Understanding and Overcoming Anxiety

You’re a cop. Strong, confident, and competent, anxiety can never get a hold on you, right? The truth is, even strong, confident, and competent cops can fall victim to anxiety and anxiety disorders.

Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow.  - Swedish Proverb

Doesn’t it sometimes seem worry is our new national pastime, anxiety our default mood?  We collectively worry about the expanding national debt, wars overseas and terrorism on our shores, the ever-expanding surveillance state peering into our previously-presumed-to-be-private lives (or maybe that it’s not enough… what are they missing to compromise our safety?), the nefarious motives of the political powers-that-be (or maybe the wicked machinations of those who’d unseat them), and, frankly, the weather. 

Add to the collective disquiet most of us partake of to some extent or another our individual anxieties:  meeting the bills; securing the future; the health, safety, and welfare of yourself and your family; aging parents and vulnerable kids; work and professional concerns (and don’t you have a lion’s share of those if you’re a cop?).  Is it any wonder so many of us seem to exist in a state of more or less permanent unrest?  Is it any surprise the market for pharmaceutical anxiolitycs is a multibillion dollar industry? 

Although anxiety is nothing new – acknowledgement of, and advice to overcome, worry goes back thousands of years and figures prominently in both the Old and New Testaments of the Judeo-Christian Bible, as well as the texts and teachings of all the other major world religions – a lot has been learned about it in recent years (including how to treat it most effectively) and there are indications we, in our modern culture, have managed to take it to new heights.  Perhaps anxiety just seems to be more pervasive and severe because our awareness of it is so much more acute, but maybe it really is due to increased professional and social pressures, cultural expectations, competition for goods and accomplishments, or worries generated by the overwhelming information stew we now must navigate.  Whether this is true and, if so, why is less important than the simple fact crippling anxiety creates so many problems for so many people.  Maybe anxiety is even creating problems for you.

Anxiety and anxiety disorders are a wide-ranging phenomenon of broad etiology, experienced in many forms.  To fully cover all that anxiety is, or the various diagnostic criteria of anxiety disorders would take far more space that we have here, so we’ll go with a rather general definition and the fair assumption you probably have a pretty good idea of it to begin as experiencing general feelings of anxiety from time to time is a universal human experience.  Anxiety is a mood characterized by feelings of fear, worry, and uneasiness.  They are often generalized and unfocused (“free floating”), and often an overreaction to a perceived menace.  It becomes a psychiatric disorder when characterized by excessive, uncontrollable, and often irrational worry about normal, everyday stressors disproportionate to the true severity of the stressor.

No one is immune 

You’re a cop.  Strong, confident, and competent, anxiety can never get a hold on you, right?  The truth is, even strong, confident, and competent cops can fall victim to anxiety and anxiety disorders; we’ve both seen it, each from our own different professional perspectives and also in our work together writing and training, and know it is not at all uncommon.  Having anxiety, either situationally or in the form of a diagnosable anxiety disorder, does not necessarily mean an officer is any less strong or competent, but it can certainly shake the confidence.  And it doesn’t mean the officer cannot perform or be trusted, because anxiety can be managed or overcome.  One of the unfortunate aspects of the job is how it exposes cops to dangers – physical, emotional, and professional – that tend to ramp up anxieties and can lead to social and professional impairments. 

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