Hypervigilance and Anxiety

Hypervigilance is directly related to one’s level anxiety as it is an abnormally anxious response to stimuli. As one of the key diagnostic criteria for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) hypervigilance refers to the continuous scanning of one’s environment for possible threats; the mind and body instinctively remaining alert to any additional potential threats that is beyond the scope of what is considered “normal.” One account of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is that it results from hyper vigilance. A sense of Panic or Anxiety is embedded in this hyper arousal state often causing the level of anxiety one experiences to worsen.

Hypervigilance is included in the cluster of symptoms referred to as “increased arousal”. Symptoms of hypervigilence can include sleeplessness, anxiety, panic attacks, and obsessive or obsessive-compulsive behavior, irritability or outbursts of anger, difficulty concentrating, and exaggerated startle response. A door slamming may cause, for instance, an exaggerated response of jumping or even running to hide; in other words a reaction to the slamming door that is over and above the response others may have to the same situation. The “hyper” in hypervigilance suggests that we do more than is normal or reasonable

This increased arousal stems directly, in most case from a trauma and the form it takes is shaped directly by the nature of our trauma. The startle response is possibly a result of needing at one time to quickly get out of harms way. Though the trauma does not have to be something that directly affected us, such as the increase in in hypervigilant behavior of many following the 9-11 disasters, in most cases there has been some personal impact by a trauma. Whether it is a world wide disaster or a personal trauma there has been a shift in the perception of our safety within our environment and a belief that unpredictable dangers exist.

This altering of our belief system creates an increase in our overall anxiety and may well lead to more paralyzing effects of Panic Disorder. In this sense, individuals may become fearful of certain situations or even leaving their home. In many cases hyper vigilance and anxiety can inhibit our ability to function well in the community at large and it may become necessary to seek assistance from a professional.

Treatment then involves an awareness and increased understanding of the triggers that cause a startled or hypervigilant response. Armed with this knowledge one can move forward in learning to manage responses and unwanted behaviors that follow certain situations.

With the help of a qualified therapist, one can learn to manage these behaviors and situations and thereby reduce their level of anxiety as well. The key will also be, when ready, to address the trauma issues that were the initial causes of both the anxiety and hypervigilance.