Two Years Since Bombing, Marathon Might Be Even More Mental Than Physical

Flowers and signs adorn a barrier two days after two explosions killed three and injured hundreds near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Boston marked the second anniversary of the 2013 marathon bombings on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Flowers and signs adorn a barrier two days after two explosions killed three and injured hundreds near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Boston marked the second anniversary of the 2013 marathon bombings on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
AP

It has been two years since the Boston Marathon bombings. Bostonians have not forgotten the three who died and more than 280 injured. Bostonians recognize and remember the day their city was attacked. And it’s okay to feel a little off in the days leading up to and on this year’s marathon, according to Dr. Kermit Crawford, associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine and Executive Director of the Massachusetts Resiliency Center of Boston Medical Center for Boston Marathon survivors.

“We are all impacted in some way,” Crawford said of what happened on April 15, 2013.

Whether you were on the finish line or just have ties to the area, such a traumatic event has lasting psychological effects. Crawford said we can be affected in four main ways: psychologically, emotionally, physically, or behaviorally. And how you react depends on who you are, what you experienced, and how you experienced it.

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“There can be really an array of feelings of thoughts and of activities that individuals have, in part depending on how directly impacted they were or how they may have experienced something previously,” Crawford said.

On the psychological or cognitive side of behavior, people might experience poor concentration, confusion, memory loss, preoccupation, or a short attention span. Our emotional reflexes might get triggered also,bringing up feelings of depression, anxiety, emotional numbness, or even volatility. Physically, our psychological stress might manifest itself in nausea, dizziness, poor sleep, hyper arousal, fatigue, or gastrointestinal problems. We might feel a combination of these things, only one of these symptoms, or nothing at all, Crawford said.

It’s also important to remember that there is not one way to feel. And, that there is no right way to feel, either.

“We’re talking about normal people with an abnormal circumstance,” Crawford said. “There’s no book; there’s no manual about how to handle this: about a bombing at a marathon and the destructiveness of that. It just happened.”

For marathon runners this year, Dr. Adam Naylor, an applied sport psychologist and clinical and assistant professor at Boston University’s School of Education, stressed the importance of awareness and acknowledgement. It’s easiest for runners to realize that the marathon route will be a difficult one, especially since the bombings. Surprise tests our decision-making abilities, and it is best to “plan coping responses in advance, rather than in the moment,” he said.

Those who ran the route two years ago might face difficult course markers, Naylor said.

“The turn onto Boylston Street will be more emotional than ever,” he said. “If you understand the psychology of the marathon, it’s the middle that gets tough, and if you add this layer on [since the bombings], you’re going to end up seeing the spots where people were pulled off the course.”

The city is offering various programs and resources for those affected by the bombings. The Boston Public Health Commission has a hotline for those who might need counseling or a mental health clinician.

“If people identify feelings that are not typical within themselves, and if they recognize that these feelings are in any way debilitating, then that would be one reason to call to just check it out,” Crawford said. Finding ways to cope with emotional, physical, or psychological stress is an individual process.

For some, yoga, meditation, acupuncture, quilting, or a peer support center might do the trick, Crawford said. He said most humans are given a “gift of resilience,” which is what propels us to overcome feelings of hardships and difficult circumstances.

Perhaps, that’s where “Boston Strong” comes from.

Read more coverage of the 2015 Boston Marathon.