Hypervigilance is an increased state of vigilance and awareness that may be caused by fear and anxiety, as well as certain mental health conditions. People experiencing hypervigilance typically exhibit symptoms in an attempt to avoid danger.
Symptoms of Hypervigilance
Hypervigilance is not a diagnosis in itself, but can be symptomatic of some mental health conditions. It may manifest in slightly different ways in different people, but common outward signs include:
- An increased startle reflex—a person may jump in response to sudden noises or surprises.
- Dilated pupils, an increased heart rate, and elevated blood pressure.
- Obsessive avoidance of perceived threats, along with increased scanning for threats. For example, a person might constantly monitor people around him/her to see if they have guns.
- Overestimation of a situation’s threatening nature. For example, the person scanning the environment for guns may think he/she sees people with guns even when they are holding something innocuous such as a pen.
Causes of Hypervigilance
Severe anxiety and stress can cause brief periods of hypervigilance. Hypervigilance is the body’s way of protecting people from threatening situations, so people in dangerous environments—such as those fighting in the military—may experience prolonged periods of hypervigilance. Hypervigilance is also common in children who have recently experienced a trauma such as the death of a parent or who have witnessed violence. The symptom is characteristic of posttraumatic stress disorder. People with PTSD tend to suffer from chronic hypervigilance that may trigger panic attacks and flashbacks. Other anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder can also cause hypervigilance. Some other mental health conditions, particularly paranoid schizophrenia, may cause periods of hypervigilance.
Treatment for Hypervigilance
Relaxation techniques, medication, and psychotherapy can all help people to reduce their hypervigilance. When hypervigilance is the result of a threatening environment—such as ongoing domestic violence—the first step in treatment should be to help the person get out of the dangerous environment.
Colman, A. M. (2006). Oxford dictionary of psychology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Last Updated: 08-7-2015
CarleenAugust 23rd, 2016 at 1:32 PM
Very good. Like to hear more about treatment . Like what kind of group therapy, medications help best, under dr care. ? And meditation?
JaySeptember 19th, 2016 at 9:31 AM
Hello ,I liked the article very much ,the information is very helpful, I have been suffering with this for long time … and would like to know what other alternative medications available to treat hyper vigilance, is marijuana a possibility?
for Miss Dona SnowDecember 3rd, 2016 at 6:50 AM
Jay, of the September 19, Dona says, “yes,” and she has been suffering from personal, and very severe post traumatic stress since she was 5. In a state not yet….welcoming…? of pot (or, something,) she may be bold to say that, in combination with her prescriptive medication, Xanax, marijuana is a top opportunity in target of (@…?) hypervigilance, in that, the sensitivity becomes less hard – set and radically defined, more socially thoughtful and accepting (but becomes obsessive for use…) and that she had experienced a sense of “peaceful knowing” inside her own self. I am hod. I am an advocate for a variety of….people deserving far better in life. This last year, starting April….the sixteenth or seventeenth….Dona had a ischemic stroke, and this has, since, been a terrible process of days. I am here, as loyal as I can be in guidance, to offer and give, anew, a truly good thing. Dona believes adamantly, that marajuana and it’s derivatives ought to be accepted worldwide, without question or hindrance. I don’t disagree, and I, like many ought to (my vision [s.] say) stand up tall. I’ll let my limbs sway and dance in the breezes…..drink plenty of water…..and enjoy the view.
MarcusDecember 26th, 2016 at 8:45 AM
I believe it does. I smoked for many years n quit when I started dating my girl of 5 years now. When I stopped it seems I got worse n when I think about it it may be to do a lil with the new stresses of the relationship n the role I feel I needed to fulfill, as well as the stresses of my past. It got so bad I turned to alchohol to quite literally dull my senses. Luckily I am now sober and am trying different ways of meditation n avoidance of my triggers. I hope this helps a lil :)
Jami jNovember 3rd, 2016 at 2:53 PM
Had since I was a child . have had several traumas in my life and I’m 48 years old.have had panic attacks depression and been suicidal off and on since I was 17. What r best medications to take..I’m also pretty much house bound because of alot of public situations and have had nightmares all my life. Also extremely sensitive to sound colors and traffic and patterns. Thans
EggJanuary 9th, 2017 at 4:01 AM
Talking therapies (perhaps online or over the telephone if you don’t feel comfortable leaving the house) might be a good option, instead of or in addition to medication. I’ve been seeing an existential therapist for over a year now and I feel like I am finally getting to the crux of my issues and starting to win back control after 20 years. It can be very difficult to open up (or simply unaffordable) but is perhaps the only way to address the route cause of your issues, rather than solely treating the the symptoms with medication.
DavidJanuary 4th, 2017 at 11:15 AM
I have CPTSD. I have only just made the connection with Hyper-vigilance. Mine seems to be atypical, in that I am calm in the face of stressful stimuli. At least, on the outside, initially. A bomb may go off, next to me, and I will not react to it, in a panic. I tend to assess the situation, and ‘take control’, to the degree of ‘taking over’, even when someone else is better qualified to do the job. Does anyone else experience this?
LolaJanuary 24th, 2017 at 3:19 AM
Amazing to hear this personal account! Just learned today that my constant vigilance (insomnia since a small child, hearing everything around me – even in my sleep, OCD behaviors, irrational anger response to loud sounds and intense smells) is not normal. I’m overtaken with panic attacks (over the stupidest reasons – missing a bus or being late for an appointment) once or twice a month to boot. Yet, I too am the calmest person in the room in the face of real crisis. Once witnessed a stabbing and responded with professionalism and grace. Wasn’t until well after that my emotions caught up with me. So strange that the mundane can take me over the edge in a heartbeat but actual threats are easy-peasy for me to navigate.
samFebruary 2nd, 2017 at 12:52 PM
Heĺo everybody I need your help
I have a flight fobia ,,,, each time I decide to travel , then I start having done calls from people been long time no see and I meet people everywhere so I start thinking its a sign to not travel coz I’m going to die ,, so every time I cancel my flight Becks of what I’m thinking … did anyone have info about what is happening
BrianMay 21st, 2017 at 12:37 PM
I was recently diagnosed with PTSD. When I first started becoming hypervigelent I’d say five months or so after I was raped it was impossible not to scan for threats
I was also traumatized by a pretty bad earthquake.
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