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What is ‘Hypervigilance’ and How Can It Cause Anxiety?

What is 'Hypervigilance' and How Can It Cause Anxiety?I always thought that everyone could hear his or her own heartbeat. Day in, and day out…ka-boom, ka-boom, ka-boom.

Why did I always assume this? Well, I can definitely hear mine. Oh, and I can feel it, too. If I sit still for a moment and focus on the left side of my chest, I can feel my heart drumming against my sternum. Can you?

And every once in awhile, my heartbeat does what I’ve always referred to as “the flips” — a tiny second or two of transgressions. A quick double beat followed by a moment of silence. Or, a moment of silence followed by a quick double beat.

It happens more often when I’m nervous.

A few years ago, I began asking friends and family members if they experience this strange phenomena. (By this time, I’d already learned to never Google my symptoms lest I interpret the calcium deposit in my earlobe as cancer. Thanks, internet.)

Most of the folks in my informal survey didn’t have any solid answers for me. They said they couldn’t feel their heart. They said that they don’t hear it beat. They said they’ve never felt any abnormalities — or normalities, for that matter. They simply moved through the days of their lives completely unaware of the thick blood-pumping muscle that keeps them alive.

At that point, I began to get worried. Not only was I afraid of the flips, but I grew fearful of my own heartbeat. After all, if no one else paid much attention to it, why could I hear it? Why could I easily tune in on it? Why could I feel it beating in my chest?

Surely there had to be something gravely wrong with me. Right? If not for the flips, then certainly for the loud beating. Right?!

MY HEART GOIN’ BOOM BOOM BOOM

By now, you probably know the answer to the above question. After multiple heart-related tests, including a (not) fun 24 hours of lugging around a Holter monitor that was attached to my chest via sticky little electrodes, the results were clear.

My heart is fine.

Fine, fine, fine.

And it all boils down to hypervigilance. From Wikipedia:

 Hypervigilance is an enhanced state of sensory sensitivity accompanied by an exaggerated intensity of behaviors whose purpose is to detect threats. Hypervigilance is also accompanied by a state of increased anxiety which can cause exhaustion.

An enhanced state of sensory sensitivity. (Boy, “sensory sensitivity” sounds like a given, doesn’t it? I mean, look at those Latin roots.)

When all the tests came back with the medical equivalent of academic straight A’s, I was dumbfounded. I asked my doctor why I felt such strange sensations when others did not.

His answer?

“You’re hypervigilant,” he explained. “You notice stuff that other people don’t. Hearts palpitate every once in awhile — it just happens. Most people just don’t feel it. But you do.”

And that was that.

In a way, I’d manufactured a problem out of nothing. And, in retrospect, I still think it was wise to have a doctor check me out — after all, knowing I’m in the hands of a trained medical professional definitely relieves my anxiety. I’d obviously encourage you to do the same if you think you might have a health issue.

But if you don’t — if you pass all the tests with flying colors — perhaps you’re just hypervigilant like me.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Pierre Willemin

 

What is ‘Hypervigilance’ and How Can It Cause Anxiety?

Summer Beretsky

Summer Beretsky enjoys writing about her experiences with anxiety, panic, and Paxil. She had her first panic attack as an undergrad at Lycoming College and plenty more while she worked toward her M.A. in Communication from the University of Delaware. She contributes to the World of Psychology blog here on PsychCentral and has written for the Los Angeles Times. You can follow her on Twitter @summerberetsky.


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APA Reference
Beretsky, S. (2012). What is ‘Hypervigilance’ and How Can It Cause Anxiety?. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 21, 2019, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/panic/2012/06/what-is-hypervigilance-and-how-can-it-cause-anxiety/

 

Last updated: 26 Jun 2012
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