Stress is a term used by many, is somewhat misunderstood, and often used to describe a negative condition or emotional state. People experience various forms of stress at home, work, in social settings, and when engaged in activities to simply have fun. Police officer’s experience stresses the same as others, but also in ways much different than the average citizen. The dangers, violence, and tragedy seen by officers result in added levels of stress not experienced by the general population.
What is stress? Stress is not a new phenomenon, it has been experienced throughout history. Stress is a biological response to some stimulus. Fear, panic, anger, tragedy and especially pressure can cause it. Stress can result in the competitiveness needed to succeed in business, relationships, sports, and education. Is stress bad or good? It is both. Good stress is manageable stress an can actually heighten your performance in certain situations. Bad stress is unmanageable stress and lessens your performance because it’s too much to bare.
Police work, by its nature, calls for an incredible amount of continual stress. The demands on police officers to show greater restraint has been increasing over the years and has increased the effects of stress on police work. Today’s police officer is now more than ever in the public eye. He now must think about consequences before his actions in every situation.
If we take a quick overview of police work and look at the research we can see what are some of the biggest stresses. Having your partner killed in the line of duty, lack of support by the department and bosses, shift work and disruption of family time/ family rituals and the daily grind of dealing with the scum of society. All of these factors add up and lead to high rates of cancer, heart disease, and suicide for police officers.
We are becoming all too familiar with police suicide especially with the attention it gets from the media. In New York City twice as many police officers die by their own hand than in the line of duty. Stress is put to blame for this. Every study done indicates that police officer face a much higher level of stress. For suicide there are four main factors: 1. Divorce 2. Alcohol 3. Depression 4. A failure to get help. All four factors are symptoms that can stem from an officer’s stress levels. An officer who got into trouble on the job, suspension or termination is seven times more likely to commit suicide.
Police suicide is more directly linked to relationship problems which in turn is linked to job stresses. Of the last fourteen suicides of police officers in New York City eighty-six percent had just had a divorce or relationship break-up. Police officers going through a divorce are five times more likely to commit suicide than officers who have a stable relationship. Relationship problems are highly related to job stress. In fact, studies have called police work to be a “high risk” lifestyle not because of physical danger, but high risk in developing attitude problems, behavioural problems, drug problems, and intimacy and relationship problems. These studies also show that police suffer from a substantially higher divorce rate ranging from sixty to seventy percent higher than normal couples.
The medical community has attributed stress to such biological responses as heart malfunctions, blood pressure variations, gastrointestinal disorders, cancer, depression, muscular discomfort, strokes, and a host of nervous system related problems. For the police officer, biological consequences can represent more long term concerns, but the short term results are the most profound. Stress of the magnitude that affect an officer’s reaction time (increased or decreased) can seriously inhibit their ability to perform a vital action. An unrealistic increase could result in overreacting in confrontational situations, while a decrease could result in a serious injury or even death.
Forty-three percent of all adults suffer from adverse health affects due to stress, seventy-five to ninety percent of all physician office visits are for stress related ailments and complaints. Stress is linked to the six leading causes of death, heart disease, cancer, lung problems, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide.
Stress is a combination of physical, mental, and emotional feelings that result from pressure, worry, and anxiety. These pressures are called stressors. Some examples of common stressors are, divorce, death in the family, job change, pregnancy, marriage, and retirement. In medicine stress is a physical, chemical, or emotional development that causes strains that lead to physical illness.
The early warning signs of stress include apathy, anxiety, irritability, mental fatigue, and over compensation or denial. Some signs of apathy are feelings of sadness or recreation that isn’t fun anymore. Feelings of restlessness, agitation, insecurity and a sense of worthlessness are examples of anxiety. Signs of irritability are feeling hypersensitive, defensive, and arrogant. Feeling argumentative, rebellious, or angry are also signs of irritability. Examples of mental fatigue are denying that there are problems, ignoring symptoms, and feeling suspicious.
Some behavioural signs of stress are avoiding things, doing things to extremes, administrative problems, and legal problems. Avoiding things includes keeping to one’s self, avoiding work, having trouble accepting responsibility, and neglecting responsibility. Examples of doing things to extremes are alcoholism, gambling, spending sprees, and sexual promiscuity. Some administrative problems are being late to work, poor appearance, poor personal hygiene, and being accident prone. Possible legal problems are shoplifting, traffic tickets, and an inability to control violent impulses.
Some physical signs of stress include excessive worrying about illness, frequent illness, and physical exhaustion. Reliance on medication including remedies like aspirin is a physical sign of stress. Ailments such as insomnia, appetite changes, and changes in weight are also physical signs of stress. Indigestion, nausea, and nervous diarrhoea, are also physical signs.
Stress can be confusing. There are some myths surrounding stress. One myth suggests that stress is the same for everybody, this is not true. What is stressful for one person may or may not be stressful for another. Some people seem to think that stress is everywhere, so there is nothing a person can do about it, this is also not true. A person can plan their life so that stress doesn’t overwhelm them. Another myth is that stress is always bad for a person. This is not rue because managed stress makes people productive and happy. Some people think that only the major symptoms of stress require attention. The minor symptoms are the early warnings that a better job of managing stress is needed.
There are four types of stress. There is acute stress, episodic acute stress, chronic stress, and traumatic stress. Each type of stress has its own characteristics, symptoms, duration, and treatments.
Acute stress is the most common type of stress. Acute stress comes from demands and pressures of the recent past and anticipated demands and pressures of the near future. Acute stress can lead to psychological distress, tension headaches, upset stomach, and other symptoms. Some examples of stressors that can cause acute stress are, an auto accident that crumpled the car fender, the loss of an important contract, a child’s occasional problems at school and so on. Acute stress doesn’t have enough have enough time to do the extensive damage associated with long term stress.
Some of the most common symptoms of stress are emotional distress, muscular problems, stomach problems, and transient over arousal. Emotional distress includes anger, irritability, and anxiety. Muscular problems such as tension headaches, upper and lower back pain, and jaw pain are also symptoms of stress. Other symptoms are stomach, gut and bowel problems. Heartburn, acidic stomach, ulcers, flatulence, diarrhoea, constipation, and irritable bowel syndrome are examples of these problems. Transient over arousal is another symptom of stress which leads to elevation in blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, and sweaty palms. Heart palpitations, dizziness, and migraine headaches can also result from transient over arousal. Symptoms like cold hands or feet, shortness of breath, and chest pain are also common.
Episodic acute stress is common in people who suffer from acute stress. These people’s lives are so unorganised that they are constantly in a state of chaos and crisis. They are always in a hurry, but they are always late. If something can go wrong in their life it usually does. Often these people describe themselves as having a lot of “nervous energy.” Another form of episodic acute stress comes from non stop worry, they are always worried about something going wrong. The symptoms of episodic acute stress are persistent tension headaches, migraines, hypertension, chest pain and heart disease. The treatment of episodic acute stress requires intervention on a number of levels, generally requires professional help, and may take many months. Sufferers are usually resistant to any kind of change.
Chronic stress is the grinding stress that wears people away day after day after day. It destroys minds, bodies, and lives. Chronic stress comes from when a person doesn’t see a way out of a miserable situation. The worst part of chronic stress is that people get used to it and forget that it’s there. Chronic stress kills by means of suicide, violence, heart attack, stroke and cancer. The symptoms of chronic stress are hard to treat and could require a lot of medical and behavioural treatment, therapy, and stress management.
Traumatic stress is a special kind of chronic stress, known as post-traumatic stress disorder. It is caused by trauma that is not handled correctly. Some examples of traumatic experiences are, accidents, rape, abuse of any kind, natural disaster, and the death of a loved one. The symptoms of PTSD are flashbacks, over arousal, emotional numbness, and emotional outbursts. People with PTSD suffer from problems with concentration, controlling impulses, and decision making. The long term consequences of PTSD are depression, anxiety, behavioural disorders, multiple personality disorders, and suicide.
Dealing with Stress
There are three basic strategies for dealing with stress at the source. The first strategy is altering situations to make them less stressful. Avoiding stressful situations is the next strategy. Accepting stressful situations is the other basic strategy in dealing with stress at the source. Each strategy has it’s disadvantages and it’s advantages. It’s up to every person to decide which one to use with which situation.
The tougher a person’s resistance to stress is, the more stress they can take. There is a lot people can do to maximise their resistance to stress. People have resources to help them handle stress, these resources include familial and financial resources, social and spiritual resources, as well as personal resources. They can also develop good health habits and get rid of bad health habits to help build up a resistance.
Following these guidelines in a person’s life is a good way to increase their resistance to stress. Eat at least one hot balanced meal per day. Improving a person’s nutritional habits makes them less susceptible to stress. Limiting a person to less than three caffinated drinks per day helps to improve their health and their susceptibility to stress.
Give and receive affection regularly. Research shows that people who give and receive affection regularly, live longer and are healthier. Have at least one relative within fifty miles. Family is one of the best ways of reducing stress. Regularly attend social activities. Friends a person meets can provide a support network for good and bad times. Have a network of friends and acquaintances. A strong social network helps fight off feelings of loneliness, isolation, and despair. Have one or more friends to confide in about personal matters. Close friends boost a persons mental health just by being there.
Exercise the point of perspiration at least three times a week. Exercise leads to fitness and people who are fit handle stress better. Being the appropriate weight is important not only for health reasons but for self esteem as well. Be in good health is important because a person’s health is their first line of defence against stress. Get seven to eight hours sleep as often as possible. Lack of sleep leads to exhaustion that harms a person’s health and productivity.
Do something fun at least once a week. Doing something just for the fun of it improves a person’s resistance to stress because it takes your mind off your problems. Speak openly about your feelings when you are angry or worried.
As one can see, stress is a combination of feelings that have different effects on peoples’ health, and also there are many different ways to build resistance to it so it will not ruin your life.