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What is hyperarousal?

One can experience trauma after a sudden and significant event (e.g., accident, loss, betrayal) or during exposure to a prolonged hardship (e.g., racism, immigration, intimate partner violence). Regardless off when and how it happens to them, survivors of trauma may find themselves re-experiencing their trauma through recurring thoughts, memories, sensations, or interactions with the world around them even when they are not under direct threat. Hyperarousal, a strongly heightened feeling of being “on edge”, can happen when a trauma survivor re-experiences their trauma and their body develops an alert response. A hyperaroused survivor may experience irritability, aggressiveness, anger outbursts, startle reaction, difficulty sleeping, impulsivity, guilt, remorse, or shame. 

What are grounding techniques?

Grounding techniques can help trauma survivors control symptoms of hyperarousal and prevent self-harm. For example, using the 5-4-3-2-1 technique, you can ask yourself the following questions to purposefully take in the details of your surroundings: What are (5) things you can see? What are (4) things you can feel? What are (3) things you can hear? What are (2) things you can smell? What is (1) thing you can taste? Using this technique, you can improve your awareness of small details that your brain begins to tune-out when developing a trauma response such as distant sounds, the texture of your skin, and the color of an ordinary object around you. However, keep in mind that although grounding techniques can help alleviate symptoms of hyperarousal, healing from trauma requires deliberate and structured support of trained mental health providers over an extended period of time. 

How can I manage hyperarousal?

If you are a trauma survivor and you are experiencing frequent bouts of hyperarousal, it is extremely important for you to learn about trauma, learn how to alleviate your hyperarousal symptoms, and process your trauma in a safe and structured setting with the help of a mental health professional. You can begin learning about trauma by reading popular books such as The Body Keeps the Score and Getting Past Your Past. You can learn how to manage your trauma responses by expanding your grounding techniques repertoire. Lastly, you can process your trauma with the help of a psychotherapist who specializes in trauma-focused modalities such as EMDR or cognitive processing therapy.

This page is also part of the Roamers Therapy Glossary; a collection of mental-health related definitions that are written by our therapists.

While our offices are currently located at the South Loop neighborhood of Downtown Chicago, Illinois, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more. You can visit our contact page to access detailed information on our office location.