Those who experience PTSD and C-PTSD may go through periods of hypervigilance. We all experience moments of vigilance, where we feel an extreme sense of nervousness or anxiety brought on by fear, or any event that may put our nervous system on high alert and put us on edge. Imagine someone popping a loud balloon behind you without you expecting it, and you suddenly feel a shot of adrenaline rushing through you. The difference between your bodies normal reaction to the balloon popping, and hypervigilance, is that your body does not calm after the event. It remains on high alert even after the shocking event has passed.
Now imagine you feel that for hours or days at a time. With PTSD, hypervigilance is commonly experienced after a trigger (event, smell, place, feeling, etc. that reminds the person of their trauma). What is challenging with hypervigilance, is it means our bodies are on high alert to protect us, which means it releases various reactors in our body. Because these reactors doesn't shut down after the trigger, our bodies are part of the stress. When this continues, the person can feel high anxiety and highly alerted for a long period and the anxious feeling exhausts the person, not only mentally, but physically as well.
For me, I can have the symptoms of hypervigilance for a few hours or sometimes days. Recently, I was affected by it and I felt a heightened state of panic. Even while I was sitting and working, or doing simple everyday activities like washing dishes, I could feel my muscles tense and my mind racing. Sometimes I am unaware of what triggers the hypervigilance, and I have to sit and meditate to find the cause and work through the feeling to remind myself I am safe.
This last episode affected my sleep and I lost hours because of the inability of my body to relax as I tried to fall asleep. I also woke earlier than normal. When I did wake, the feeling of alert and panic was there the moment I opened my eyes.
Many people who are experiencing this will be unable to attend events with groups or crowds because their nervous system is extremely sensitive. This means sounds are louder, you may feel more sensitive to touch, and your mind can't focus. So even a regular sound could cause you to go into complete panic mode.
Most people will need to be in a dark room alone so they can tune out all sights, sounds, and thoughts and help their body relax. Your body is taking you on a ride and it isn't a welcome one! This causes some people to miss work, or activities with friends and family because they can't handle any more input. Their brain has their entire body ready for flight or fight mode. It is quite exhausting!
I finally gave in and took a mid-day nap to calm my nerves and I worked on meditation. Usually mediating on the safety of where I am now will help my mind disassociate with the prior event that caused me to feel I was in need of protection. To overcome this, I work hard to think of what is causing the hypervigilance. Is it a sight or sound that happened? Is it fear of an upcoming event (for instance when my ex emailed me he is coming to visit the girls for 5 days). Once I pinpoint the cause I can usually work through the tools of calming. I use positive thoughts to help myself find relief. The best and most healing tool is to go and exercise in nature. My body switches mode to connect with my surroundings and releases me from the grips of trauma. Nature has been my greatest healing tool and I hope to share more tips on getting out into nature to help others handle their PTSD symptoms as well. If you use nature to help you heal, please share you experience.
Self care is another important aspect of calming hypervigilance and in my next blog post I will talk about three ways to calm through self care and how we can do this with the help of our kids.
Love and wellness,
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at email@example.com