“Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.”
More talk, more action
I once again found myself in the midst of a conversation with current “everyday heroes” – that is, law enforcement officers. This time it was a female officer and two male officers from different Chicagoland area agencies. These officers were off duty and I had met them for a coffee klatch one afternoon. Our time together started with the exchange of pleasantries and continued into talk of the job which, as it sometimes does, evolved into frustrations that have been mounting over time.
Each of these officers had varying amounts of time on the job. One had 24 years on and was in his late 40s; the other male had nine years on and was in his 30s. The female officer had 17 years on and turned 40 the week before our meeting. I only share this demographic data in hopes that the information will be reflective to you. Maybe you share these characteristics.
The “job talk”
“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
During the exchange of pleasantries, questions such as, “How’s your family?” or “How are you?” provoked smiles and stories of carting kids to and fro. Hockey, baseball, football, cheerleading, etc., seemed the center of conversation and lasted a good 30-40 minutes. Then boom! The damn job!
The 24-year vet announced his disapproval with current promotions at his department. The adjectives used were commensurate with anger, frustration and downright disgust. As he vented, his smiles from telling me about his son playing college football turned into an energy-consuming frown. He was soon crunching his brow and gritting his teeth. I thought to myself, “This got way too negative way too fast.”
He continued and during a much-needed pause, the 30-something male started with, “You think that’s bad…” and the negativity continued. Piggybacking off this, the female officer joined in saying, “This guy this, that guy that. I hate this job!”
This continued for a good 15-20 minutes as I sat back and took it in, all the while listening to highlights and making mental notes of frustrations exchanged. At this point I interrupted and asked a simple question: “Was there ever a time you liked the job?” I suggested they think about that as I went to the men’s room.
Stress can hurt you
“Happiness is a choice. You can choose to be happy. There’s going to be stress in life, but it’s your choice whether you let it affect you or not.”
When I came back from my bathroom break (yes, it was on purpose), the mood was much calmer and the female officer began with, “Yes, of course, when I first started it was great. The bosses were great. The citizens were good. It’s just (that) over time things changed.” I queried the officer about the change she mentioned and her reply was exactly what I hear all the time: “People don’t respect us and the wrong people are promoted to leadership positions.” I interrupted and inquired if she could control these occurrences and she replied, “I guess not.” I then asked her what she was in control of and the officer’s response was perfect. “I can control me and mine,” as the other officers nodded in agreement.
You can only steer your own vessel. You can only ensure you get to work on time, your kids get to practice, your family is provided for, your safety on the shift and your colleagues’ safety by providing backup and positive experiences.
Negativity is cyclical and breeds negativity, eventually causing personal strife, even illnesses, both mental and physical. The more negativity you subscribe to, the more frustration is created, and stress is the result. The negative stress is like drinking poison – the poison will eat away at your inner being and eventually envelope you.
A PowerPoint presentation titled “Stress Management: Part 1 – Stress and Health” by Emily K. Porensky, PhD, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, highlights the following work-related stressors:
- Being unhappy in your job;
- Having a heavy workload or too much responsibility;
- Working long hours;
- Unclear expectations or no say in decision-making;
- Working in dangerous conditions;
- Insecurity about advancement or risk of termination;
- Having to give speeches in front of colleagues;
- Facing discrimination or harassment.
Sounds accurate, at least according to the three officers I met with. Dr. Porensky continues with the impact of these stressors:
- Sixty-to-80 percent of outpatient visits may be related to stress;
- They are linked to all leading physical causes of death (heart disease, cancer, stroke);
- They are associated with development of most major mental health problems (depression, PTSD, pathological aging).
You can locate Dr. Porensky’s presentation at: https://ccme.osu.edu/WebCastsFiles/562The%20Management%20of%20Stress%20-%202.pdf
Next month we will discuss the holidays and positive methods of coping with stress. Be safe and have a great Thanksgiving!