Hypervigilance is a state in which the person experiences a high degree of alertness. In general, it is accompanied by a sensory, motor, cognitive and emotional exaltation.
From the outside, we observe the hypervigilant person as someone with a high level of energy, tense, nervous, attentive to everything and who does not miss detail.
The person experiencing it has the feeling of “clarity of mind.” However, this can be a biased perception. In fact, the person is so overstimulated that, on many occasions, they present hyperprosexia, that is, an alteration of attention that is easily distracted.
Acute stress as a source of hypervigilance
A high degree of alertness can occur at specific moments without being associated with a serious psychopathology or organicity. The most common case is when we have a start. Due to the shock, we can spend the hours following the event in a more accentuated state of alert.
Another very common situation is experiencing acute stress. This consists of a dysfunctional reaction that begins shortly after experiencing a traumatic or overwhelming event. Thus, if, for example, we experience any of the following situations:
- Robbery or robbery.
Depending on the severity of the event, it is very possible that we present a series of alterations in the following days or weeks . Hypervigilance will be one of the most common symptoms to all of them.
Even so, most people will get over it naturally in a relatively short time and will not develop PTSD .
Psychopathological causes of hypervigilance
Hypervigilance can also appear as a prelude or during the following disorders:
- Delusional disorder
- Paranoid schizophrenia.
- Manic episodes.
- Anxiety disorders.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorders .
- Intoxication due to drug use (cannabis, LSD, cocaine, amphetamines).
In all of them it will be present to a greater or lesser extent, along with another series of manifestations typical of each disorder. Furthermore, hypervigilance can also be a symptom of a multitude of organic disorders that affect patient behavior.
Consequences of living in a constant state of alert
Living in a state of permanent vigilance significantly harms people who suffer from this ailment. Initially, hyperprosexia makes it difficult for patients to ignore stimuli that are not of interest and attend to those that do want to pay attention. This can greatly affect your school or work performance.
Staying on alert also has other physical costs, such as the following:
- It produces extreme exhaustion, which can lead to weakness.
- It generates a poorer immune response against pathogens.
- It predisposes to suffer from various organic disorders, caused by continuous physical stress.
On a social level, the hypervigilant person may have problems integrating, since many of their reactions are not understood by others. This can contribute to social isolation and depression.
Hypervigilance itself is not a disorder, it is a symptom. Therefore, the treatment will depend on the cause that generates it. Some of the most common to treat excess alertness are the following:
- Cognitive restructuring.
- Systematic desensitization.
- Training in relaxation techniques.
- Brief Strategic Therapy.
- Therapeutic writing.
- Acceptance and commitment therapy.
- SSRI antidepressants.
- Neuroleptics in cases of psychosis.
Final recommendations for treating hypervigilance
In order to differentiate whether excess alertness is due to a pathological cause or not, the context in which it appears will be key . It will also be important to take into account the personal background of the person concerned. In case of not having enough knowledge to distinguish it, it will be advisable to have the help of a professional therapist.