Stress Management > PTSD > Diagnosis > Mental and emotional wellbeing > Hyperarousal


Symptoms of PTSD - Hyperarousal

Part of the mental impact of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are symptoms of hyperarousal. Hyperarousal is the inability to moderate emotions due to the automatic nervous system (fight or flight response) being constantly or very easily activated.

Hyperarousal is often refered to as a 'normal adaptation to abnormal events'.

Symptoms of hypervigillance can include hypervigilance or hyperalertness towards body sensations, noises, strangers or even just being caught unaware. It is also characterised by exaggerated startle responses, difficulty falling, staying asleep or insomnia, memory impairments and difficulty maintaining concentration or focus, emotional avoidance, irritability or outbursts of anger without seemingly adequate provocation or cause.

Hypervigilance is another marker of hyperarousal. A person suffering from PTSD, may experience body sensations and fearful thoughts that another threat to life or personal integrity is imminent.

After a traumatic event, the state of hyperarousal may be triggered by unthreatening objects, people or events this, combination with the heightened sense of vigilance means that the post traumatic stress disorder is maintained. Hyperarousal inhibits the body from relaxing and the mind's ability to make calm and rational thoughts. Subsequently, it prevents resolution and adjustment to the initial traumatic event meaning the symptoms of PTSD will not ease.


Flashbacks are another symptom of PTSD. They often arise out of the hyperarousal experienced in the aftermath of a trauma. Flashbacks refer to the feelings of 're-living the event'. This can happen either as a 'flashback' during times when the individual is awake or as nightmares when they are asleep often leading to a fear of sleeping.

Flashbacks are reported to be extremely vivid and realistic as though the individual is living through the experience all over again. Flashbacks may start in the mind but often involves physical sensations that were experienced at the time of the trauma including; fear, perspiration, and pain. During a flashback, people with PTSD often report being able to smell, taste, hear and feel the same stimuli that was present at the time of the trauma.

Like hyperarousal, unrelated stimuli can trigger flashbacks. As an example, if car crash had occurred in the rain, a subsequent rainy day might instigate a flashback.