Hypervigilance is a Symptom of Anxiety
Hypervigilance can be a symptom of several underlying mental health conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and schizophrenia. If your child is displaying signs of hypervigilance, you might notice they are constantly on edge, have difficulties concentrating, have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, or have a general state of irritability. Hypervigilance is also sometimes accompanied by exhaustion due to being on high alert and experiencing feelings of anxiety. Having a child who has experienced any of these things and is displaying signs of hypervigilance is stressful, but there are a number of practices you can incorporate to help calm your child at the moment.
Teach the child to take deep breaths, reassuring him or her of their safety. Taking deep breaths causes the heart rate to slow and therefore allows the body to relax. Additionally, deep breathing releases endorphins, which are chemicals produced by the brain that boost one’s mood and are natural painkillers. Practice deep breathing exercises by doing them along with your child to help regulate their breath and calm their anxiety.
Endorphins are also released during exercise. Getting active is encouraged for children displaying hypervigilance because it allows the body to burn the adrenaline being produced from being on high alert so intensely and frequently. Some suggestions to get your child safely up and moving to burn some of this adrenaline are playing active games outside, such as. Or, if you can’t go outside, set up an area inside to get moving and possibly have a dance party or put on some children’s exercise videos to get some of that extra adrenaline burned.
Reduce Distractions, Increase Focus
Children who are hypervigilant are extra in tune to their surrounding environment, which means they can be more easily distracted. To counteract this, reducing distractions such as screens, pets, or toys can help a child increase the duration of their focus, no matter if the task at hand is practicing deep breathing or doing homework for school tomorrow is. Additionally, to lengthen their concentration, bigger tasks can be broken into smaller, more manageable steps. This can also boost their feelings of accomplishment since smaller tasks are more likely to be completed successfully.
Each child is different. Depending on their preferences, maybe your child would find getting active more helpful than deep breathing or vice versa. Either way, while these practices are helpful in the moment, ultimately seeking counseling for a child who is experiencing hypervigilance as a symptom of anxiety helps to address the root of the cause for the hypervigilance.