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.


It’s important to understand the anxiety we’re talking about is more than that you’d reasonably expect to feel situationally, such as in a high-risk traffic stop, while responding to a crime in progress, or facing a large and belligerent offender who has just informed you that under no circumstances will he comply with your silly little idea to take him to jail.  That anxiety/fear is just commonsense and is your bodies adaptation to raise your level of vigilance and keep you alive.  Or maybe you just got a call from IAU to drop in because they’d “like to have a word with you.”  That twinge of anxiety is perfectly reasonable (especially if you were - you know - kind of expecting their call).  Reasonable anxiety in any of these situations sometimes morphs into a more debilitating anxiety/disorder when it’s always present; Your fear of assault interferes with your functioning as a cop, or an omnipresent fear of inevitable punishment colors all you do and creates a do-nothing, bunker mentality. 

The good news is, despite how prevalent anxiety disorders are, they are very treatable.  If you suffer from, or are prone to, anxiety, overcoming it is very possible when new skills are learned and applied.  One of the most effective forms of treatment for diminishing or taking control of anxiety is Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) which teaches patients to challenge thought distortions by asking simple, reality-based questions in order to reframe the moment.  Anxieties are often exaggerations of what a person perceives a stressor to be with future or past tense thinking.  A thought that was once base in reality now becomes “I don’t know how I will handle this when” or “I need to be prepared for…” or “I can’t ever go through this again.”  Fear begins to set in for an event that has not yet taken place instead of taking each moment as it comes and having confidence in your skills to resolve the situation when and if it ever happens.

There is no way to be in control or to predict how emotions will hit a person in the future, yet most people try to prepare themselves with the hope of avoiding emotional turmoil. 

Another part of becoming comfortable with anxiety is to learn how to be comfortable with painful and restless emotions.  Most people with anxiety have developed the habit of minimizing or running from emotional pain, or they try to fix it or make sense out of it.  Learning to acknowledge emotions and to stay in the moment with them is a major component of taming anxiety.  The skill of learning to be mindful of the present instead of thinking in the future or the past is a critical one to master.  As our yoga instructor often says:  “Lean into the pain.  The pain will not hurt you.”

Anxiety disorders are becoming common place.  An emotion that was designed to alarm people of danger lurking (to our ancient ancestors: “You are in the path of a Saber-Toothed Tiger about to eat you!”) has become misused.  If anxiety is chronic and ever-present, we suggest you speak with a medical professional.  Talk to your doctor or seek out a competent therapist.  If not treated, research is showing anxiety and depression commonly co-exists.  Both of these medical conditions can be extremely debilitating, yet both are very treatable.  There is hope!

 

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