You may be hypervigilant if you are constantly on guard and on the lookout for danger, even when there is little to no risk of something bad happening.

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It’s normal to experience brief periods of hypervigilance. For example, if you watch a scary movie, you may be on high-alert and get scared by sounds that would otherwise not bother you, such as a creaky floor or wind rustling in the trees outside.

Some people are hypervigilant about specific things, such as tags on a shirt rubbing against their skin or the sound of someone’s alarm clock going off repeatedly in the apartment next door. You may notice these sensations or sounds and become agitated and distracted by them, but eventually you move on.

Chronic hypervigilance, on the other hand, goes beyond temporary awareness and annoyance. People with hypervigilance may constantly scan their environment to find threats and have abnormal responses and reactions to everyday sounds, sights, and situations. Hypervigilance can cause physical, behavioral, and emotional symptoms.

Physical Symptoms of Hypervigilance

Physical symptoms of hypervigilance may include:

  • Sweating
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Fast, shallow breathing
  • Restlessness
  • Tense muscles
  • Dilated pupils

Being in a constant state of “fight or flight” awareness can lead to exhaustion and fatigue over time.

Behavioral Symptoms of Hypervigilance

Behavioral symptoms of hypervigilance can include:

  • Agitation and quick movements of the head (quickly looking back and forth)
  • Overreactions to sounds
  • Distraction from engaging with others, carrying out important tasks, and recreational activities
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Argumentative or combativeness with others
  • Using alcohol or drugs to numb symptoms6

These symptoms can have a negative impact on a person’s relationships with others and their work/school life.

Emotional Symptoms of Hypervigilance

Emotional symptoms of hypervigilance can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Nervousness
  • Irritability
  • Paranoia
  • Fear
  • Worry
  • Anger
  • Isolation

Some people with hypervigilance may experience intense mood swings or have intense reactions to situations, especially if the person perceives they’ve been judged or harshly spoken to by another person, such as a family member or coworker.


Self-Care Options:

Learning how to cope and limit hypervigilance takes time and perseverance. Self-care can strategies can help you cope as you work through your anxieties and fears:

  • Breathing exercises: Take slow, deep breaths when you feel triggered and pause before reacting.
  • Relaxation techniques: Breathwork, meditation, yoga, and guided imagery can help calm the mind and body.
  • Journaling: Writing down your thoughts can help you identify patterns and begin to make slow changes to the way you respond to these thoughts, situations, and feelings.
  • Regular exercise: Moving your body regularly helps boost feel-good hormones
  • Support: lean on family and friends for support or find a join group with other people who have similar lived experiences to receive and give support

Hypervigilance can be a symptom of psychological conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety.1 Sometimes hypervigilance is a sign of physical health conditions, such as hyperthyroidism or Alzheimer’s disease.


 Recreational drugs and substance use disorders can also lead to hypervigilance.

Excessive hypervigilance can have a significantly negative impact on your quality of life, leading to memory impairment, difficulty regulating emotions, trouble maintaining relationships, and struggles carrying out day-to-day tasks.

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