After a national tragedy like the Boston Marathon bombing, normal activities and places formerly considered safe can evoke the possibility of unspeakable violence.
Overcoming the mental hurdles to return to those activities can be a challenge. It’s normal to feel anxiety upon a first return to school, movie theaters, shopping malls, and now — athletic events.
But for those who chose run to Broad Street despite anxiety about potential violence, there was something different about their anxiety. This time, the concern was not for their own safety.
“Initially, I was concerned for my family coming down,” said Vincent Luk, 34, of Downingtown. “But we can’t let this scare us. We’ve got to fight through it. We have to be brave. We can’t let this terror effect what we do.”
Luk had his wife, their two children and his mother-in-law there to cheer him on at the finish line. And while the bombing in Boston might have provided a new reason for his concern, the probability is far more likely that he could have killed his family in a car accident driving to or from the race.
Katherine Dahlsgaard, Ph.D. is the lead psychologist in the Anxiety Behaviors Clinic at Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania. She says that it’s expected for people to be more anxious.
“Not because the risk of violence has increased since Boston (if anything, it has decreased due to tightened security measures),” said Dahlsgaard. “Rather, because the job of anxiety itself is to make us overestimate risk.
“The key to conquering anxiety is not to deny risk, but assess it realistically. I always tell my patients to ask themselves, 'what's the worst that could happen?’ The answer is anxiety's answer. Tell it ‘thanks’ and then ask yourself ‘what's most likely to happen?’ That answer is the one you should listen to.”
Nearly 40,000 runners participated in the Broad Street Run on Sunday. For the vast majority of participants, this was their first major race since the tragedy on Patriot’s Day.
Sarah Hacking, 24, of Oreland, completed her first Broad Street run, along with her mother, Lisa, a Broad Street veteran. Both were confident that there would be no security issues. And like thousands of other runners, they wore red socks to show support for Boston.
“I went to college right outside Boston, so I have a lot of friends that are still in the area and feel a connection to people in that area,” said Sarah.
Sarah has volunteered at the finish lines of Boston Marathons in the past, but wasn’t worried about volunteers or supporters gathered at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia.
Dana and Michael Murphy, both originally from Philadelphia but now living outside of Boston, made the trip home for Dana’s first run down Broad Street as Michael and the couple’s toddlers watched from the Navy Yard. Neither had concerns about any safety issues.
“No, not at all,” said Michael. “Absolutely not.”
“It was an isolated incident,” said Dana. She then added: “It could happen anywhere, anytime.”
That acknowledgement that events like Boston could happen anywhere, anytime, shouldn’t prevent people from participating in life, says Dahlsgaard.
“When you choose to run a race or marathon, one can say that you are actively putting loved ones in harm’s way,” said Dahlsgaard. “But the equivalent could be inviting someone to watch you at graduation and a bomb goes off.”
The cure for overcoming any anxiety, Dalsgaard says, is gradually exposing someone to things that they’ve been avoiding.
“Someone might ask, ‘this is safe, right?’ And what they are asking is exactly what the anxiety is asking, 'Is this 100 percent safe? Can we guarantee safety?’
The answer is no, we never can. That’s part of being alive.”
All across the Navy Yard lawn on Sunday were smiles and hugs from proud runners who – although exhausted — never looked so alive.