What Is Hypervigilance and How Does It Relate to PTSD?


What is hypervigilance and how does it relate to PTSD?


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[Lt. Col. Philip Holcombe] So another symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder is hypervigilance. Hypervigilance has to do with this feeling aroused and keyed and on edge, but at a deeper level, it has to do with having that world view of safety and how the world ought to be, shaken. And so because that's shaken, a person with post-traumatic stress disorder feels like they have to be alert all the time. As a matter of fact, in the military, we train it. There's a saying, "Stay alert, stay alive." "Stay alert, stay alive." So when you come back and you start to experience these keyed-up feelings because it's loud, it's noisy, it's like the marketplace, there's trash bags all over the place, and trash bags in theaters of war blow up. You can become overly vigilant, and as a result, that impacts your ability to function. You go into a restaurant, and you feel like you can't have your back to the door, and you're on guard, and you're watching. You can't enjoy your meal, you can't enjoy the people that you're there with because you're waiting for the bad person or persons to come through the door. You go shopping, you can't remember what it is that you're supposed to be getting because what you're thinking about is, "Is that person a danger? How about that person over there? What if this person over here did this? What should I do? Where are the exits?" So hypervigilance is a very real phenomenon, and it really can impact a person's ability to enjoy life. So how do we get to the point where we help somebody with hypervigilance? This is where we go back to the exposure treatments, the exposure treatments that say, "It's time for you to take your fear by the horns, and take it on, and start to let go of avoidance so you can live life again.
Posted on BrainLine May 8, 2013.

Produced by Victoria Tilney McDonough and Erica Queen, BrainLine.