Hyperarousal Symptoms of PTSD

When you’ve been through a particularly harrowing experience, it can be difficult to move forward without help. According to PTSD United, 70 percent of U.S. adults have been through some form of traumatic event in their lives. In numerical terms, this is around 223.4 million people. Of this number, as many as 20 percent go on to develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). That’s around 44.7 million individuals who have been or who are struggling with PTSD.

hyperarousal symptoms of ptsd

In this article, we look at some of the most pronounced symptoms of the condition, as well as how to manage and overcome them. Here at 12 Keys Rehab, we can help you make sense of PTSD. Together, we can find a way forward so you can manage your symptoms and enjoy life again.

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What Is Hyperarousal?

One of the most debilitating and major symptoms of PTSD is hyperarousal. This is defined as a state of increased physiological and psychological tension that presents itself as symptoms that have the effect of putting you into a chronic state of fight or flight.

When this occurs, your breathing becomes shallow, your heart beats rapidly, you’re instantly alert and your muscles tense. The longer you remain in this state, the more drained you become physically, psychologically and emotionally.

This fight or flight response was once necessary when our ancestors were consistently faced with physical threats such as danger from wild animals on a regular basis. When you’ve been through a physically, psychologically or emotionally threatening experience, even in modern times, this same response kicks in.

How Hyperarousal Occurs

Your autonomic nervous system regulates your body’s unconscious actions and is responsible for the fight or flight response. This activates automatically when you’re placed in a life-threatening situation. It is also responsible for maintaining certain body functions. The autonomic nervous system:

autonomic nervous system

Your autonomic nervous symptom comes into play when you’re suffering extreme stress or perceived danger. Its job is to focus all your resources on surviving at all costs. This response, therefore, overrides how your body usually works.

Who Is Affected by Hyperarousal Symptoms of PTSD?

Anyone who has been through a traumatic or life-threatening experience can be affected by PTSD. The most commonly affected groups include people who have:

  • Been in or have witnessed bad car accidents
  • Survived natural disasters, such as a tornado, earthquake, flood, hurricane, etc.
  • Witnessed someone dying
  • Survived abuse – physical, mental or sexual
  • Fought in or experienced war
  • Witnessed or have been the victim of violent crime

Common Hyperarousal Symptoms

When you’re suffering from PTSD, there are many symptoms you may have to deal with. These include:

  • Intrusion, or re-experiencing the situation or event
  • Avoidance behaviors
  • Changes in thinking and mood
  • Hyperarousal

Hyperarousal is a cluster of symptoms that some people with PTSD may experience. As implied by the name, it is the consequence of elevated anxiety alongside altered arousal responses. You can expect symptoms like:

  • Feeling irritable
  • Being impulsive
  • Suffering nightmares
  • Being aggressive
  • Suffering angry outbursts
  • Having difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Experiencing difficulty concentrating
  • Being jumpy or startling easily
  • Constantly feeling in danger
  • Being unable to concentrate
  • Feeling hypervigilant, or feeling always on guard and ready to act if threatened
  • Reliving the traumatic event in flashbacks, nightmares, memories, etc.

ptsd symptoms

Hyperarousal can seriously impact your ability to function on a daily basis. Often, it interferes with your relationships with friends and family. For example, if you’ve witnessed a violent crime such as a shooting, any loud noise may set you into a state of hyperarousal. This could last from a few minutes to a full 24 hours. You may be triggered by the hammering of a neighbor, fireworks or any unexpected loud noise.

When you’re triggered, you’ll feel yourself going into a state of absolute panic. You might round up your family into one room to protect them from the perceived threat. You may get angry when friends or family try to rationalize with you. You may even feel normal everyday tasks such as answering the door or talking on the phone are a threat to your safety.

Hyperarousal is something you just can’t shake off. It affects you and those closest to you. If you see yourself or someone you love struggling with this condition, call our understanding and friendly team for help and advice.

Managing Hyperarousal and PTSD

When you’re suffering from the hyperarousal symptoms of PTSD, it’s crucial to find ways of coping. We have some self-help tips to assist you in getting much-needed relief from your symptoms.

Coping with Irritability

Everyone goes through periods of irritability. It’s just a fact of life. However, when you’re suffering from it as a hyperarousal symptom of PTSD, you can feel very alone and cut off from others. There are a few things you can do if you feel you can’t cope:

coping with ptsd symptoms

  • Identify what makes you feel irritable. Think about what makes you feel irritable. Are there any patterns you can identify? Perhaps you’re annoyed by noise. To remedy this, you could ask your teenager to listen to his music on his headphones rather than playing it on speakers. Or, perhaps you can ask your kids to play in another room for a while.
  • Recognize the early warning signs. Know when irritability is about to build up and take yourself out of the situation before it gets too intense. Briefly explain to those around you what you are doing and why. Go off and give yourself enough time to calm down before returning.
  • Consider seeking professional advice and help. Contact a professional. At 12 Keys Rehab, we work with you to help modify your negative thought processes and behaviors, helping you lead a happier and more positive life.

Dealing with Anger

It’s perfectly natural to feel overwhelming anger when you’re coping with PTSD. You may sometimes find it difficult and almost impossible to control, as this feeling can be incredibly intense. Having this anger within you on a daily basis can lead to unhealthy behaviors.

For example, your uncontrolled or unresolved anger could lead you to abuse drugs or alcohol. Therefore, it’s imperative for you to find healthy ways of releasing your tension and anger.

When you’re feeling consumed by anger or that you’re at risk of getting to that stage, you can:

  • Try connecting with a support group
  • Cry to release your negative emotions
  • Exercise
  • Call someone close to you
  • Write in a journal
  • Create a piece of artwork
  • Find something interesting to distract yourself

If the above strategies aren’t enough and you’re still feeling angry, consider the following:

  • Hitting a punching bag
  • Screaming into a pillow
  • Scribbling on paper till it’s black
  • Talking things through with the person who upset you — in a non-confrontational way, of course. If you choose to go down this road, make sure you’re not feeling too mad when you talk. This could have a negative effect on your conduct, and your anger could get the better of you.

Improving Concentration and Memory

If you have PTSD, you may have noticed yourself suffering from difficulty concentrating and/or remembering things. These problems can get worse when you’re experiencing other symptoms of PTSD. For example, if you’re not sleeping well, this lack of sleep has a trigger effect on your ability to concentrate and stay focused throughout your day. So, what can you do to feel better?

First, get enough sleep. See the section below for tips on how to get a good night’s rest. You can also practice being mindful. For example, being aware of your breathing or meditating can help.

Managing Sleeping Difficulties

Finding it difficult to fall asleep and/or having difficulty staying asleep is one particularly exhausting symptom of PTSD. Studies have shown that problems with sleep are one of the most common types of symptoms associated with PTSD.

managing ptsd symptoms

Getting a good night’s sleep is very important when you’re suffering from PTSD, as the lack of it can lead to a whole host of mood and stress problems. It’s also well known that poor sleep has a very negative effect on your general physical health.

Thankfully, there are a few things you can do to improve the amount and quality of sleep you get at night. These include:

  • Stick to a sleep schedule. Train yourself to adhere to a regular sleep schedule. This way, your body becomes accustomed to going to bed and being ready for sleep at the same time each night.
  • Avoid napping during the day. It’s a good idea to either limit or to avoid taking naps during the day, particularly after 3 p.m.
  • Avoid staying in bed when you just can’t sleep. If you can’t get to sleep after around 20 to 30 minutes of going to bed, get up. Go to another room and read a book for a while. Don’t go back to bed until you feel drowsy.
  • Exercise during the day. Often, sleep issues can be avoided by getting enough exercise during the day. Bear in mind you should avoid vigorous exercise within the last hour or so of wanting to fall asleep, as this can keep you awake past your bedtime. Less strenuous exercise, such as stretching, yoga or Tai Chi, might help you relax before bed.

ptsd sleep issues

  • Pay attention to what you eat and drink. Never eat heavy meals before you go to bed. Also, ensure you never go to bed on an empty stomach. Having a full stomach will disrupt your sleeping schedule. Therefore, it’s crucial to find a balance.
  • Reduce nicotine and caffeine consumption during the day. Don’t have a cigarette before retiring to bed and avoid drinking caffeinated drinks after lunch time. Alcohol is another substance to avoid well before going to bed too.
  • Make your bedroom a relaxing place. Make your bedroom a cozy and relaxing haven in which to sleep. This means you need to keep food, laptops, phones and televisions out. Your bedroom is for sleep and sex, nothing more.
  • Keep your room at a comfortable temperature. When you keep your room cool — somewhere around 65 degrees — you can sleep better.

Helping Yourself Relax

As well as making your bedroom a wonderful and relaxing haven by decorating it in muted colors and keeping electronics out, there’s more you can do. Try practicing relaxation exercises before you go to bed. These relieve tension and slow your rate of breathing. Nighttime, particularly when you’re in bed, is often the time of day when worries and problems run through your head.

relaxation for ptsd

If you just can’t sleep for worrying and feeling anxious, practicing mindfulness of thoughts can help separate you from your anxieties. Think about your thoughts as objects only. When practicing mindfulness of thoughts, you can view your thoughts as clouds. You can let these clouds — your thoughts — enter into your consciousness then gently float away.

Some people find it’s often very helpful to keep a journal where they commit their worries and anxieties to paper, getting them out of their minds. Others enjoy taking part in social activities with other people suffering from hyperarousal and PTSD. Sometimes just knowing you’re not alone is an incredible help.

Managing Impulsive Behaviors

There is research to suggest that hyperarousal is one of the most likely symptoms of PTSD to lead to impulsive behaviors. If you’re wondering why this could be, it’s due to the intense discomfort and anxiety associated with hyperarousal, leading you to find relief. This results in you acting on impulse without stopping to consider possible negative outcomes.

To understand how to control and manage impulsive behaviors, it’s crucial to know exactly what this term means. Impulsive behaviors are ones that happen quickly. They occur with no planning, control or consideration of potential consequences. When you engage in an impulsive behavior, it’s usually connected with an immediate positive consequence, such as temporary relief from your emotional pain.

However, what may seem to be positive in the short term can lead to long-term negative consequences, like regret and even greater emotional distress.

There are some common and serious impulsive behaviors that go hand in hand with PTSD. These include:

  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Eating disorders
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Drug abuse
  • Gambling

If you’re currently coping with your emotional pain using any of the above methods, it’s time to seek help as soon as you can. There are healthy ways of relieving emotional pain.

If you feel you’re about to do something you might regret on impulse, try to:

  • Distract yourself. Your impulsive behavior may feel incredibly strong and difficult to get a grip on. However, these urges usually pass quite rapidly. If you can distract yourself when you’re feeling one of these urges, you have a far better chance of being able to control it. It may sound crazy, but by trying activities like counting backwards from 1,000 or working on something that requires mental dexterity such as a crossword puzzle, you can ignore your impulse until it goes away.

distract yourself from your ptsd symptoms

  • Write about your emotions. For some people, there is nothing as genuinely cathartic as getting all their emotions out on paper. Try it and see for yourself.
  • Meet up with your therapy group or a friend from your group. Often, it’s only those who have walked in your shoes who seem to know best. Try talking to someone who knows just what you’re going through. This can be a great help.

Addiction and PTSD

Often, addiction and PTSD walk hand-in-hand. This is understandable, and you — or your loved one experiencing this — are certainly not alone. For anyone who has been through a frightening or life-threatening experience, there can be fallout. Even if you manage to get through your upset and worries and get on with your life, you’ll likely never be the same person you were before.

If you have been through severe trauma and are struggling with PTSD, turning to self-medication with drugs or alcohol to numb your symptoms can sometimes seem like your only option. The hyperarousal symptoms of PTSD are difficult to bear — flashbacks, hyperarousal insomnia, nightmares, mood swings and that all-pervasive feeling of being in mortal danger may lead you to turn to drugs or alcohol to numb your pain. These substances also dull the severity of the emotional and physical symptoms that recur again and again.

One of the major issues with drugs and alcohol when you have PTSD is that although alcohol and some drugs will help numb pain and hyperarousal symptoms for a while, when the effect wears off, more and more is needed to continue giving the same effect. This, in time, results in addiction, and this is when things become even more difficult.

managing hyperarousal symptoms of ptsd

When PTSD and addiction are co-occurring, the two can feed off one another, making you feel your life is spiraling downwards. Thankfully, as you have read, there are various ways of helping yourself cope when you’re suffering from hyperarousal. However, if you’re suffering from both addiction and PTSD, you need to seek professional and knowledgeable help.

Overcoming Hyperarousal Symptoms of PTSD

Living with the hyperarousal symptoms of PTSD is difficult, but it can be managed, and in time, you can even live your life without any negative effects from the illness. At 12 Keys Rehab, we have the tools and education necessary to work with you holistically on getting your body, mind and emotions back in balance.

Working with you every step of the way, we tailor a PTSD hyperarousal treatment plan for you as an individual. Consisting of appropriate treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy for hyperarousal symptoms, you’ll find yourself feeling stronger day by day. You’ll grasp control over your memories rather than them controlling you. This is a wonderful way to feel, and we will help you get to that safe place.

You are the most important person in the treatment equation. This is why you take your own, very active part in managing your recovery and your long-term physical and emotional health.

No longer will you find yourself struggling to get through each day, unsure of how you’re feeling from one minute to the next. Upsetting symptoms like memory loss, nightmares, flashbacks, numbness of emotions, guilt and more can be minimized. We teach you the techniques you need to see you not only through your imminent initial journey, but also throughout your life.

A very successful therapy we offer for PTSD is eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR). When you undergo EMDR, our professional therapists will evaluate your symptoms. This will help you rate the emotions and feelings that accompany your traumatic memories. As you relive these negative feelings, you’re led through a series of new patterns of eye motion. These effectively change how your brain deals with each memory.

The end result of EMDR is to train your brain on how to store these negative memories so they don’t pop back into your conscious mind and upset you again.

hyperarousal symptoms of ptsd

To begin your recovery today, contact 12 Keys Rehab online or call us at 866-480-4328. When you call, we’ll answer every one of your questions. We’re sure you have many. Other topics we may talk about with you are:

  • You or your loved one’s addiction
  • The recovery process
  • Family involvement
  • Insurance and payment

Feel free to call us no matter the time of day or night. Many on our team are recovered addicts, and we understand more than most how you are feeling. We know how difficult it is to pick up the phone and ask for help. We’re here for you whenever you need us, and we won’t judge.

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