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  • Miriam Gilmore

Lost in your Late 20's: Emotional Hypervigilance

Updated: Aug 23, 2023

Do you find yourself aware of everyone else's feelings to the point where you overthink everything?

Growth and emotional hypervigilance
"However, our parents were not brought up with the same attitude and were often not able to express themselves in healthy ways. So we learnt to carefully monitor their emotions in order to protect ourselves from outbursts." Read below to find out more.

So you think you have Emotional Hypervigilance

Perhaps you notice when your friend is upset before anyone else does? Maybe you monitor your parent's tone of voice, or body language to gauge how stressed they are? Emotional hypervigilance is a psychological state characterised by heightened sensitivity to emotional stimuli, resulting in constant monitoring of your environment and other's emotions.

This state of hyper-awareness can be both a response to past traumas, childhood experiences, and ongoing stressors in life. For those in their late 20's and 30's, emotional hypervigilance is becoming more prevalent, resulting in a generation that are emotionally exhausted.

In this blog post, we'll explore what emotional hypervigilance is, why you may experience it, its potential benefits, and actions that can be taken to manage it.

What is Emotional Hypervigilance?

Is it just me that has to sit facing the wall in the restaurant, because looking out onto the room would be overstimulating and result in me tuning into other people's conversation? My partner first pointed this out to me, and at first I tried to pass it off as "it's my job to listen to others, it is hard for me to switch off". However, overtime I noticed the same pattern of behaviour in my friends and soon realised I was witnessing a generational trait. Either that or the conversations in the restaurant were far more entertaining than what my partner was trying to tell me about how cashews grow on trees...

Emotional hypervigilance [EH] is a coping mechanism that developed as a response to past traumatic experiences or chronic stress. This could have been as simple as having a parent who's mood was unpredictable, or living with someone that needed more care than you (for example an elderly relative), so you had to be attentive. Perhaps you were the oldest sibling and fell into the parenting role frequently?

EH involves constantly scanning the environment for potential emotional threats, anticipating negative emotions, and reacting intensely to perceived triggers. This hyper-awareness can lead to emotional exhaustion and difficulties in trusting others, which can negatively impact your relationships and ability for personal growth.

Why is it affecting me?

Millennials, the generation that are now in their late 20's and 30's, have faced a unique set of challenges, including economic instability, student loan debt, the rapid advancement of technology, and the looming climate crisis.

In addition, we are the mental-health-aware generation. We know what the symptoms of anxiety and depression are, we can name the characteristics of OCD, ADHD, and neurodiversity. There is considerably less shame around talking about our mental health. However, our parents were not brought up with the same attitude and were often not able to express themselves in healthy ways. So we learnt to carefully monitor their emotions in order to protect ourselves from outbursts. Overtime, and with the influx of greater mental health vocabulary, we developed emotional hypervigilance.

The positives of being emotionally hypervigilant!

While emotional hypervigilance can be overwhelming, it also has some positive aspects.

  • Being emotionally sensitive leads to greater empathy and compassion, making you more attuned to the emotions of others. With this ability you are likely to be a desirable friend and are able to make strong relationships with others.

  • This heightened emotional awareness can lead to better self-understanding and personal growth. Perhaps that is why you are reading this blog post? Or maybe you've found me because you are seeking therapy and assistance with your self-exploration and growth?

  • Additionally, emotional hypervigilance can serve as a protective mechanism, helping you avoid potentially harmful situations, such as accurately gauging when someone has negative intentions.

  • Finally, you are likely to be able to make more informed decisions, because you can judge how your decisions will impact others and identify your emotional stance in a situation.

How to manage Emotional Hypervigilance

To ensure that emotional hypervigilance does not negatively impact your life, below are some proactive steps to manage it effectively:

Self-Awareness: Recognise the signs of emotional hypervigilance in yourself and acknowledge that it is a valid response to your life experiences.

Mindfulness and Meditation: Practice mindfulness to stay present and grounded, allowing yourself to observe emotions without getting overwhelmed by them.

Seek Supportive Relationships: Surround yourself with understanding and empathetic individuals who can provide a safe space for emotional expression.

Start Therapy: Engage in therapy or counselling with a qualified mental health professional who can help you explore the underlying causes of emotional hypervigilance and develop coping strategies.

What's next?

Emotional hypervigilance is a complex state that can have a significant impact on individuals in their 20's and 30's.

While it can be overwhelming, it also presents an opportunity for growth and empathy. By being mindful of its presence and seeking professional help through therapy, you can learn to manage emotional hypervigilance effectively, leading to clarity and personal growth.

Remember, it's essential to prioritise your mental well-being and take steps to nurture emotional resilience.

This is my first post in the "Lost in your Late 20's" series. These blog posts are intended to highlight some of the challenges that we experience in our late 20's and 30's. In them I aim to provide clarity on some of the emotional and relational experiences of this generation, and offer suggests on how you can harness your strength during this decade.

Why not contact me today to book a free 20 minute initial conversation and start working on yourself?

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