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what is hypervigilance?

and how can we work with it in the body?

Have you ever found yourself feeling really jumpy, or on edge– for days, or weeks at a time? For some folks, this can become so common they don’t even notice it anymore.

Hypervigilance is an enhanced state of sensory sensitivity and reactivity. Our nervous systems are always scanning for things that might be dangerous. If everything’s going pretty well in our lives, this is a pretty low-key function.

If we’re living with the effects of traumatic stress, anxiety, or feeling overwhelmed, we may find ourselves in a state of hypervigilance, in which our normal “scan for danger” system is on high alert.

Hypervigilance might feel like:

  • Jumpy, easily startled, surprised or frightened, irritable, tense, quick to anger or defensiveness

  • Over-reactive: “normal” sounds such as a horn beeping in traffic can cause a heightened stress response, pulse quickening, jaw clenching, feeling of heat in the body

  • Quick to feel frustration, reactivity or anger; an over-sized reaction to events

  • Difficulty relaxing or sitting still

  • Sensitive to noises, movement, or anything different in one’s environment

  • Feeling “fast” or urgent, heart pounding, heart rate elevated; rapid, shallow chest breathing; tight neck/shoulders

  • Feeling like you need to watch the door or have a plan for escape

  • Catastrophizing, planning for the worst