Hypervigilance

Police officers need to be alert, aware of their surroundings, ready to react and quick thinking so they are able to keep themselves, their colleagues and our community safe.  When off duty, some may find it hard to switch off this highly alert state.

Hypervigilance is a state of increased awareness and state of alert. A person with hypervigilance can become extremely sensitive to their surroundings and be on high alert to ‘hidden dangers’ from both people and the environment.  Remaining in a hypervigilant state for long periods can affect the nervous system and negatively impact day to day life.  

 

When your loved one is off duty, the hypervigilant state may switch to the opposite biological state of being detached, withdrawn, fatigued, passive, and unmotivated.  You may observe them not wanting to engage in conversation, or being irritable and ‘lazy’.  Generally, after about 24 hours, they are likely to return to their normal level of engagement and interaction with family, friends, and off-duty activities.  During this 24-hour period, it’s important to encourage sleep, eating well, limiting alcohol consumption, and taking part in as much of their normal off-duty routine as possible.

 

Hypervigilance can be a symptom of mental health conditions including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Anxiety Disorders and Schizophrenia.

 

Signs of extreme hypervigilance include: 


  • Adverse trauma reaction and PTSD

  • Constantly anticipation of danger

  • Hyper-alert state

  • Startling easily

  • Being on-guard, anticipating something bad happening

  • Difficulty relaxing

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Restlessness, agitation with physical reactions that may include a fast heart rate, sweating and/or rapid breathing

  • Avoiding crowded/ busy environments, being wary of people, seeming to overreact, constantly checking the environment, oversensitivity to other’s expressions/ tones of voice.

 

Having the reassurance they have someone like you to love and support them is invaluable.  Here are some helpful ways you can assist their recovery:


  • Support their sleep routine around shift work, ensuring they have the time and quiet they need to rest.

  • Encourage healthy eating and limiting alcohol consumption, particularly in the recovery phase.

  • Encourage moderate physical activity for 30-40 minutes to help them return to a normal state.

  • Create a calendar together to find convenient times for family activities, as well as time for your loved one to do activities they enjoy with friends as well as some time alone.

  • Invest in relationships with social/ community groups outside of the policing circle so there is a focus beyond work.

  • Make time to have fun together.

 

If you are concerned about the wellbeing of your loved one or need advice, contact the independent counselling service (Employee Assistance Program), free for WA Police Force personnel and their immediate family on 1300 687 327 (available 24/7).

 

Reference: Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement