When someone goes through a traumatic experience, their body and mind react in ways that can be difficult to understand and manage. One of the common trauma responses is hypervigilance, which is a state of heightened alertness in which an individual may feel on edge, anxious, and easily triggered. Hypervigilance can manifest in different ways, including physical, mental, and emotional symptoms.
Hypervigilance can manifest in different ways, including physical, mental, and emotional symptoms. Physically, someone who is hypervigilant may feel tense and on guard, with their muscles tightened and ready for action. They may also have trouble sleeping, experience headaches or stomach pains, or exhibit a hyperawareness of their surroundings. People may disassociate from their bodies when feeling overwhelmed and not know what they are physically feeling.
Mentally, hypervigilance can impact a person's ability to concentrate and focus, leading to feelings of restlessness and distractibility. They may also suffer from intrusive thoughts or memories of traumatic events, causing them to feel agitated and overwhelmed. Hypervigilant people might develop a 'Perfectionist' mindset as an adaptive response to viewing the world as a highly critical or dangerous place.
Emotionally, someone who is hypervigilant may exhibit signs of anxiety, fear, and mistrust, even when there is no clear threat around them. They may become easily startled or defensive, with feelings of irritability and anger bubbling under the surface. Hypervigilant people often show as friendly and high achieving when in reality they feel stressed and overwhelmed.
Causes of Hypervigilance
Hypervigilance is a natural response to trauma, as the body and mind seek to protect themselves from future harm. It can be triggered by a wide range of experiences, including physical or emotional abuse, sexual assault, combat trauma, or even a serious accident or illness. People may stay in a state of hypervigilance as a way to suppress difficult emotions or memories.
Hypervigilance is characterized by several key symptoms, including:
Feeling constantly on edge or alert
Difficulty sleeping or staying asleep
Experiencing flashbacks or intrusive thoughts
Avoiding situations or people that trigger anxiety
Hyperawareness of surroundings (e.g., constantly checking doors or windows)
Feeling easily startled or jumpy
Experiencing physical symptoms (e.g., headaches, stomach pains)
Somatic Movement as a Treatment for Hypervigilance
Somatic movement can be a helpful tool for managing the symptoms of hypervigilance. These practices involve gentle, slow movements that help to release tension and stress from the body, promoting a sense of relaxation and calm.
Somatic movement can be used in conjunction with other therapeutic approaches, such as talk therapy or medication, to help individuals cope with the physical, mental, and emotional symptoms of hypervigilance. It can also provide a sense of agency and control for people who are struggling to overcome the impact of trauma.
Hypervigilance can be a difficult and overwhelming symptom of trauma, but it is important to remember that healing is possible. By understanding the causes and symptoms of hypervigilance, individuals can start to explore different treatment options and find the strategies that work best for them. With patience, compassion, and support, it is possible to overcome the impact of trauma and find a sense of peace and resilience.