When dealing with the public, it is imperative to remain calm and objective despite the overwhelming emotion that might be projected onto you. Exposure to intense levels of stress, psychological trauma and substance overload and/or societal pressures are an everyday occurrence for those charged with the upkeep of justice. And because of that, it's essential to learn how to manage and navigate around these stressed-out situations.
No one in society would doubt the stressful nature of being, say, a police officer, especially with daily exposure to varying degrees of emotionally charged problems. To survive this, it's essential you apply your professionalism to your own health and stress levels, through separating yourself from the job, acknowledging your own emotional triggers and learning the best way for you to remain calm and relaxed despite what's happening around you. Making this a regular habit will not only make you a more effective and positive role model, but also will enhance every other aspect of your life out of uniform.
Use these four calming pointers to help you manage stress as other people's stress starts to build up:
Before managing the emotions of others, we first need to learn how to physically ground ourselves. This starts with our feet, which represent not only our connection to the earth, but also how we maneuver around life's many challenges. There are three clear contact points on each foot: the heel, the ball behind the big toe and the ball behind the little toe. Stand up and notice the weight distribution on each of these three areas.
Are you heel heavy, i.e. do you dig your heels into the ground? This could represent a need to constantly stand your ground, which is possibly the result of conflict during childhood or adolescence. It might also represent inflexibility and a need to control, and could result in lower back pain due to the stress on the calves, hamstrings and upwards.
Are you flat footed, i.e. do you have no obvious contact points? No contact points means there is no grounding and you can be easily shifted both physically and psychologically.
Are you always on the balls of your feet, i.e. heel elevated and bouncing on the front of the foot? Traditionally associated with people with high levels of energy or anxiety, these people always seem to be in the rush and are ready to take off at any point. Learning to slow down and making more informed decisions is important here.
Once you become aware of your feet, slowly adjust your weight distribution so it is evenly balanced on the three points and then slightly bend your knees. This process of anchoring must be practiced constantly, every time you walk, run, sit or stand. Eventually it will help connect your mind to your body, raising awareness to what is happening inside (as well as posture, breathing, heartbeat, muscle tension, etc.) and assist in controlling your unconscious reactions to emotional stimulus. This will also enable you to remain calm, stay present and diffuse tension when faced with confrontation.
Detachment is having a professional concern for others without making an emotional connection to the behavior or attitude of any one person/people. Although incredibly hard, it's important to depersonalize every remark, disagreement or aggressive action from all people from career criminals, to concerned citizens. Detachment is a shift in outlook and deciding the situation has nothing to do with you personally. Detachment involves knowing your own limits, taking the necessary action and then letting go of what has happened and moving on.
Knowledge is also essential here, as you inform yourself of the many developmental and educational challenges people face today, especially in disadvantaged areas where unemployment and addiction are key factors. Some people have a natural ability to detach, whereas others learn it over the course of their lives. Either way, it is an important skill to avoid burnout and protect your mental and physical health.
When in the throes of psychological distress, the emotional layers of the brain (referred to as the limbic region) can often override the rational problem-solving brain processes (referred to as the neocortex region). This is primal in nature, and the individual is not necessarily choosing their words or actions in these situations.
To help calm a person down, it is important to help activate the rational brain. To do this, ask very basic and simple questions, e.g. what they had for lunch, what their job is, what the time is, what their plans are tomorrow, etc. This not only helps to distract from the emotion, but also encourages them to focus on facts. This technique can be particularly useful when dealing with people with irrational fears, such as phobias of planes or elevators. Making eye contact and passively bringing attention to the present by giving them small tasks, such as writing an account of a situation also aids in activating the neocortex and easing anxiety.
We are all unique individuals with our own life experience and memories, and so our stressors are unique, as well. Some stressors are social, such as environmental factors, educational challenges, family scenarios, etc. Some are biological, such as physical illness, lifestyle choices, genetic inheritance, brain chemistry, etc. Some are psychological, such as past traumatic experiences, negative beliefs or attitudes and the associated unhealthy behaviors.
Irrespective of the role you play, if you are in the helping profession like police officers, stress is a reality. You need to get to the root of your own stress and work to resolve it completely. This starts with honestly reflecting on your life up to this point and how it is impacting the present.
Physical health is essential, yet many do not prioritize it. This is particularly true when stress is a regular part of your life and the stress hormone “cortisol” is released in excessive amounts into your body, affecting your energy levels and overall mood. If you find you are constantly tired or if there is a history of medical issues in your family, go to your doctor and get a full medical check-up. Be 100 percent open and honest with the doctor. Also, pay attention to your gut and how it impacts your mood. If you find you have regular digestive issues, get this checked, as you may have intolerances or might simply not be absorbing the nutrients from foods.
Psychological stressors are particularly tough to resolve as they are often deep-rooted. Will power and awareness are key to catching them and making new choices. If you find anxiety rising inside, don't battle the feeling. Instead, ask yourself where it comes from and ask if it has any relevance to now. Over time, you will become so familiar with the anxiety it will have no bearing on your present actions and pass a lot quicker.
If you find you are prone to seeing the negative in everything, cognitive reframing is essential to maintain an optimistic outlook and drive positive behaviors. Visualization has been used by top athletes and performers to tap into the desired outcome of any endeavor, but it is just as relevant in day-to-day living. Put aside 10 minutes every day in private to visualize how you want your career, your health or any other aspect of your life to turn out. This will help to map new brain paths and promote a healthier, more relaxed state of mind.
This article was originally published on the author's personal blog.