We all get a bit jumpy from time to time, whether it’s because we’re nervous or we’re caught off guard, it’s only natural. However, when it happens more and more frequently it can be quite exhausting. In fact, it’s something that’s very common amongst those who suffer with anxiety.
As with a lot of physical symptoms of anxiety, the triggers lie within our caveman brain. This is the survival-driven part of our brain that our newer, rational cortex grew on top of. Its primary concern is keeping us alive, so when our brain perceives a threat, it releases these stress chemicals and activates a response called the fight, flight or freeze response. The stress hormone cortisol or the chemical adrenaline are released and this puts our body on high alert, and as a result, our body prepares to either fight, flight or freeze.
Why Can Anxiety Make Me Startle Easily?
When our body is in fight, flight or freeze mode, it becomes hypersensitivity to the situation around it and the processes going on within. The logic behind it is to make us the ideal hunter, we need to be alert to all dangers, which is great, just not in scenarios where life and death isn’t on the table. As such, when we’re in this state, any slight movement or sound is going to feel much larger or more dangerous than it actually is.
Think about in movies how the protagonist is hiding in a creepy forest and suddenly there’s a rummaging sound coming from the bushes. They spin, alert, ready for anything, and then as it turns out, it’s just a rabbit. Normally, the protagonist probably wouldn’t have registered the slight rustling of bushes, but because they’re already anxious about their surroundings, their body is on high alert, expecting the worst, hence why they startle more easily.
How Can I Stop This Symptom?
As this symptom stems from our fight, flight or freeze response, the main thing that we can do to combat it is to focus on our breathing. This should calm our central nervous system, distract our mind from the perceived threat, and deactivate our fight, flight or freeze response allowing our system to become less sensitive and hyperaware.
Of course, in order to prevent the symptoms of anxiety occurring in the first place, you need to manage or build strategies to tackle your anxiety. There are several options available including CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), mindfulness, medication and group therapy. If you’re unsure, please contact your GP for more information.