why do I get startled so easily?

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Kevin Mangelschots

We all know someone who gets startled at the smallest surprise. Bonus points because it can be especially entertaining when you’re watching a scary movie together with your friends, who jump at the slightest noise.

But why is it that some people get surprised so easily, while others are seemingly tranquil and at ease with everything that happens around them?

Let’s find out.

Why do I startle so easily?

A startled young woman.

The reason you startle so easily is probably because you’re stressed or anxious. Whenever this happens, the startle response is likely to increase in strength.

Folks that have a nervous predisposition or personality profile tend to have a higher startle response.

It’s also possible that the startle reflex is connected to a specific anxiety such as a fear of elevators, fear of spiders (arachnophobia), or a fear of flying, to give a couple of examples.

Why do I suddenly startle so easily?

If you suddenly startle easily despite generally being calm and at ease, then it’s probably a good sign that you’re suffering from stress, which tends to increase the startle reflex.

It can also be the case that another issue has entered the scene, such as a specific phobia. Think of things like a fear of spiders, or being afraid of elevators, which obviously increases the amount of emotional distress we experience.

Do people with anxiety get startled easily?

Yes, people with anxiety get startled more easily than folks who are at ease and not suffering from tension.

One of the physical symptoms of anxiousness is a quick heartbeat. And it has been shown that a fast heartbeat leads to getting shocked faster than those who are relaxed.

In some extreme instances, this intense worry can even lead to experiencing bouts of dreamlike depersonalization-derealization.

Do newborns startle easily?

A newborn baby exhibiting the startle reflex.

Yes, newborns startle easily since their nervous system is still developing. Newborn infants display the Moro reflex, which is a startle reflex.

Never mind the fact that they’re experiencing an extreme amount of new sensations and information in such a short period of time, which inclines to increasing stress because of the large variety of mostly unknown impressions.

So don’t worry too much if your baby easily startles at 7 months, for example.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Why is my startle reflex so strong?

The intensity and frequency of the startle reflex is dependent on the emotional tension, stress, and fatigue one is experiencing.

This means that the more nervous, tired, and general tension you experience, the stronger the startle response will be. Not to mention that the reflex will probably increase in frequency as well.

Why do I jump at the slightest noise?

A startled young woman holding her hand in front of her mouth.

You probably jump at the slightest noise because you’re experiencing a lot of stress. The emotional tension you experience can be a result of feeling anxious, stressed, fatigued, or because of a multitude of the above.

Most people who jump at the slightest noise have an anxious susceptibility, which means they’re typically much easier to startle than those who are chill and relaxed.

How do I lower my startle response?

We can lower the startle response by lowering the stress we experience. We accomplish this by engaging the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for calming the body and putting it in a relaxed state.

This means we should eliminate the causes of our stress. Which imparts that we should limit our anxiousness, and sleep well. Breathing exercises can help us to calm down, and to engage our parasympathetic nervous system.

When we’re anxious and nervous, the sympathetic nervous system is highly active. Overactive even. The sympathetic nervous system activates the body and prepares it for physical activity. However, we don’t want this system to be turned on all the time since it requires a lot of energy and raises cortisol levels, which is our stress hormone.

Is being easily startled a trauma response?

Illustration of a man sitting on a chair with various negative thoughts written around him.

It’s possible that being easily startled is a trauma response, although not always.

Let’s say that you’re suffering from PTSD because you’ve been through some rough times in your life.

As a result of this trauma, you might constantly feel on edge, and become hyperaware as a result.

Hypervigilance is an anxiety disorder that’s characterized by intrusive thoughts, and sometimes compulsions. Due to feeling intense anxiety, it’s possible that you get startled much more easily than someone who’s relaxed.

Is it normal to get startled easily?

It is normal to possess a startle response, seeing as everyone has one. Nevertheless, some people are much easier to startle than others.
 

People who startle easily can feel on edge, jittery, nervous, and uneasy. The smallest thing such as hearing a cellphone ringing can set them off, and cause them to jump.

What causes an exaggerated startle response?

While a startle response is normal depending on the circumstances, an exaggerated startle response is not.
 
An exaggerated startle reflex is most likely caused by a brain stem issue, or defect.
 
This is backed up by the density of glycine receptors in the spinal cord in addition to the brain stem. (Rousseau et al., 2008). Characteristic unreasonable startling is typically caused by damage to the brain stem. (Bakker et al., 2006).
 

Is being easily startled genetic?

Illustration of a DNA string.
 
Being easily startled is most likely partly explained by genetics, in addition to our personality that is shaped by our experiences.
 
A gene that’s known as catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) commands an enzyme that aids to take apart dopamine in our body.
 
Dopamine is a hormone and a type of neurotransmitter. It plays an essential role in many critical body functions such as movement, memory and delivering an enjoyable motivation and reward experience.
 
German scientists discovered that people with a specific, common deviation of the COMT gene are more inclined to have an exaggerated startle response.
 

Obviously, this common variant of the COMT gene could result in making them more susceptible to anxiety disorders

What does startle reflex mean?

The startle reflex is an automatic response to being suddenly astonished, or slightly scared.

Think of being surprised due to a loud noise, or jumping from an abrupt chilling scene when watching a scary movie on television.

Moro reflex

In newborn babies, this startle response is called the Moro reflex.
 
They will respond to being surprised by throwing back their head, extending their arms and legs, crying, and finally pulling their limbs back in.
 

What does being startled mean?

A startled man looking at a piece of paper that a woman is presenting to him.

Startled means you’re suddenly surprised and somewhat afraid.

This sudden sensory overload can make you jump as a result.

Final note

People who startle easily usually have an anxious, nervous predisposition since they experience more emotive stress, fatigue, and overall emotional tension.

We can’t change the genetic part of the issue, but what we can do is reduce the distress we go through to put our bodies in a more relaxed state.