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Feeling on Edge

Learn more about feeling on edge, treatment options, self-help tools, and resources to help you overcome concerns related to hypervigilance.

What is feeling on edge?

Feel on edge in crowds? Overwhelmed by an unexplainable sense of panic? Do you find it hard to stop thinking about safety? Are you on a short fuse?

Feeling on edge is also called hypervigilance, a symptom experienced by some Veterans who have returned from war or experienced traumatic events during their time in the military. Hypervigilance is a state of being on very high alert — constantly "on guard" —  to possible risks or threats. It may be the result of an experience in a combat zone, a noncombat training exercise, or another type of traumatizing event in your military or civilian life.

Your military training taught you the importance of being observant and alert when you need to be. Hypervigilance goes beyond that — it can interfere with your ability to enjoy life or even just get through the day. Some people have trouble concentrating, feel irritable, become easily upset, or react strongly to sounds and sights around them. Other symptoms can include physical effects like a pounding heart, headache, or upset stomach.

“When I went out for dinner, I always wanted to have my back to the wall and be able to see the door from where I was sitting.”

Hypervigilance can also contribute to sleep problems or the avoidance of places that make you feel uncomfortable, like busy grocery stores, social gatherings, or sports events. It may also lead you to distrust other people or try to control their actions, putting a strain on your personal relationships.

If I’m feeling on edge, what can I do about it right away?

  • Breathe deeply.
  • If you’re with other people, tell them what you’re feeling so they can try to help you work through it.
  • Try grounding yourself by focusing on details of your surroundings or neutral physical sensations, such as the feeling of your feet on the floor.
  • Practice relaxation exercises, such as taking slow, deep breaths.
  • Get up and move around, have a drink of water, or wash your hands.
  • Calmly remove yourself from the situation.

Talking to your family and friends can be a first step — turn to them whenever you are ready. They may be able to provide support and help you find treatment that is right for you. You can also begin letting people know when certain places or activities make you uncomfortable.

Take the next step to connect with care.

Every day, Veterans from all military service branches and eras connect with proven resources and effective treatments for symptoms of feeling on edge. Here’s how to take the next step: the one that’s right for you.

New to VA? Apply for health care benefits.

Already enrolled in VA and interested in mental health support? Schedule a mental health appointment.

  • If you’re already enrolled and using VA health care, the fastest way to schedule VA appointments is to call the VA facility where you want to receive care.
  • With VA Appointments tools, you can schedule some VA health care appointments online, view details about upcoming appointments, and organize your health care calendar.
  • If you’re not using VA medical services, contact your nearest VA medical center or Vet Center to talk about your needs.

What about other options at VA? VA offers a variety of tools and resources.  

  • The Veteran Training online self-help portal for overcoming everyday challenges includes modules on managing anger, developing parenting and problem-solving skills, and more.
  • Mental health apps for Veterans cover a variety of topics, ranging from PTSD to anger management to quitting smoking.
  • VA TeleMental Health connects you with a VA mental health provider through a computer or mobile device in your home or at your nearest VA health facility. You can learn more about this option from your local VA medical center.
  • Vet Centers provide support, counseling, and readjustment services for Veterans and active duty service members (including members of the National Guard and Reserve) who have served on active military duty in any combat theater or area of hostility or have experienced a military sexual trauma. Find a Vet Center near you or call 1-877-WAR-VETS (1-877-927-8387) to talk with a fellow combat Veteran about your experiences, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

What about support beyond VA?

There’s a whole community of support ready to help with whatever you’re going through. Use this tool to find resources near you.

Explore these resources for more information about Veterans feeling on edge.

Learn more about what you can do if you are experiencing specific concerns related to hypervigilance, such as social withdrawal, stress and anxiety, and posttraumatic stress.