Dr. Asher Beckwittt [00:00:02]:
Hello, and welcome back to self healing after trauma. I am your host, Dr. Asher Beckwit. Unfortunately, today, Kimberly Ward is unable to join us. She is out for a medical issue. She is okay, but needs to take a little bit of time off. So today I want to dig deeper into a concept called hypervigilance. Some of you might be familiar with it, but today I'd like to go through and talk about it in more detail.
Dr. Asher Beckwittt [00:00:31]:
So, what is hyper vigilance anyway? Have you ever had an increased state of alertness? When you hear a loud noise, has it ever shocked you? And you've been like, whoa, that is hyper vigilance. It's this increased state of alertness, and it's a state of mind that we're in, and it's both a symptom and a cause of both anxiety and stress. So your body, what happens is, when there's, like, a loud noise, then it becomes prime to see this noise or to process this noise as a threat. Although what happens is that for people who've been through trauma, it becomes kind of a constant state of being. And it's like having an overactive alarm system that you just can't switch off. You're just in this constant state of hyper arousal or hyper alertness, where every little thing can get to you. So why does this happen? Hyper vigilance is definitely associated with stress and with anxiety disorders and post traumatic stress disorder and other forms of trauma. When you've gone through a trauma, it's like your brain is encountering that danger, and it decides that it's better to be safe than sorry.
Dr. Asher Beckwittt [00:02:14]:
So it goes into this heightened state of awareness to basically protect you and help you to be able to protect yourself. But the problem is that when you live in that state for a really long time, and some people can live in it for all of their lives. Honestly, I'm 46. I've lived in a hyper vigilant state. I would say up until about three, four years ago. So I spent most of my life in that state, and it's exhausting. I was exhausted all the time. I felt like I could never truly sleep.
Dr. Asher Beckwittt [00:02:53]:
Like, my mind was racing, or I was constantly looking at the door to see if something was coming in, if there was anything that dropped or made any kind of sound anywhere. And my house backs to woods, so there's, like, branches dropping or acorns dropping. It felt like I could hear every possible little thing, and I would jump to and be like, whoa. And my brain just could not calm down. And that was utterly exhausting so imagine that you're in a room, and you can't stop scanning the doors, and you look at the windows in every single face of the people in that room and see potential threats. See if there are any threats. So you jump at every possible second or every possible sound, and your heart is racing, and you can't really focus on the conversation that's in front of you. Instead, it's like you're just focused more on that person and that person's energy and what's going on with them.
Dr. Asher Beckwittt [00:04:01]:
And you might notice every little shift in energy or every little shift in expressions. I know that when I was in that hyper vigilant state, it was like I was looking at my partner, and every little tiny shift, I was like, what's wrong? What's wrong? Are you okay? Is everything all right? So it made me very jumpy and very anxious. And you become irritable, like your sleep is disturbed. And you just always kind of feel on edge. And there's always one kind of thing that might push you over that edge. So, for example, if your kid isn't doing what they're supposed to do, or they scream or they slam something down on the table, it's like you just feel like you lose it in a way because you're constantly living in a state that is on edge. It's not just a psychological state, either. There are actually physical symptoms that are associated with this.
Dr. Asher Beckwittt [00:05:08]:
For example, like headaches, potentially migraines, because your level of stress can be that high that it can actually give you a migraine. Fatigue, rapid heartbeat. And it's that constant state of stress that what happens is when you're living in that, it tends to weaken your immune system, and it makes you more susceptible to all kinds of illnesses. So that could be your average cold or COVID, but it can also make you susceptible to longer term types of things. So the longer that you live in this hypervigilant state, you can develop things like cancer, cardiovascular disease, or other types of things that we've been discussing in the previous episodes with the Aces test. So if this sounds familiar, you might be wondering what you can even do about it. First step is to really recognize and become aware of the signs of hyper vigilance. As we've been talking about, awareness is the most critical and powerful tool.
Dr. Asher Beckwittt [00:06:24]:
And then from there, you can do some other types of things. Once you're aware that you're living in this really hyper vigilant state and that you constantly feel on edge, you can do some things to help yourself ground, for example, like mindfulness and relaxation techniques. They can help you ground your nervous system so that you're not always functioning up here, that you can come down to here. So let's talk about some of those strategies. And one of the things that I encourage you to do is, as you're listening to these strategies, think about what works for you in your day to day life, because you're not going to utilize the strategies unless they actually work for you and you feel like you can incorporate them into your day to day life. So one is deep breathing exercises. This can really help you to moderate and regulate that body stress response. So one of the things that you can do is when you're feeling like you're in this elevated state up here, is you can slow down first, become aware of it, and then take six deep, slow breaths in through the nose, and then hold it for a few seconds, and then out of the mouth slowly and do that six times where you're going in through the nose, holding it, and then exhaling out.
Dr. Asher Beckwittt [00:08:08]:
One of the things that I like to add into this with my deep breathing exercises is I imagine that I am inhaling, like, a color or something that I really like. For example, I am a big fan of lavender. I love that smell. And I love lavender the color. And so as I'm breathing in, I imagine that I'm breathing in lavender the smell, but also lavender the color. And then I'm exhaling something that I don't like, like a color that I don't like. So for me, it's like a dirt kind of brown color, and I don't like that. So it helps, though, to kind of cleanse and breathe in what you do like and breathe out.
Dr. Asher Beckwittt [00:09:04]:
And you can even add some motion, for example, if you can push it, like breathing in, and you're imagining the lavender and exhaling and pushing out the brown. And the reason why I say to add in the hand motion as well is because we are energy. Our bodies are energy. And if we can imagine getting rid of that yucky energy and bringing in the good energy, that's going to help us to feel much more grounded, and it's going to help us to be way more present. Because when you're in a hyper vigilant state, it's like you are in a state of just frazzled, going in 100 different directions kind of state. And so if you can come down from that state, then you can be more in the present. Also, there are other grounding techniques so you can focus on the present moment. You can focus on the physical sensations going on in your body.
Dr. Asher Beckwittt [00:10:16]:
For example, one of the things that I always try to do when I'm feeling really elevated is focus on my feet. Just focus on my feet and focus on my feet touching the ground. What does it feel like to have socks on? Oftentimes I have fuzzy socks on. Even in the summer. I am just a fuzzy sock wearer. And what does it feel like to have that fuzzy sock on my foot? What does each little fuz, little piece of fuzz feel like? And then what does it feel like for my foot with my sock on, to actually be touching the ground just ever so gently? And then what does it feel like when I stand up and I put pressure on my feet, and I just really try to take my mind and go deep into my feet so that then I can feel every piece of it. And I go through my tippy, tippy toes, and the middle point of my toes, and the bottom part of my toes, and the upper part of my foot, and the arch and the heel. And what does that feel like at every single stage? That can really help you also to come back down and feel more grounded in your body.
Dr. Asher Beckwittt [00:11:35]:
And then also things like regular exercise. I think I've shared that one of my favorite things to do is swim. But I find that if I don't do something on a daily basis, like swimming or walking or spinning or just something that I have so much excess anxious energy, oftentimes that's running through me, that then it becomes even harder and harder to sleep and eat and do other things because I'm just going strong. And so if I can take 2030 minutes and exercise every day, even if it means that I'm just doing sit ups or something for five minutes, but ideally 20 to 30 minutes every day, then personally I feel better. But again, I encourage you to figure out what's going to work for you. So if that's like running in place for five minutes, go for it, whatever you can possibly do to help. And also diet. Diet also is very important.
Dr. Asher Beckwittt [00:12:47]:
So if you're sitting and you're eating sugar and things like that all day, sugar is going to continue to stimulate you. And same with caffeine, it's going to continue to stimulate you and keep you at that high level. So maybe if you can cut back on a half cup of coffee or even a quarter cup of coffee in the mornings, that might help you to feel a little bit better or cut back a little bit. In terms of sugar, I'm not a caffeine person, but I tend to have some issues with sugar sometimes. So I certainly can understand that specifically chocolate. These things are going to help you to overall feel better and to reduce these symptoms of hyper vigilance. Another thing that can be really helpful in maintaining your prep self and being in the present is to establish a day to day routine. So it gives you a sense of control and it gives you a sense of safety.
Dr. Asher Beckwittt [00:13:53]:
So you know that you wake up at 07:00 in the morning, you're going to go, you're going to get showered, you're going to go to work, maybe drop your kids off work from nine to five, get off work, come home, cook dinner, exercise, put kids to bed, whatever that routine is for you. If you can try to build a regular routine, that is going to help you so much. I know that for me, when I got separated, I then had to switch out my custody schedule. And before that, I was on a really good routine. Like, I would go to work and then I get off work and I go pick up my kiddo, and then we go over to the gym, and then we'd come back home and we'd have dinner and bedtime and everything would be taken care of in the day. And then when I had to switch out my routine, I went to 50% of having my kiddo and 50% not. And I'm telling you, I'm still. I'm four plus years out and it still throws me for a loop.
Dr. Asher Beckwittt [00:14:57]:
So now it's certain days I have my kiddo and other days I don't. So I feel like my calendar is constantly a struggle for me and scheduling everything is constantly a struggle for me. But even within that, if you can try to develop some kind of a routine, it does actually help. So on the days that I have her, I have one routine, and on the days that I don't have her, I have another routine. So it can work. It's just a little bit more challenging. And sleep. Sleep is something that is just crucial for everything.
Dr. Asher Beckwittt [00:15:37]:
So if you can somehow create a calming bedtime ritual and ensure a comfortable sleep environment, that can make a huge difference. Just to share. I used to be extremely hyper vigilant, as I said, and then I couldn't fall asleep at night. I would constantly be looking under the door. I would constantly be waking up to every possible little sound or not being able to even go to sleep because of every possible little sound. And I had my dog always sleeping with me because I just didn't feel safe. And then I would also turn on the TV every night. And I would turn on something calm, like the Home and garden network or something along those lines that I didn't have to be actively paying attention to, but just something that would help me to feel a little bit calmer.
Dr. Asher Beckwittt [00:16:30]:
And I couldn't Go to sleep unless I had the TV on. And it was the only thing that made me feel safe and somewhat consistent. But I wasn't getting great sleep. Even though it was like setting the sleep timer and doing all these things, I just wasn't getting great sleep. And then I finally got to a point where it took me some time, but I started to be able to go to sleep without having the TV on and then being able to kind of talk myself down from this hyper vigilant state. And I learned some really good mechanisms of ways to talk myself down and reassure myself. Like, I imagined giving my inner child a hug and saying to my inner child every night, it's okay, you're safe. You're safe here.
Dr. Asher Beckwittt [00:17:21]:
Look around. Look around your room. Do you see your door? Do you see your dresser? Do you see the dog? Do you see the lamp? And I was focusing myself really very clearly on different objects and things within my room. And that, for whatever reason, really helped me to then create this place of safety. But it didn't happen right off the bat. It took a while. It took several months of doing this, of telling myself this every single night and especially in the dark to be able to feel comfortable with doing it. And I'll tell you, I did kind of ease into it as well.
Dr. Asher Beckwittt [00:18:05]:
I have one of those little salt lamps that you can set at different frequencies and things of brightness. And so I started out and I had it on high and was like I could see everything in the room. And then I slowly, over time, dimmed it down. And I was telling myself, it's okay. I'm safe. I'm safe. I have locks on the door. I have a dog here to protect me.
Dr. Asher Beckwittt [00:18:29]:
There's no one else in the house except for me and my child. I am safe. It is okay. And really grounding myself in each part of the room, thinking that. So if you can help yourself, and I don't know, maybe your ritual looks similar to mine, but that's something that really helped me quite a bit. You could also try, like, teas or meditations or other kinds of things. There is a free app, it's called insight timer, and they have all kinds of free meditations on it. I highly recommend that you use that.
Dr. Asher Beckwittt [00:19:09]:
I actually used it for a period of time. To help me calm down from things and be able to go to sleep. And they have some great folks on there and some great meditations. And lastly, it's really important to have a good support network. We've talked about a support network a lot throughout this whole process, but having friends there that you can talk to and you can be seen and heard for you, for exactly who you are and exactly where you are in your healing process is extremely important. So trying to surround yourself with those people who can see and hear you and won't judge you for where you are in your process. We all go through different things, and recovery looks different for everyone. And we'll have periods where we're mad or we'll sad or going through pain or depression or anxiety, all kinds of different things.
Dr. Asher Beckwittt [00:20:12]:
But remember, emotions are temporary and feeling those emotions are the only way through it. So as you are sitting there and you're experiencing these things and you have this hyper vigilance and things, being able to talk to your friends or your family or other folks who are supportive of you is really critical. And being able to say, I feel like I'm operating up here and I'm shaking and I don't know what to do and I'm constantly looking around and I feel really alarmed when there's any kind of loud noises or anything. Being able to share that and have somebody really hear that and not try to fix it or comment on it, but just to be able to acknowledge it like, yeah, that must be really hard for you. Is so critical in the healing process and it helps you to not feel so isolated. You are beautiful and deserve to heal. So in closing, I just want to say that with the right tools and support, it is possible to turn down the volume on that alarm system in your brain and even to turn it off eventually and find that sense of peace and find that essential self that resides within you. Thank you.
Dr. Asher Beckwittt [00:21:46]:
So if you haven't done so already, please go to www.selfhealtrauma.com or there is a link below in the show notes and take the aces quiz. We talked about this a lot last week, but take that Aces Quiz to assess your level of trauma and that will also help you in assessing your level of vigilance. And as always, thank you so much for joining me today. It is such an honor to be a part of your healing process.