Hypervigilance and trauma create some of the most troubling life problems. Sleeplessness. Worry. Always waiting for the other shoe to drop. For the longest time that you can remember, you’ve always felt on edge. You always are looking for something that could go wrong. The constant scanning of hypervigilance you feel keeps you from ever completely relaxing.
So you keep up your guard, no matter the situation. Whether you are at the grocery store shopping or even at home watching TV, your defenses are always on. Loud noises startle you easily, and you have a tendency to get defensive quickly when talking to other people.
Why is this happening?
You are experiencing hypervigilance, which is likely a result of having endured some form of trauma and dealing with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD/C-PTSD).
Dealing with hypervigilance due to trauma can be frustrating, but it is treatable.
Understanding Hypervigilance and Trauma
If you have ever experienced trauma in your past, then you might still be coping with it now in the present. When you are exposed to trauma, the goal of your mind and body is to keep you as physically safe as possible. Thus, you go into defensive mode and become very sensitive to any perceived threat.
Eventually, these experiences cause you to be alert and on guard all the time, anticipating any potential danger. And that translates into hypersensitivity or hypervigilance.
Some examples of situations where a person may be hypersensitive are:
PTSD: When driving you might be hypervigilant because of the car accident that you recently experienced. You jump at every perceived “wrong” move from another vehicle or even avoid certain routes.
C-PTSD: If you hear a loud noise, such as a door slamming, it may remind you of when you were young and your parents were angry. The sound was always the sign something bad was going to happen.
Symptoms of Hypervigilance
People who are experiencing hypervigilance due to past trauma may show the following signs and symptoms.
Physical signs of hypervigilance may be:
- Increased heart rate
- Pupil dilation
- Fast and shallow breathing
There are also behavioral signs that might indicate hypervigilance, such as:
- Catastrophizing situations and always expect the worst to occur
- Having trouble being in crowded situations
- Appearing jumpy
- Getting startled easily
- Seeming to be always distracted because they are assessing for potential threats
The Problem with Hypervigilance
Of course, there are several problems connected to hypervigilance. For one, your reaction to a situation isn’t proportionate to what’s happening. In other words, there is a disconnect, a kind of misunderstanding between what is actually going on outside and what is happening for you inside. That’s because your brain and body are still trying to protect you from more trauma. Even if the trauma happened years ago, whether it was PTSD or C-PTSD, the effect is still the same.
At best, your hypersensitivity makes things awkward. At worst, it can cause you to have very strained relationships with other people, even those close to you. So, then, what can you do to cope with your trauma and overcome your hypervigilance?
For many trauma survivors, hypervigilance can delay the onset of sleep. It can also prevent them from sleeping deeply, and can leave a person feeling unrefreshed after a night’s sleep. Brain research on hypervigilance and insomnia indicates that for some, a part of the brain called the insula can be overactive. This leads to heightened awareness of body sensations and overactivation of emotions. Both of these make sleep challenging. This research demonstrates just how valuable treatment modalities such as neurofeedback are when it comes to trauma recovery.
Safe and Natural Treatments for PTSD/C-PTSD Hypervigilance
The good news is that there are natural approaches to treating trauma that do not involve taking medication. They utilize the power and neuroplasticity of your brain to heal itself.
One way is through EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapy. This technique allows your brain to reorganize itself and successfully file away traumatic memories so that they are no longer distressful.
Another method is harnessing the power of your brain through neurofeedback therapy. Treatment includes a therapist studying EEG readouts of your brainwaves to see how you might train your brain and your nervous system to relax. With help, you can teach your brain to have different responses to stress or trauma and to heal.
Hypervigilance and Trauma Travel As A Pair
Hypervigilance and trauma are intimately connected. While hypervigilance may be your body and mind’s natural reaction to help you cope with trauma, it’s actually one of the most common symptoms of PSTD/C-PTSD. It’s a trauma symptom makes it hard to deal with life.
However, with professional help and PTSD therapy, you can finally be at ease. Please, contact me if you would like more information about non-drug PTSD treatments.