“There are 3 main dysregulation patterns: Hypervigilance, hypovigilance and vacillators. This episode is all about Hypervigilance. “

Episode 287

The Dysregulated Nervous System: Hypervigilance

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Hello, Gorgeous Soul.

Ok so last week we talked about how the reason why you keep getting stuck in the same place isn’t because you haven’t found the “right” solution to breaking the pattern. It’s because you haven’t gotten to KNOW your pattern.

Specifically the dysregulation pattern that you spend the most time in.

I shared last week that there are 3 main dysregulation patterns: Hypervigilance, hypovigilance and vacillators. And if you didn’t take your quiz yet, to find out which pattern you use the most, check the show notes, take the quiz.

It’s important to know all of the patterns, because we definitely spend time in ALL of them, but you really want to do a deep dive into which pattern you spend the MOST time in. When you take the quiz, you’ll find out your pattern AND then I’ll send you lessons and emails that will give you an even deeper understanding of YOURS

Now before we dive in, I want you to understand something. It is likely that you are going to relate to all three dysregulation types: hyper, hypo and vacillator.

And it’s because all dysregulation is really coming from the same place for all: trying to avoid feeling bad. You’ve got all these rules about what it means to be GOOD, a good person, a good mom, a good dad, a good partner or wife or husband or friend. Rules about how a good person manages their time, how their living space looks, how to measure success.

How the dysregulation looks, whether it shows up as hyper, hypo or vacillating, is dependent on the energy behind it.

So keep that in mind as we move through the different types over the next few weeks and remember that you are definitely familiar with all three.

Today we’re going to talk about the hypervigilant pattern.


Hypervigilance feels very urgent, very active, very frenetic energy. Hyper vigilance is a heightened state of alertness. You are excessively aware of every real and every imagined danger around you. You are hypervigilantly scanning the universe around you looking for anything that is wrong, anything that feels off, anything that could potentially create conflict or a MESS.

Think squirrel energy. The other day Dave and I were watching squirrels in our back yard and he was like, “it’s funny how every single movement is so fast”. That is totally how hypervigilance feels.

Now remember, our goal isn’t to NEVER be hypervigilant. This is a VERY useful autonomic reaction – when appropriate. If you are in a sketchy, dangerous, unsafe situation, you absolutely want your nervous system to be hyper-aware so that you can escape or fight or do whatever you have to do to survive. Those are appropriate times to be in a hypervigilant state.

The problem is that MOST of the time, that’s not what’s triggering the hypervigilance. Most of the things we’re trying to stay “safe” from are: other people being mad at us, other people having negative opinions of us. We’re trying to stay safe from conflict, from feeling shame, from failure, from making mistakes, from making the wrong decisions, from being judged. We’re trying to stay safe from having to feel uncomfortable.

You’re trying to be safe from all of that through control: like other people being mad or having negative thoughts, trying to control every aspect of every situation in order to avoid conflict, trying to control our discomfort by never doing ANYTHING that we don’t feel comfortable handling.

The energy behind hypervigilance is control. The belief behind this pattern is that as long as I am always in control of everything, I am safe.

So let’s talk about how this shows up, very common ways to recognize the hypervigilant pattern:

ONE You are always always busy. Your days are packed. And as tired as you might be, you avoid down time like the plague. Why? A few possible reasons.

First, your worth is tied up in productivity. You identify as a busy person, you’ve learned that busy-ness equals success, equals importance, equals worthiness. Your level of output is directly related to how you feel about yourself. I can feel good about myself if I’m productive. You see the problem in this, right? Not only is it exhausting to always have to be “working” but are you ever really done? Is there ever a day when you get to the end of the day and you’re like “I’m DONE. I have nothing else to do. There is nothing more I should be doing.” No. I don’t think this is a thing.

Second, down time is MORE uncomfortable for you than the exhaustion of always being busy. Because when you’re not busy, it’s just you and your thoughts. Nothing to distract you from the shitty inner critic dialogue. Nothing to quiet the incessant negative chatter. Nothing keeping you from the feelings of anxiety or boredom or Just you and those thoughts about how you’re not doing enough or how now you’re lazy.

TWO You don’t think it’s possible or you don’t WANT to give up hypervigilance because
you believe that the opposite of hypervigilance is laziness.

And listen, there is VERY little that people fear more than being perceived as lazy.

This is the biggest obstacle I have to help my clients overcome. The idea that if they stop being hypervigilant, they will be lazy. Like these are the only two options. “I’d rather keep burning myself out than be lazy.” So interesting, isn’t it?

I’ll tell you what I tell them. The opposite of hypervigilance is NOT laziness. Remember hypervigilance and hypovigilance are two sides of the same coin. They are both dysregulated states. The opposite of hypervigilance is Calm AF energy.

Calm AF energy isn’t lazy at all. It’s just not this urgent, fast moving energy that people equate with getting shit done. I promise you get a LOT more done in calm af energy. But we’ll get to that later.

THREE You avoid things that are new, that you’ve never done before, that you aren’t sure you’ll be good at. This stems from a deep seated fear of failure. Even if this new thing is something you KNOW is the best answer for you, even if this new thing is something your logical mind WANTS, unless you have a money back guarantee that you’re going to succeed and there is a 0% risk of failure, you will hypervigilantly keep looking for things that you don’t know and ways things could go wrong. All in an attempt to CONTROL the thoughts and feelings that you or other people might have if you do fail.

FOUR Your desire to achieve things, to be busy, to be productive is to get praise, approval, or external validation. So many of the things you do are fueled by the thoughts of “What will so and so think if I achieve this?” Maybe if I achieve THIS my dad will finally say he’s proud of me. If I meet all of these goals then my boss will know how good I am at this. If I am productive then my husband won’t think that I’m lazy. If I pull this off then no one can doubt my worthiness.

It’s all an attempt to control other people’s thoughts and opinions.

FIVE You think you’re the ONLY one who can do it. YOu are overwhelmed all the time, but then if someone offers help or suggests you ask for help, your thought is “it’s just easier if I do it”. It’s not. You think if YOU don’t do everything, you are going to have to clean up a different mess later.

OR you say no because you have to be seen as important. If I’m not the one who does everything, if I’m not the one who’s always there for other people, if I”m not the one doing everything, then I won’t be needed and if no one needs me then why would they keep me around?

Again, an attempt to control the narrative, the story that people have about you. If I’m not needed, I’m not worthy.

SIX You feel absolutely responsible for the well-being and happiness of others. You believe it is your JOB to anticipate and meet the needs of everyone. You believe that YOUR happiness is entirely dependent on everyone else’s happiness. As long as everyone else is ok, then I’m ok. But you’re not! You’re exhausted. You’re overwhelmed and probably resentful. Why can’t other people just handle their shit?? Ummm if you’re fixing everything for everyone, they don’t have a chance to figure out how to handle their shit.

SEVEN you spend A LOT of time thinking about things that could wrong and trying to prevent them. You believe that if you can micromanage every detail, you will prevent chaos, you will prevent problems, you will prevent conflict. Because again, as long as everything in your external world is cool, YOU’RE cool.

All right. So those are just seven ways you might be operating from a hypervigilant state.

Why to Give It Up

Because again, people are like “Yeah but if I STOP doing all of these things, the world will crumble, nothing will ever get done ever again, everything will fall apart. If I stop hypervigilantly trying to control the world, I will lie down and just never get up again”

And right now, your logical brain says “Don’t be silly. You aren’t actually controlling the world” but your nervous system is like “Dude. Yes you are.”

It’s a fight between your survival story and your neocortex and until you teach your nervous system that it is SAFE to let go of this pattern, your survival story will win. Because your nervous system is designed to keep you alive, not happy.

Which means you need a really strong why and then you need to keep reminding yourself of it, even when your old story pops up saying “That’s cute you want to be happy, but THIS is how you’ll be happy. By controlling the universe. Duh.”

So why?

Well, let’s use the thoughts that show up in a regulated calm AF energy:

  1. It’s a waste of time. Am I actually controlling people’s opinions? Is it even POSSIBLE to control someone else’s THOUGHTS? The answer is no.
  2. If I never actually feel safe for more than the 10 minutes when all is right with the world, is it really working? The answer is no.
  3. Is there an end to this? Will I actually be able to relax once I come up with the perfect plan? Have I ever gotten to the end of a pros and cons list? Have I ever not had another potential catastrophic event to consider? Will there be a day that I can STOP controlling the universe? The answer is no.
  4. Do I WANT to feel this way for the rest of my life? If I KNEW that the opposite of this hypervigilant existence isn’t laziness, but instead a deep knowing that I can handle people having opinions about me, I can handle people being upset at me or around me, I can handle uncomfortable feelings…would I want that instead? The answer is YES. If you there was a third option, not just hypervigialnce or totally shut down, if there was a way to be productive in a productive way, a way to feel worthy without having to be hustling for it…would I want that? YES. the answer I PROMISE you is yes.

In a few weeks I will be talking more about that awesome third option, Calm AF energy. But for now, make sure you’ve taken the quiz so you can start diving deeper into understanding your specific dysregulation pattern.

To take the quiz, click or tap here.

Next week we’re moving onto hypo vigilance or shut down mode. Until then, start paying attention to what pushes your nervous system into the hypervigilant mode. The more awareness you have of what moves you into that mode, the easier it will be to move OUT of it.

– Kristen

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