"Hyper-Vigilance" Takes Toll in Wake of Boston Bombing

Apr 19, 2013

heavily armed police patrol Watertown, MA, in search of the second suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings.
Credit National Public Radio

Many have been on edge in the wake of the Boston bombings. There is a heightened anxiety level affecting many of us including those who work to protect us.

Just today, there were two more suspicious packages in Atlanta.  Clinical psychologist Avrum Weiss says the rash of suspicious sightings here in the last few days is no surprise, because we see more with our brains than our eyes.

According to Weiss, “In a crisis like this, our expectations change, and so we see things differently because we are seeing what we expect to see.  It’s unlikely that there’s any increase in the number of packages around time, but when you start to look for them, you see them.”

That includes first responders who are officially on heightened alert right now. Weiss says, over the long-term, a constant state of vigilance can cause stress-related illness. He says the best antidote is to make a conscious effort to relax off the job.

And that is likely a good idea for everyone right now. “I think everybody, to varying degrees, is feeling somewhat with that kind of ruptured sense of safety,” says Weiss. “And probably the best response to that is to be with people who you feel safe with and to be in places where you feel safe.”

Both of today’s suspicious packages turned out to be harmless.