Hyperarousal: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment


What is hyperarousal?

Hyperarousal is one of the primary symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Traumatic stress causes a person’s body to become on high alert due to thinking about their trauma. Even when there is no danger, a person’s body responds as though there is, causing prolonged stress after a traumatic event.

Any age can be affected by PTSD, including children.

Read: Asperger’s Syndrome

What are the symptoms of hyperarousal?

There are several symptoms of hyperarousal:

  • Sleeping problems
  • Difficulties concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Angry outbursts and anger
  • Panic
  • Constant anxiety
  • Afraid or startled easily
  • Behaviors that are self-destructive (such as excessive driving and drinking)
  • Shame or guilt

Sleeping problems are often caused by hyperarousal in children. During a traumatic event, they might have frightening dreams. Play can also help children reenact traumatic events or parts of those events.

Hyperarousal symptoms include:

  • Recollections of traumatic events (flashbacks)
  • Emotions that are numbed
  • Refraining from situations that might trigger memories of trauma

Read: Body Dysmorphic Disorde

What causes hyperarousal?

The following are the most common triggers of PTSD:

  • Combat-related trauma
  • Childhood abuse
  • Sexual assault
  • Physical assault
  • Threats posed by someone carrying a weapon
  • Accidents involving a vehicle or sports
  • Natural disasters
  • Mugging or robbery
  • Fire
  • Kidnapping
  • Torture
  • Plane crash
  • Diagnosis of a life-threatening illness
  • An act of terrorism

Read: Brief Psychotic Disorder

Who is more likely to suffer from PTSD?

Man with hyperarousal suffering from PTSD

PTSD can affect people of all ages. Still, there are some factors that seem to increase the risk of PTSD after a traumatic event. Some of these include:

  • Being traumatized intensely or for an extended period of time
  • Trauma experienced in childhood for example abuse
  • Work as an EMT, or a firefighter, or a soldier, and you may be exposed to traumatic events
  • Diagnosed with anxiety or depression or having a mental health disorder
  • A substance abuse problem, such as alcoholism or drug addiction
  • Lack of social support (family and friends)
  • Being a family member of someone who has suffered from mental illness

Read: Catatonia

What is the best time to seek help?

You need to call 911, your local emergency number or your local ambulance if you think you are going to hurt yourself.

You should contact your doctor if you experience hyperarousal or other symptoms of PTSD. An exam will be performed to determine whether there are any underlying medical conditions. Depending on your physical symptoms, a blood test may also be performed.

You’ll be referred to a mental healthcare provider if your doctor suspects you are suffering from PTSD. Psychologists are not allowed to prescribe medications, only psychiatrists.

What complications can PTSD cause?

It is important to understand the side effects of PTSD and find ways to cope with them. A person with PTSD can experience many negative effects in their lives, from their career to their relationships to their health. Additionally, it can put you at risk for mental health problems such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Eating disorders
  • The idea of suicide or attempts at suicide

Read: Mild Cognitive Impairment

Are there treatments available for PTSD?

The symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder can persist for life. However, the condition can be managed in a way that will let you live your life to the fullest, while at the same time minimizing symptoms, such as hyperarousal.

The main treatment for PTSD is talk therapy (psychotherapy), which can be given individualized, in a group setting, or in a combination setting. Mental health providers sometimes prescribe medication as well. There are several ways in which these treatments alleviate symptoms:

  • Increasing your self-confidence
  • Increasing your optimism
  • Learning coping mechanisms so you can cope with the symptoms of your PTSD
  • If you have other mental health issues or drug or alcohol abuse, you need to address them as well

Among the most common types of psychotherapy are:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: This type of therapy helps patients identify their own thinking patterns which are triggering their PTSD symptoms. These patterns include negative self-images and the expectation of repeating trauma. Exposure therapy is often combined with it
  • Exposure therapy: A method of treating trauma in which patients confront traumatic memories and situations – in a safe environment – in order to learn to cope better. There are many programs that use virtual reality.
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR): This therapy combines exposure therapy with guided eye movements to assist with working through traumatic memories and changing how you respond.

Additionally, drugs may be useful in treating PTSD. The side effects of these drugs can be severe, so it’s important to work closely with your mental health provider when you discuss your symptoms and how the medication is working.

Whether you need one or more medications, your doctor will determine which one is best for you. Usually, these drugs work after several weeks.

PTSD patients have commonly prescribed the following medications:

  • The use of antidepressants is often effective in treating PTSD symptoms, which include depression and anxiety. They may also improve sleep and concentration.
  • The use of anti-anxiety medication is helpful in calming extreme anxiety. Typically, short-term use of these drugs is not recommended because of their abuse potential.
  • Prazosin (Minipress) can help people with PTSD stop nightmares.

Read: Expressive Language Disorder

How to help a loved one with hyperarousal

Making a loved one aware of the above coping mechanisms can help them cope with hyperarousal.

If you are planning to try some of these things with them, such as mindfulness, deep breathing, or meditation, you might find it helpful to offer them these.

Hyperarousal-related behaviors should not be overreacted to. It can also be helpful to listen nonjudgmentally and empathically.

Most importantly, ensuring you have spoken with a doctor and received a proper diagnosis is the most important thing you can do to help a loved one experiencing hyperarousal. The right treatment will be available to them as a result.

Coping hyperarousal symptoms

It is very common for PTSD patients to experience hyperarousal symptoms. Getting well rarely happens in a straight line, and there are often complications and setbacks. Although these challenges can seem daunting, it is crucial to remember that you are just as important as your doctors and medications in your recovery.

When it comes to dealing with PTSD, there are things you can do to cope better. The following are some of them:

  • Sleep hygiene should be improved. Sleep is often regarded as a threat by people with PTSD, which makes them do anything they can to avoid it. Your symptoms may become worse as a result of sleep deprivation. Despite your doctor’s recommendation, you can improve your sleep hygiene by maintaining a consistent sleep schedule.
  • Caffeine and alcohol should be avoided. You can worsen depression symptoms and side effects of medications when you drink alcohol, which is a depressant. An increase in anxiety and edginess can be caused by caffeine, a stimulant.
  • Regular exercise is important. Taking part in exercise can boost mood and potentially temper epinephrine levels due to the production of endorphins. Strengthening and controlling yourself are also advantages of exercise.
  • Relax for a while. Silence can be a source of anxiety for people suffering from PTSD. It is impossible to manage stress effectively without taking time to relax. Therefore, it is helpful to plan time for relaxation-promoting mind-body therapies, such as yoga, Taiji, or Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR).
  • Take better care of your diet. The tendency to overeat during times of stress is common among people with post-traumatic stress disorder. Make sure you stock your refrigerator with healthy foods such as fruits, nuts, and vegetables instead of junk food. Don’t eat from a bag or a fast food container, but instead at a table with a plate and utensils. When you have a long day at work, cook to decompress.
  • Create a network of support. Silence is not an option. Talk to your therapist about PTSD support groups to share your thoughts with people who understand what you’re going through. You can also confide in friends and family who don’t panic or try to “make things right.”

What is the outlook?

The symptoms of PTSD can last for the rest of one’s life. In the meantime, proper treatment and staying healthy, as well as a strong support network can help you greatly in reducing symptoms and living a positive life.

When managing PTSD, it is crucial to take proper care of oneself. It is important to adhere to your treatment plan. Additionally, you may also want to learn more about PTSD and hyperarousal symptoms, which may improve your self-management of symptoms and help you communicate effectively with your provider.

Physical health can also reduce your symptoms by keeping your body in good shape. This includes:

  • Sleeping enough
  • Maintaining a healthy diet
  • Exercising
  • Relaxing

Stress or illness can exacerbate mental health disorders. Alcohol and drugs should be avoided, especially if you are prone to abusing them.

Keeping symptoms under control is also easier if you have the right support. Spend time with people who care about you and who care about you. If you have PTSD, you might also want to find a support group that you can join online or through your healthcare provider.