Understanding The Effects Of Hypervigilance In Relationships

Have you considered clinical trials for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

What Is Hypervigilance?

Hypervigilance refers to behavior involving increased or exaggerated scanning of environmental stimuli for potential threats. Essentially, it is a state of increased alertness; often, these perceived dangers are not real. 

While it’s advantageous for our brain to sense threats for survival, we should also be able to feel safe and ‘switch off’ in certain environments. Unfortunately, hypervigilance is often a product of past trauma. Your brain is trying to process something that has happened to you in the past and protect you from further threatening events. 

Symptoms

  • Dilated pupils

  • Having a rapid heart rate

  • Sweating or shaking

  • Dry mouth

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Increased startle reflex

  • Tense muscles.

What does this look like day to day?

If you’re experiencing hypervigilance, you may find it hard to stay present and focused on the people around you. Instead, you may react to loud sounds, unexpected sights or movements, and smells. Large crowds may be overwhelming, given the large amount of visual and auditory information to process.

The familiar places and people you usually feel the safest around may even feel threatening, as you will now analyze them with immense attention to detail.

What causes hypervigilance? 

Hypervigilance is a state of sensory sensitivity and can be a symptom of a particular condition. This could include: 

PTSD: Hypervigilance is one of the core features of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is caused by exposure to a traumatic event, such as witnessing an accident or suffering abuse. 

Anxiety: If you have been diagnosed with a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) or social anxiety, you may experience hypervigilance. 

Schizophrenia: In schizophrenia, hypervigilance can extend from the paranoia that often comes with the condition.

Hypervigilance can also be triggered by your environment. Triggers include:

  • Feeling claustrophobic

  • Crowded environments

  • Uncertainty/lack of control

  • Emotional distress

  • Criticism or embarrassment.

Hypervigilance in relationships

If your parents demonstrated hypervigilance in their relationship when you were growing up, you might be more likely to carry this behavior into your relationships. Observing and learning this behavior as a child can normalize hypervigilant thought processes and disproportionate emotional reactions.

Hypervigilance can be challenging to deal with in a relationship. If you constantly worry about your partner’s behavior, become obsessive over your relationship, or look out for changes that could impact the dynamic between you and your partner, you are likely showing hypervigilance. 

This behavior can lead to arguments and mistrust, so it’s important to address the underlying drivers of your hypervigilance. This means you can gradually address your thought processes and feel safer and at ease around your partner. 

Unable to give space

Those expressing hypervigilance in a relationship may find it harder to give their partner space. This fear-based reaction can stem from a worry that their partner will leave. 

This might look like you are constantly looking out for your partner's needs, potentially neglecting your own. You’ll do anything to keep your partner around, close to you, and happy. 

Trust issues 

With hypervigilance, you are constantly scanning your environment for threats – including people. This can be challenging to build trust as you are aware of their every move and every way that things could potentially go wrong. 

You may also misinterpret your partner’s behavior. Being on high alert for things going wrong means you may see perfectly normal reactions as potentially harmful or threatening. 

Emotional outbursts

When you are hypervigilant, it can be hard to regulate your emotions. The constant stress of being on guard can be exhausting, making you prone to mood swings and overreactions. Something minor may occur, but you lack the energy to process it fully, making you more likely to get upset or angry. 

Treatment

Treatment of hypervigilance can vary from patient to patient, as this often appears as a symptom of another condition, such as anxiety or PTSD. Hypervigilance can also vary in severity, impacting which treatment option is best. 

The treatments available will involve gradual changes, so remind yourself that taking things slowly is okay. Communicate with people around you so you’re not bottling up your feelings or experiences. Do activities you find relaxing and prioritize self-care to help manage your symptoms. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) 

CBT aims to teach individuals to identify and challenge unhelpful thought processes. This can help patients to regain control of thoughts and responses to their environment. CBT is commonly used to treat both anxiety and PTSD.

Luckily, CBT has also been effective when delivered over the internet if in-person access sessions are not accessible. 

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR is commonly used as a treatment for PTSD. EMDR involves people recalling traumatic memories while moving their eyes (guided by your therapist). It is thought that EMDR works by reducing the vividness of memory, allowing you to access and process it. 

Medications 

PTSD or anxiety disorders may be treated directly, with anxiolytic drugs or antidepressants. Schizophrenia may be treated with antipsychotics. 

Mindfulness training

By focusing on staying in the moment, individuals can become more aware of and better able to monitor their behavior. Mindfulness has emerged over recent years as a means of addressing symptoms of anxiety and PTSD. 

The lowdown

Awareness of your surrounding environment is necessary. However, constantly feeling on guard and on edge can seriously impact your mental and emotional well-being and drastically impact your relationships. 

Hypervigilance is often a symptom of another medical condition, such as PTSD, anxiety, or schizophrenia. The good news is that hypervigilance is well recognized and various treatment options are available. 

This means that you can learn how to see the world around you in a more positive light and build up more trust and safety in your relationships. This way, you can ensure that you and your partner are building each other up – working towards a stronger, healthier relationship over time. 

Have you considered clinical trials for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Joining community groups and exercise programs for my condition made me feel empowered – but I want to be part of finding a cure.
Peter, 64

Have you considered clinical trials for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

Do you want to know if there are any Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) clinical trials you might be eligible for?
Have you taken medication for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?
Have you been diagnosed with Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

Latest news

Join our email list

Want all the latest clinical trial and HealthMatch news in your inbox? We thought you might! Sign up below.