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. Being in this state of mind can be very exhausting and can disrupt your normal way of life. Constantly being alert and feeling on edge isn’t good at all for positive mental health and steals from more positive aspects of your life. For a lot of people, it is a state of feeling that can’t be helped, having developed from feelings of danger, inadequacy, or a feeling of powerlessness in your situation. Anxiety, and the mental illnesses that can derive from it can make you especially vulnerable to feeling hypervigilant.
Anxiety can cause a multitude of of mental issues for us, with hypervigilance being a big one. Anxiety already makes you fearful, and can sometimes activate a fight or flight response within you. Hypervigilance on top of this can be devastating, as you are always feeling a sense of danger you can’t perceive, thus your fight-or-flight is basically always on. You will live a life of constantly surveying your surroundings, never being able to trust that you are truly safe. You can’t trust what people say out their mouths and you presume the worst to happen in all situations. You may go as far as hallucinating the threats as your mind is tricked into thinking the illusion of danger is real. This can cause and heighten the efffects of schizophrenia, especially the paranoia. This can all get as bad as you starting fights with the simplest provocation in order to get the “upper hand” or bringing a weapon anywhere you go to feel “safe”. You may even avoid public interactions altogether.
I have a lot of experience with hypervigilance. I involuntarily live life surveying my surroundings and I don’t trust people easily. I haven’t had the best experiences with people and it has made me wary of just about everything. I lost my mom suddenly, which has me look at loved ones with more than a watchful eye in case something happens to them. I grew up in neighborhoods that were not the safest, and you needed to be alert and ready in order to survive. I’ve struggled with my self image, which made me feel as though I was never prepared for anything that might happen. I sometimes feel as though mistakes I make or not being able enough will put me in a place of vulnerability, no matter how slight. I feel as though I live my life on go, and it is very draining. I swear my head feels hot as though my brain is always active, even in my sleep. Sometimes I may mishear people when they regard me, automatically assuming they insulted me.
Through therapy, I’ve been able to be more mindful of how I perceive the world around me. Not everyone has it out for me and not every situation will end up a dire struggle for survival. Being able to open up about my fears and insecurities has allowed me to be more comfortable being uncomfortable. I feel less energy being put towards observation and trying to read people’s actions. Once you can understand yourself on a deeper level, you become more confident. Being a naturally observant person, it is hard to throw away old habits (ie: constantly analyzing my surroundings for change), but being more in control of my appropriate reactions really lessens my anxiety in unknown territory.
Hypervigilance is a state of self that can really get in the way of a happy life. You are not some weirdo for always having your eyes darting around. Nevertheless, you don’t have to be a slave to irrational thinking. The world has good people. Some unknown situations may turn out really well! Don’t let past trauma get in the way of you living a life of wonder. And never forget there are people out there willing to listen and help you get through whatever might hold you from your best life.