General Adaptation Syndrome:

Concept developed by Dr. Hans Selye

GAS in General Public:

In the general public, the level of stress and arousal needed to attend to the job and perform is consistent.

While there may be periods of increased stress, and even the rare occasion of exposure to a critical or traumatic event, in this population, their stress response rises to the occasion, and when the occasion is over the stress level returns back to the base-line level.


In PSP, the level of stress and arousal needed in order to attend their job is significantly higher, thus their base-line level of stress arousal (preparing to respond to critical incidents and trauma) begins at the start of their rotation and remains at high levels not only for their shift, but their entire tour. What this means is that in PSP their “fight and flight” activation is always on. Their “stress reaction” requires a level of hyper-vigilance “being on guard and ready to respond” – in anticipation.

This level of hyper-vigilance takes its toll on PSP in that they alternate between periods of increased arousal to exhaustion and fatigue. The restorative phase of recovery from this sustained hyper-vigilance takes more than 4 days to recover from.


The Reticular Activating System (RAS):

The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS):

  1. The Sympathetic Branch: the part that reacts to and controls bodily functions in times of challenge or threat – this is what is involved in when PSP are “on-duty”
  2. The Parasympathetic Branch: the part that aids in digestion, relaxation, recovery, healing – this is what is involved in when PSP are “off-duty”


Biological Homeostasis:

The Hypervigilance Rollercoaster:

Strategies to Combat “The Hypervigilance Rollercoaster”

  1. Train in aggressive personal time management: understanding the need to develop a sense of control of personal time – leads to a sense of personal empowerment.
  2. Spontaneity: Encourage opportunities to be spontaneous within one’s personal life.
  3. Proactive versus Reactive Orientations: PSP work innately develops a reactive orientation with necessity for intense observation and the need to react. The problem occurs when the reactive orientation becomes the PSP’s worldview even during personal time, often translates to “I use to… do this.” or “I used to … do that.”
  1. Schedule the Time: strategize to make personal-time decisions before the symptoms of hypervigilance prevail.
  1. Make the Time: use a Personal-Time Management Calendar.
  2. Time Management and Relationships: prioritize making time for important people in one’s life.
  3. Physical Fitness: The Hypervigilance Rollercoaster is physical in nature and therefore any treatment should include some aspect that is physiological in nature.
  1. Control over Financial Well-Being: PSP that schedule and maintain their physical fitness have been shown to maintain more financial well-being as well.
  2. The Stress Related Consumerism Cycle: attempt to move from bottom of the rollercoaster to top by making consumer purchases can be an impractical and destructive way to feel better.
  3. Balancing Multiple Roles in one’s Life: instead of being singularly defined by their role as a PSP it is important to balance multiple significant emotional roles in one’s life.

(Excerpted and summarized from “Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement” by Kevin Gilmartin)