Many Veterans feel on edge after returning from deployment or living through a stressful situation. Hear Veterans discuss situations that set them on edge and how, after seeking out support, they were able to manage their triggers and cope better with daily life.
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 to possible risks or threats—constantly “on guard.” It may be the result of an experience in a combat zone, a non-combat training exercise, or another type of traumatizing event in your military or civilian life.
“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 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. Hypervigilance 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?
“Large crowds still bother me a bit. But now that I understand better why that is, I can cope better with my anxiety, and I can do a lot of the fun things I used to miss out on.”
If you’re with other people, tell them what you’re feeling so they can try to help you work through it
Use grounding skills to help you recognize your safety in the present moment
Peacefully remove yourself from the situation
Talking to your family and friends can be a first step. Turn to them when you are ready to talk. 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 – Make the connection.
Every day, Veterans who served in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard connect with proven resources and effective treatments for dealing with symptoms like hypervigilance. If hypervigilance is affecting your health and well-being or getting in the way of your relationships, work, or daily activities, you may want to reach out for support. Consider connecting with:
Your family doctor: Ask if your doctor has experience treating Veterans or can refer you to someone who does
A mental health professional, such as a therapist
Your local VA Medical Center or Vet Center: VA specializes in the care and treatment of Veterans
A spiritual or religious advisor
Explore these resources for more information about feeling on edge in Veterans.
Learn more about the possible associations between hypervigilance and other issues such as social withdrawal, stress and anxiety, and posttraumatic stress.
National Center for PTSD
This website provides information, resources, and practical advice for Veterans dealing with trauma.
If you are a combat Veteran or experienced any sexual trauma during your military service, bring your DD214 to your local Vet Center and speak with a counselor or therapist—many of whom are Veterans themselves—for free, without an appointment, and regardless of your enrollment status with VA.
VA Medical Center Facility Locator
This website will allow you to search for VA programs located near you. If you are eligible to receive care through the Veterans Health Administration, you can enroll in one of VA’s treatment programs.