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Hypervigilance and Paranoia

PTSD and Hypervigilance

Hypervigilance is a common symptom of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). People who have experienced significant trauma are often extremely aware of their surroundings, and how their body feels. The person is on alert and is in protection mode. They want to shield themselves from potential danger and are convinced that small things can hurt them. For example, they might hear a sound and believe there’s a person ready to assault them. This individual is on guard because of hypervigilance. In this article, we’re going to discuss how this symptom of PTSD and anxiety disorders can affect people in a way that interferes with their functioning in daily life.

The danger is around the corner, or is it?

One of the problems with hypervigilance is determining whether you are in danger or not. The person is ready to act should an unsafe situation arise. They’re fearful for their safety because they’re either a survivor of trauma or someone who lives with chronic anxiety. It becomes difficult to differentiate between what’s real danger and perceived situations where the person could be harmed. The person might not know the difference, and that’s OK. It takes self-awareness and working on a person’s triggers to determine why individuals are experiencing behavior in which they learn they have to protect themselves.

Paranoia means the person believes people are going to hurt them

There may not be a person in danger, but because a person is on guard and paranoid, the smallest sound or hearing people talking behind them might make a person think something terrible is about to happen. Even friendly laughter might make an individual paranoid that somebody is out to get them. When people think of paranoia, they might imagine somebody who has a psychotic disorder. Or as a feature of bipolar disorder. But people who have anxiety can experience high levels of paranoia, especially if they have had traumatic experiences. People laughing could be just having a good time. It might not have anything to do with the person who is paranoid. But regardless of whether it’s real or not, the individual believes they are about to experience a dangerous situation. They are hypervigilant and paranoid.

Don’t shame a person who is paranoid

You may have heard people say dismissive things to those struggling with mental health issues such as, “That’s just anxiety.” Or for somebody who is experiencing paranoia, “You’re just paranoid.” There is no “just” about it. Anxiety and paranoia can be extremely uncomfortable. It’s important not to shame your friend or loved one who is experiencing any mental health issues including paranoia. If a person is paranoid that they are in danger of being harmed, even if there is no evidence of that, their feelings are valid because they feel them. So tell them you understand they must feel bad. They feel awful, and that is real. They can learn to cope with their paranoid feelings, but it doesn’t help to make them feel shameful about them.

Real or not, it’s scary

Hypervigilance, whether the danger is “real” or not, feels scary to the person experiencing it. It feels like something dangerous is happening and they need to protect themselves. They are frightened and their defenses go up. Trauma is something that sticks with an individual. They want to believe they have recovered from it, primarily if they worked on their triggers in therapy, but recovery is a process. It’s not something that’s going to happen instantly, and it helps to work with a licensed therapist. Whether the person is in therapy online or in their local area, it’s beneficial to work on hypervigilance symptoms with a mental health counselor. You don’t have to suffer alone. There is help out there for hypervigilance, and you will get it.

Getty photo by MachineHeadz

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