Anniversary of 9/11 and the Human Vigilance System

Anniversary of 9/11 and the Human Vigilance System

Author: Dr. Shelley Carson is a psychologist at the National Center for Telehealth & Technology (T2).

This week we will be observing the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.  The events of 9/11 have been described as a "wake-up call" to an America that was too calm and complacent about the threat of danger.  America has responded with increased vigilance for new threats - both as a nation and as individual citizens.

Operating on a constant high level of threat alert may be good for the nation as a whole (indeed, through our vigilance we have been able to thwart at least 40 known terror attempts since the dark days following 9/11), but it is not good for the individual human being.  Staying on indefinite high alert can cause difficulties with sleep, spark angry or aggressive outbursts, and an inability to enjoy the moment-to-moment pleasures of life.  It can also cause fatigue, as our human vigilance systems run on adrenaline and need time to be recharged and restored in between threats.  If you have returned from a deployment supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) or Operation Endruing Freedom (OEF) you may be especially vulnerable to this constant "high alert" state.

Here's a simple exercise that will temporarily ease your vigilance system into the "green zone".

  1. First, close your eyes and take in two deep lingering breaths.  Now, suspend judgment on what you feel, hear, or see.  Just experience your senses non-judgmentally.  Become aware of the mild pressure of your feet on the floor.  Just take notice of that sensation.  Now, notice the pressure where your body touches the chare.  Touch your clothing and become aware of its textures.  Feel the air around you.  Is there a breeze?  Is the air hot? Cool? Humid?

  2. Now listen.  Listen for distant noises as well as noises from close by.  Can you hear people talking?  Is the air conditioning purring? Is there a dog barking down the street?  Sit still and just listen...

  3. Open your eyes and look around you... notice the different colors and shades of color.  Notice the interplay of light and shadows and how those shadows change an objects color.  Take notice of how things in your environment intersect with each other.  Observe any movements, are the curtains swaying in the breeze?  Are the hands of a clock moving?

  4. After you've sat quietly for five minutes and noticed what is coming in through your senses without judging it, take another dep breath, appreciate teh variety of experiences that your senses bring to you, and resume your day.

Try to do this exercise a couple of times a day until you find you can naturally relax and savor what is around you.  The goal is not to deactivate your vigilance system, but rather learn to regulate it, so you are on high alert only when appropriate.  Practicing this flexibility will allow you to enjoy your family, friends, and blessings without worrying you're completely letting down your guard.

As we observe the 10th anniversary of 9/11, we will be remembering all those who perished on that terrible day, and all those who bravely walked into danger to save their fellow citizens.  The events of that day created many heroes, including all of you who have heeded the ensuing call to arms by volunteering for service to our Nation.  We remain safe in great part to you.  Thank you for your sacrifices. Community Terms and Conditions

  • If you have feelings of suicide, hopelessness or depression - please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

  • reserves the right to edit and/or remove any user-generated content that violates these Terms and Conditions. The contents of the site, such as text, graphics, images, information, and other material contained on the site ("Content") are for informational purposes only. The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on the site. If you choose to participate in the forums and/or blog ("Community") you agree to these Terms and Conditions.

  • Community posts and comments are reviewed by the Moderators for appropriateness before they are published to the Community. Posts and comments are reviewed between the hours of 0800 and 1700 hours Pacific Time, Monday through Friday and will go live immediately after review unless they are deemed inappropriate based on these Terms and Conditions at which time they will be deleted without notification.

    You will not be contacted at any point by any member of the staff, nor any related agency or organization. If you are in need of assistance or medical attention, please contact the DCoE Outreach Center or National Suicide Prevention Hotline listed in the top right corner of your screen.
  • You agree not to hold liable for anything stated within the Community. Messages and/or comments posted at this site are the sole opinion and responsibility of the poster. makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained within the Community.

  • and its Moderators reserve the right to remove, edit or delete without notice any and all content placed in the Community.

  • Moderator and/or action may be final. Actions may be reversed by or a Moderator after review of the matter.

  • Using the forum to solicit discussions contrary to the Terms and Conditions may be considered unacceptable.

  • It is your responsibility to be familiar with and remain updated to current Community Forum Terms and Conditions. All users of the Community must comply with these Terms and Conditions. Infractions of any Term or Condition may result in revocation of forum privileges.

  • General content that is inflammatory, vulgar, sexually explicit, rude or otherwise inappropriate will not be tolerated and will be removed.

  • Always be respectful of the Community, employees, and Moderators. Be civil, clean, and decent in all posts. Open discussions of varying points of view are encouraged but only if they remain constructive and not inflammatory. Personal attacks are neither allowed nor tolerated. Anyone using/ posting inappropriate content, language, personal attacks, engaging in hate speeches and rants, or being disruptive to the Community's positive environment may be barred from all further discussions and/ or the Community.

  • The Community is not a venue for personal or private vendettas or causes, including political debates.

  • Links to adult content, pages with links to adult content, or messages describing anything inconsistent with these Terms and Conditions will be removed.

  • Do not post copyrighted material or articles written by others without their permission.

  • Do not post altered-text as an attempt to defeat forum word-filters or otherwise circumvent the rules.

  • Nicknames, signatures, and avatars are not allowed on the site.

  • Keep forum thread discussions on topic, and within the subject of the forum. Please do not "hijack" or "bump" the thread to gain additional exposure to a post or yourself. Please do not
    cross-post within other forums and threads.

  • Content and Spam that is posted for the sole-purpose of unrelated promotion will be removed and may result in a permanent loss of forum privileges.

  • Anyone posting another member's personal or website details will be banned. Please do not post sensitive or confidential information to the Community about yourself or other members. Examples include account information, private communications with moderators, etc.