Symptoms of hypervigilance are: jumping at the slightest noise, overreacting to a slammed door or the phone ringing next to you. Symptoms can also manifest as sweating, shallow breathing and increased heart rate. When you are hypervigilant your body is on constant alert for danger. People who suffer from mental disorders like anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or schizophrenia, display hypervigilant symptoms.
When a person is traumatized the body shuts out the actual trauma in order to be able to continue functioning. Later, reactions to normal situations in life, like the slammed door, can feel extreme to the person with PTSD. The hypervigilant reaction is one outcome of PTSD. Triggers such as: being in a chaotic or crazy situation, feeling trapped or abandoned, can also contribute to hypervigilance.
Hypervigilance can present itself as anger or rage. An example of this would be: while at a stoplight, a motorcyclist revs up his bike next to you. The sound is startling. A person without hypervigilance might react with anger—what a jerk that guy is. You, however, feel instant rage, scream at him and try to catch up to him at the next set of lights.
Building skills can lower hypervigilance. Getting into the habit of naming a startling happenstance can help normalize loud noises. Oh, that’s just the car door being slammed. Someone just slammed down the cover of the copy machine. You might not always be able to reframe the triggers in the moment. It takes practice. By getting to know your triggers, you can learn to walk away from drama or chaos in the office, or anywhere.
Hypervigilance can be treated. Through therapy you can learn to manage and lessen your hypervigilance. It takes time, practice and patience. A number of therapies to look into for treatment include: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, more commonly known as EMDR; Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT); and Exposure Therapy.
EMDR re-processes traumatic events by identifying distress and using an eye movement technique. EMDR is recommended as an effective treatment for trauma in the Practice Guidelines of the American Psychiatric Association, World Health Organization and the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs. In order to learn how to manage flashbacks and anxiety, Exposure Therapy promotes slowly and safely facing your fears and memories of trauma. In CBT your therapist you will talk about your current and past fears. By doing the therapist can identify the underlying causes of your hypervigilance and treat those as well.
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