Stress Management.And the Stress-Proof Vest

By Fox, Robert | Law & Order, February 2007 | Go to article overview

Stress Management.And the Stress-Proof Vest


Fox, Robert, Law & Order


Police commit suicide at up to three times the national average and are eight times more likely to kill themselves than to become a victim of a homicide. They divorce at double the national average, and up to 25% have alcohol abuse problems. By profession, police officers are at high risk for stress disorders.

It would be convenient to dismiss this data by saying that high-risk individuals select law enforcement as a career, but research suggests otherwise. Most data indicates that the personality profiles of police officers entering the academy differ little from those of the population as a whole.

A survey of more than 10,000 law enforcement officers revealed that more than 90% said their major reason for becoming a cop was "to make a difference." This suggests a desire to help rather than to engage in risky scenarios. So what is wrong with the law enforcement environment?

The answer, in short, is loss of identity. The police officer is a standardized uniform with hat and a stern visage. How many of us really see the face of the officer who has vowed to protect our homes and families? Cops know that they are often dehumanized by the citizenry. They know they are expected to put their lives on the line if necessary. This kind of pressure requires strong support, yet many police officers voice the fear that the department might not back them up if they get into trouble.

While law enforcement spends millions of dollars on body armor, nothing protects the officer from two internal bullets-loss of identity and cynicism. Against these lethal weapons, cops need a "stress vest."

A Paradigm for Stress

Stress is a force that necessitates change. Neither good nor bad, it is simply the energy that presses upon us as we struggle to survive. How we use this energy determines the quality of our lives.

Such energy, used productively, is called eustress, or "good stress;" energy used destructively is termed distress or "bad stress." Burning the midnight oil to study for exams is an example of eustress; staying out all night drinking and partying when you have to get up and go to work the next day is distress. Whether we are happy or unhappy depends on the kinds of stress in our lives, and whether the level of that stress is within our comfort zones.

Eustress meets basic human needs and contributes to wellness, while distress jeopardizes human welfare. When you think of stress, think about the energy we use to enjoy and fulfill ourselves instead of the distress of fear and worry. A productive life is based on a positive outlook, good self-esteem, and discipline, where time and energy are invested in eustress to meet one's personal basic human needs.

The undisciplined person, characterized by low self-esteem and a negative outlook, is prone to gratification that often denies one's basic human needs. A life dominated by distress often leads to cynicism, loss of hope, and an attitude that whatever can go wrong, will.

It's all about outlook and attitude. One can focus on stress as a positive force, as the energy for accomplishment and the enjoyment of all life has to offer, or as a negative force, as the energy needed to combat fear and cynicism, where the only goal seems to be surviving another day. Understanding and fulfilling basic needs is the key. When one uses stress energy in the pursuit of becoming all that one can be, then life is good and fulfilling, and basic needs are met. But when one's needs are thwarted and go unfulfilled, that stress energy may become a destructive force.

Human Beings, Basic Needs and Stress

Every human being has personal, social, occupational and spiritual needs. While healthy human development requires a certain level of satisfaction in each of these areas, the level will differ from person to person. Some people are more social and family-oriented; some are more spiritual; some need greater career satisfaction. In a similar vein, the amount of stress that allows one to function best is highly individual. …

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