Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles We wouldn't have been able to survive so long if we were not able, at points, to get very worried indeed. If we didn't possess a native genius for flooding our minds, at astonishing speed, with a cocktail of the most intense and panicky hormones our bodies can secrete. And yet, our capacity to keep surviving — or at least and, as importantly, to draw some enjoyment from what remains of life — depends on something quite contrary and even more challenging. An ability, at points, to unpanic ourselves, to wind down the alarm and clear the bloodstream of catastrophic foreboding, a mastery of the delicate art of unworrying. Many of us belong within a damnable category known as hypervigilant. That is, we're not merely ordinarily careful and on the lookout for our safety, as we should be, but we are outright panicked and alarmed pretty much all the time. We, in the unhappy hypervigilant camp, wake up terrified, spend the day in low-level dread, and exist in near certainty that something appalling will fell us. At points, it's so tiring, it's normal that we may long for it all to be over, though that, too, is a dreadful prospect. The reasons why we're like this are always somewhat the same: At some point, long before we could cope, in the past, we were frightened very badly indeed. So badly, we've never really recovered a faith in the solidity of anything. Something so challenging unfolded, it has jammed our minds in a state of alarm. Even when the outward conditions have changed and when there is — in the objective sense, as kindly friends like to tell us — nothing in particular to be terrified of. Perhaps someone was very angry in the vicinity ; perhaps we were humiliated and made to feel unwanted and sinful. Maybe an older sibling tortured us. Perhaps we got sent away to an institution where we were appallingly isolated. In response, our level of panic hormones spiked, and never came down. Now our hypervigilance scrambles the part of the mind that regulates basic functions like sleep, digestion, and touch. And so, a telling symptom is that it will, almost certainly, be difficult for us to rest, to manage our bowels, or to be wholly at ease being touched by a fellow human, however much we might long to be. There is no easy cure, but it is the start of something to have at least a name to put to the inner chaos. A degree of compassion can start up, too. We can start to notice how much of life has been held together by fear. We have a concept that links why it's so hard to go to parties, to trust a lover, to relax on holiday, to go to the bathroom, or to sleep much past 4 a.m. We might dare to tell a few others about our hypervigilance, handing them the word like a gift, a clue to our own particular brokenness. Every time we find a kindly other to whom we can safely entrust news of our state, and who can smile tenderly in response, the panic goes down and the world becomes ever so slightly more bearable. But sometimes, when we are alone and the pressures mount once more, we may simply have to stand back and observe the hypervigilance do its thing. Smash our plans and hopes, and unleash panic in a way that will knock us out for the day or the month. We should forgive ourselves; this is a disease like any other. What can be hardest but most important to believe is that being an adult means having options. We can, nowadays, push back against bullies, move away when it gets too much, and tell other people what we need from them. We don't need to be hypervigilant because we have the option of being truly vigilant. That is, if there were to be real dangers, we would now have the inner resources to greet and fight them in good time. We can worry when we need to, not just because we exist. In the meantime, we should allow ourselves, with this strange, slightly ugly word in hand, to feel sorry for our desperate impulses and strive, where we can, at 4:35 a.m. perhaps, to turn over and get a little more rest. We can learn the skill of being calm, not through specialties or slow breathing, but through thinking. Our book guides us through that process. Click to find out more.