People who experience long-term hyper-vigilance may have unintended negative mental health consequences, some scientists say.
“Remaining in this state of wary hyper vigilance can contribute to issues like social anxiety, hypochondria, post-traumatic stress disorder, insomnia and all manner of phobias,” according to an article in The Wall Street Journal.
The amygdala is responsible for the feeling of fear. It primes you to react – quickens your pulse, creates muscle tension and dilates your pupils when you sense danger, according to Ahmad Hariri, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University.
The amygdala served us well as cave dwellers warning us of lions and lurking tigers, but it can get in the way of our modern life. “Change has occurred so rapidly for our species that now we are equipped with brains that are super sensitive to threat,” said Hariri.
For some inmates doing time, being locked in a cell for days to months at a time is normal.
Sometimes, they use the time productively like studying, reading or exercising. Inevitably, with extra time on their hands, the mind may wander to family, friends or their future, causing stress or fear.
“Remaining in this state of wary hyper vigilance can contribute to issues like social anxiety, hypochondria, post-traumatic stress disorder, insomnia and all manner of phobias”
“We essentially drive ourselves nuts worrying about things because we have too much time and don’t have many real threats on our survival, so fear gets expressed in these really strange, maladaptive ways,” said Hariri.
To calm an overactive amygdala requires admitting unease and fear, the Journal reported.
“You are actually stronger if you can acknowledge fear,” said Leon Hoffman, co-director of Pacella Research Center at the New York Psychoanalytic Society and Institute in Manhattan.
On the flip-side, when someone ignores their feelings of fear, they may compound the consequences.
“The more you try to suppress fear, either by ignoring it or doing something else to displace it, the more you will actually experience it,” said Kristy Dalrymple, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Alpert Medical School of Brown University.
Healthy coping skills to reduce fear:
Talking to someone you trust about your fears
Remembering that you are loved or could be loved
Actively engaging your analytical thinking
Sense and appreciate the fear
Having a commitment to overcome fear that is consistent with who you want to become