Hypervigilance is a state of increased alertness. If you’re in a state of hypervigilance, you’re extremely sensitive to your surroundings. It can make you feel like you’re alert to any hidden dangers, whether from other people or the environment. Often, though, these dangers are not real.
Hypervigilance can be a symptom of mental health conditions, including:
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- anxiety disorders
These can all cause your brain and your body to constantly be on high alert. Hypervigilance can have a negative effect on your life. It can affect how you interact with and view others, or it may encourage paranoia.
There are physical, behavioral, emotional, and mental symptoms that can go with hypervigilance:
Physical symptoms may resemble those of anxiety. These may include:
- a fast heart rate
- fast, shallow breathing
Over time, this constant state of alertness can cause fatigue and exhaustion.
Behavioral symptoms include jumpy reflexes and fast, knee-jerk reactions to your environment. If you’re hypervigilant, you may overreact if you hear a loud bang or if you misunderstand a coworker’s statement as rude. These reactions may be violent or hostile in a perceived attempt to defend yourself.
The emotional symptoms of hypervigilance can be severe. These can include:
- increased, severe anxiety
- worrying that can become persistent
You may fear judgment from others, or you may judge others extremely harshly. This may develop into black-and-white thinking in which you find things either absolutely right or absolutely wrong. You can also become emotionally withdrawn. You may experience mood swings or outbursts of emotion.
Mental symptoms of hypervigilance can include paranoia. This may be accompanied by rationalization to justify the hypervigilance. It can also be difficult for those who experience frequent hypervigilance, like those with PTSD, to sleep well.
If you experience recurring hypervigilance, you may start to develop behaviors to calm your anxiety or counteract perceived threats. If you fear assault or danger, for example, you may start carrying a concealed weapon. If you have severe social anxiety, you may rely on day dreaming or non-participation in events. These symptoms can result in social isolation and damaged relationships.