Hypervigilance and How to Overcome It – Free Ebook

We would not have been able to survive so
long if we were not able, at points, to get

very worried indeed; if we didn’t possess
a native genius for flooding our minds, at

astonishing speed, with a cocktail of the
most intense and panicky hormones our bodies

can secrete. And yet our capacity to keep
surviving – or at least, and as importantly,

to draw some enjoyment from what remains of
life – depends on something quite contrary

and even more challenging: an ability at points
to unpanic ourselves, to wind down the alarm

and clear the bloodstream of catastrophic
foreboding: a mastery of the delicate art

of unworrying. Many of us belong within a
damnable category known as hypervigilant – that

is, we are not merely ordinarily careful and
on the look out for our safety, as we should

be, but outright panicked and alarmed pretty
much all the time. We, in the unhappy hypervigilant

camp, wake up terrified, spend the day in
low-level dread and exist in near certainty

that something appalling will fell us. At
points, it’s so tiring, it’s normal that

we may long for it all to be over – though
that too is a dreadful prospect. The reasons

why are like this are always somewhat the
same. At some point, long before we could

cope, we were frightened very badly indeed,
so badly, we have never really recovered a

faith in the solidity of anything. Something
so challenging unfolded, it has jammed our

minds in a state of alarm, even when the outward
conditions have changed and when there is,

in the objective sense (as kindly friends
like to tell us), nothing in particular to

be terrified of. Perhaps someone was very
angry in the vicinity. Perhaps we were humiliated

and made to feel unwanted and sinful. Maybe
an older sibling tortured us. Perhaps we got

sent away to an institution where we were
appallingly isolated. In response, our level

of panic hormones spiked – and never came
down. Now our hypervigilance scrambles the

part of the mind that regulates basic functions
like sleep, digestion and touch – and so,

a telling symptom is that it will almost certainly
be difficult for us to rest, to manage our

bowels or to be wholly at ease being touched
by a fellow human, however much we long to

be. There is no easy cure, but it is the start
of something to have at least a name to put

to the chaos. A degree of compassion can start
up too. We can start to notice how much of

life has been held together by fear. We have
a concept that links why it’s so hard to

go to parties, trust a lover, relax on holiday,
go to the bathroom or sleep much past 4am.

Image result for agnes martin We might dare
to tell a few others about our hypervigilance,

handing them the word like a gift, a clue
to our particular brokenness. Every time we

find a kindly other to whom we can safely
entrust news of our state, and who can smile

tenderly in response, the panic goes down
and the world becomes ever so slightly more

bearable. But sometimes, when we are alone
and the pressures mount once more, we may

simply have to stand back and observe the
hypervigilance do its thing: smash our plans

and hopes, and unleash panic in a way that
will knock us out for the day or the month.

We should forgive ourselves. This is a disease
like any other. What can be hardest, but most

important, to believe is that being an adult
means having options. We can push back against

bullies, move away when it gets too much and
tell others what we need from them. We don’t

need to be hypervigilant because we have the
option of true vigilance: if there were to

be real dangers, we would now have the inner
resources to greet and fight them in good

time. We can worry when we need to, not just
because we exist. In the meantime, we should

allow ourselves – with this strange, slightly
ugly word in hand – to feel sorry for our

desperate impulses and strive, where we can,
at 4.35am perhaps, to turn over and get a

little more rest.

We can learn the skill of being calm, not through special teas or slow breathing. But through thinking. Our book guides us through that process.

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