If you feel so empty
So used up, so let down
If you feel so angry
So ripped off, so stepped on
You're not the only one
Refusing to back down
You're not the only one
So get up
Lyrics from “Riot” by Threes Day Grace
Professional burnout strikes all LEOs and the most important thing you need to know is you’re not the only one, so get up!
When burnout sets in it often cuts us to the core because it affects our mood, self-esteem, productivity, and how we approach the day. It creates dissatisfaction in our job, our playtime, and in our relationships. It attacks who we are and, when you are a LEO, this can be especially dangerous because being a cop is more than just a job, it truly is who you are. It is a profession that becomes more than just an identity but even a lifestyle. In us vets it starts off as a life passion that is honorable and there is pride in answering the call of duty. There is pride in doing a job for which many are considered unfit; only those who are deemed psychologically sound and physically fit are selected to serve and protect.
So the question needs to be asked, how then can such an honorable job cause such heartache? And why is it happening to me? I’m one of the strong, after all; one of the chosen and select few. This job must not really be for me, or maybe I fooled myself into thinking I’m stronger than I am. And if that thought process is left unchecked it can further lead down to a road of destructive and cynical conversations in your head that start off with…
I’m a loser.
I can’t wait to get home to have that beer to take the edge off.
My wife and kids and friends don’t appreciate me; they are ungrateful and only want something from me.
I don’t want to be around anyone anymore so I’m going to do what only makes me happy (which is basically nothing because when we are burned out activities that used to give us pleasure are all of a sudden listless).
The world is filled only with jackholes. (and sometimes this extends not only to those you try to serve and protect but begins to extend to those you work with).
As Mike tells many LEOs, when professional burnout sets in it will often feel like a clinical depression. And in my profession the biggest piece of advice we give people who are burned out or depressed is to get up and start moving today because people do not just wake up and are all of a sudden in a good mood; people who have happiness make choices that create happiness. But when a person finds he is feeling overwhelmed, stressed, anxious, sad, frustrated, irritated, peeved, or angry for a lengthy period of time they often fall into the pattern of repetitive poor choices that lead to a negative energy and mood.
For instance, even if I am not burned out and I wake up on a Sunday and choose to stay in my pajamas until 3pm, watching an endless stream of crappy TV while sitting on the couch eating a lot of carbs and foods filled with sugar, I’m going to feel like crap and will look back on my day feeling like I wasted it. I will regret all the things I could have gotten done. I will feel empty because I made choices that gave me negative energy. But if I get out of bed, eat a healthy breakfast, exercise, take care of my hygiene needs, and get some things done around the house, I will feel good about whatever activity I choose to do next because I’ve earned it.
The secret to reversing the signs of burnout is choosing activities that create good feelings. It is the repetitiveness of choosing good behaviors that create positive feelings. So in essence it takes work every day and being intentional about taking care of you emotionally, physically, and psychologically in order to survive this career because burnout will set in at some point. As stated in the last article (linked below)