As a 30+ year veteran of law enforcement I am all too aware of the stress that can be caused by “the job.” Some of it is unavoidable: rotating shifts, random frantic people, high risk situations and the deeply boring tedium that separates moments of stark near-panic. On the other hand, some of the stress of the job we bring on ourselves; the challenge we face is learning that fact, and modifying our behavior accordingly, BEFORE it hurts our health and career in ways we might avoid.
What am I talking about? Well, hindsight is 20-20. We all know that. What many of us don’t think about is that “hindsight” when we’re in the first five years of our career may mean reconsidering how we handled a call yesterday or last week. “Hindsight,” when you’ve been a cop 10, 15, 20 years or more, is often more about lifestyle than it is about a specific call.
There comes a point where you realize (hopefully) that some of the stress we get from the job is unnecessary. ANY unnecessary stress is a health hazard we should avoid. As I said, the job is naturally stressful enough; we don’t need to add stress to it.
A lot of the stress we add results from worries, concerns, frustrations and more regarding circumstances or realities we have absolutely no control over. “Such as?” you ask.
Let me give you a few examples and then you can either laugh hard at me or wonder what kind of cold-blooded bastard I am.
Example 1: If you share a patrol car and it’s NEVER clean when you get it at the beginning of your shift it can be aggravating. Yes, this will piss you off quick and you’ll wish that the guys on the previous shift, or their sergeant, or your sergeant or just SOMEONE would make them stop leaving their trash in your car… or leaving the gas tank near empty… or maybe wash it every now and again? There comes a point, though, where you realize: you can’t do anything about the condition of the car when you get it. All you can do is clean it out, get it washed and then leave it in a suitable condition for the next shift. All the aggravation and frustration you experience if you get angry about getting the car dirty all the time only hurts YOU. It’s stress and higher blood pressure that you don’t need.
Example 2: You go on that call for a violent domestic at an address you know all too well. When you get there, just like so many times before, the couple is fighting inside what amounts to a run-down shack, while their 5-year old child sits on the steps in dirty clothes just waiting for someone to make “inside” safe. Unless you’re totally heartless, the living conditions that 5-year old experiences daily will make you feel sympathy, empathy and, to some extent, anger. What kind of parents are so selfish and neglectful that this is how their child lives? Unless you’re prepared to call Social Services or Child Welfare Services, or whatever it’s called in your state, to get the child taken away from the parents, you’ll do very little to affect positive change in that child’s life. After you’ve left the call it’s only natural to wonder about the child. What doesn’t do you any good is worrying about it. We serve hundreds of thousands of people in our communities and, as cold-blooded as it does sound, that child is just one of many. Take positive action or dismiss the concern from your mind.
In fact, that’s about the best way to sum up this outlook: If you’re not prepared and willing to take some corrective action to fix whatever is nagging at you, find a way to escape the nag. I’m not overly religious but there is wisdom in the Serenity Prayer:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
If we’re going to survive a career with our physical, mental and emotional health intact, we MUST not spend time or energy on things we cannot change and we must find the courage to change the things we can.
It is, after all, one of the reasons we became police officers in the first place.