When someone experiences a cardiac arrest, it is not just that person who is affected, but their loved ones and others at the event as well. As a co-survivor, you may feel like you must be on high alert, watching out for any signs of danger. This is what we call hypervigilance. In this article, we will explore hypervigilance, how it affects co-survivors of cardiac arrest, and how to manage it.
What is Hypervigilance?
Hypervigilance is a term that is commonly associated with people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is a state of heightened alertness, where an individual’s senses become more acute and sensitive to their surroundings. This state can be triggered by a traumatic event that the individual has experienced in their life.
Hypervigilance is characterised by constantly scanning the environment for potential threats, even if they do not exist. This can cause the individual to feel anxious, fearful and exhausted. People who suffer from hypervigilance can experience various physical and psychological symptoms. They may have difficulty sleeping, feel irritable, and experience mood swings. They may also have trouble concentrating, feel easily startled, and have a heightened startle response.
The experience of hypervigilance can be particularly challenging for individuals who have experienced trauma in their life, as it can make them feel like they are constantly on edge and unable to relax. A key aspect of hypervigilance is that it can persist even when no immediate threat exists. This means that individuals who are hypervigilant may perceive ordinary situations as threatening, which can lead to a range of negative emotions and behaviours. For example, they may avoid certain situations or environments they perceive as potentially dangerous, limiting their ability to engage in activities they enjoy.
Being a Cardiac Arrest Co-Survivor
When you are close to someone who has a cardiac arrest, it can be a traumatic experience. You may feel like you are always on edge, waiting for something to happen. You may also feel your needs and emotions are secondary to the patients. This is what we call the forgotten patient syndrome, and it is a common issue among co-survivors of cardiac arrest.
The focus is often solely on the patient’s recovery, leaving the co-survivor to deal with their own emotions and trauma on their own. This can lead to feelings of isolation and neglect, worsening hypervigilance symptoms.
If you are experiencing hypervigilance as a co-survivor of cardiac arrest, it is important to seek help. Talk to your healthcare provider or a mental health professional about your symptoms. They can help you develop coping strategies and provide you with resources to manage your hypervigilance.
Here are some tips for managing hypervigilance as a co-survivor:
- Practice self-care: Take time for yourself to do things you enjoy. This could be reading, exercising, or spending time with friends and family.
- Seek support: Join a support group for co-survivors of cardiac arrest. We have our primary group (COS UK) for those involved in the chain of survival, which is also for co-survivors, and our main SCA UK group. Talking to others who have gone through a similar experience can be helpful.
- Communicate: Talk to your loved one about your feelings and concerns. They may not be aware of how their cardiac arrest has affected you, and it is important to have open and honest communication.
- Set boundaries: It is important to set and prioritise your needs. You do not have to be available 24/7, and it is okay to take breaks when you need them.
- Practice relaxation techniques: Engage in relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, yoga, or meditation to help reduce anxiety and stress.
Hypervigilance is a common symptom experienced by co-survivors of cardiac arrest. It can be triggered by the traumatic experience of seeing a loved one go through a life-threatening event. It is important to seek help if you are experiencing hypervigilance, as it can worsen over time and impact your quality of life. Remember to prioritise your own needs and practice self-care to manage your hypervigilance symptoms. With time and support, you can overcome hypervigilance and move forward from this difficult experience.
After our first meet-up in February 2015, I realised I was not alone. It was the first time since my cardiac arrest the previous year that I had spoken face-to-face with someone who had experienced what I had. This was also true for my wife, who also happened to be my lifesaver. From that meet-up, the idea of SCA UK was born. Since then, we have achieved a considerable amount, primarily providing information, resources and support to others in a similar situation but also raising the profile of survivorship and the need for better post-discharge care. We are starting to get traction in this, and with the formation of the charity, I genuinely believe we have a bright future ahead and will make a significant difference in the lives of many who join our ranks.