and damaged relationships.



Causes of hypervigilance
Hyper-vigilance can be caused by different mental health conditions:



Anxiety is one of the most common causes of hypervigilance. If you have generalized anxiety disorder, you might be hypervigilant in new situations or environments that you’re unfamiliar with.

If you have social anxiety, you may be hypervigilant in the presence of others, especially new people or people you don’t trust.



PTSD is another common a cause of hypervigilance. PTSD can cause you to be tense. You may constantly scan the area for perceived threats.



Schizophrenia can also cause hypervigilance. Hypervigilance can worsen other symptoms of the condition, such as paranoia or hallucinations.


Common triggers

There are some common triggers that can cause or contribute to episodes of hypervigilance. These include:

feeling trapped or claustrophobic
feeling abandoned
hearing loud noises (especially if they’re sudden or emotionally charged), which can include yelling, arguments, and sudden bangs
anticipating pain, fear, or judgment
feeling judged or unwelcome
feeling physical pain
feeling emotional distress
being reminded of past traumas
being around random, chaotic behaviors of others
Hypervigilance treatment
To treat hypervigilance, your doctor will determine the underlying cause of the condition. Treatment may be different depending on what’s causing it. You’ll likely be referred to a therapist or psychiatrist.

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