Do you jump at the slightest noise? An innocuous sentence in the conversation puts you a flea in your ear? Maybe do you suffer from hypervigilance. This psychological state is defined as a permanent state of alert. This constant anticipation of danger can cause severe mental and physical suffering.
What is hypervigilance?
“Hypervigilance is a state of alertness and increased attention, linked to the fear of imminent danger”, defines Johanna Rozenblum, clinical psychologist. The hypervigilant person is aware of all the potential dangers, sometimes real, but also imaginary. Hypervigilance is common in people who are anxious or suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
This results in a hypersensitivity which puts the senses on alert until exhaustion. The brain overanalyzes and overreacts to supposed threats. L’hypervigilant can over-react to a physical danger (a sudden noise, a car which arrives a little fast), but also an event occurring during a human relationship (He frowned = he doesn’t love me). ” When the hypervigilance is severe and the anxiety is acute, the suffering may be such that thinking becomes impaired. Reality becomes distorted and gives way to dysfunctional thoughts letting the person believe that they are really in danger,” explains the psychologist.
Hypervigilance can lead to obsessive behaviors, difficulties in human interactions and even social withdrawal. “From a very banal situation like going to the cinema or to a restaurant, it can become a real ordeal for the hypervigilant person and for the one who accompanies her because she will feel helpless”, illustrates Johanna Rozenblum.
What are the symptoms of hypervigilance?
A state of hypervigilance can result in physical, behavioral, emotional and mental symptoms:
- Increased environmental monitoring
- Exacerbation of the senses
- Over-reaction to sudden noises
- Sleep disorder (insomnia, difficulty falling asleep, etc.)
- Avoidance of anxiety-provoking situations (crowds, concerts, etc.)
What are the causes of hypervigilance?
Hypervigilance may be associated with generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress (PTSD) or a schizophrenia. There are also specific triggers that can lead to hypervigilance, such as fear of abandonment, emotional distress or the fear of being judged. “In general, hypervigilance appears following a traumatic event or an intense fear. These feelings leave a feeling of possible danger”, summarizes Johanna Rozenblum. “By remaining alert, the body prepares itself at all times to protect itself from a threat,” adds the clinical psychologist.
But we also encounter this state in people suffering from anxiety. hhypervigilance of anxious people especially tends to manifest itself in new situations. However, “not all anxious people suffer from hypervigilance”, specifies Johanna Rozenblum.
Treatment depends on the cause. Psychotherapy, allowing work on oneself and relativizing the hypothetical dangers, is often recommended. “Cognitive-behavioral therapies are indicated because the psychologist works on the patient’s story as much as the search for a solution”, indicates Johanna Rozenblum. The therapist helps to “reprogram” his way of thinking and acting to combat the feeling of permanent insecurity. “By understanding that the danger has passed, the person through his hypervigilance will no longer be in the overinterpretation of sounds, words, situations”, specifies the specialist.
“Exposing yourself to your fears, in the same way that you treat phobias, can make sense for some patients”. Nevertheless, it is essential to be accompanied by a health professional. “You have to move forward gradually so as not to add fear to fear, which could prove to be totally counterproductive,” insists the psychologist.
Sometimes the therapy is supported by drug treatment, especially when “the symptoms become too disabling on a daily basis”, notes Johanna Rozenblum. Apart from these solutions, hypervigilance can be reduced by gentle methods such as breathing exercises, meditation or cardiac coherence. “This type of exercise is intended to help the patient find the resources within him to regulate your anxiety and therefore its hypervigilance. If the symptoms overwhelm him, heart coherence and meditation can lower the physiological fear responses. Thus, the rational thought, that there is no imminent danger, can restart. »
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Hypervigilance, this permanent state of alert that leads to exhaustion
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