Are You Mentally Fit For Duty?
Author: Captain J.C. (Buddy) Johnson
Georgia State Patrol, Troop G Command
FBINAA Georgia Chapter - Chaplain
FBINA Session #244
When we discuss the term fit for duty, most officers immediately think of the physical and tactical aspects of the job and the requirements necessary to meet those challenges. Pushups, sit ups, runs, sprints, weapons training, patrol/pursuit driving, and investigative techniques may be what comes to your mind. While the physical and tactical fitness aspect of our job is certainly important, it is only a portion of the true fitness we need to effectively complete a safe, rewarding, and successful career in law enforcement.
To focus solely on the physical and tactical aspects of police work that prepare us for a stressful encounter is like preparing a perfectly seasoned roast and putting it in the oven at 350 degrees and letting it cook. At the perfect time you remove it and serve one great meal. Then you put the leftover roast back in the oven for later but forget the oven is still on. Later you return and find a piece of dried out jerky instead of that awesome roast you had earlier. No matter how prepared we are for a high stress event, if we don’t focus on the aftermath, the heat will remain on and the stress levels will overtake our emotions and mindset.
Are we mentally prepared for the aftermath of a high stress encounter? While working out makes muscles stronger and tendons limber, we must also exercise our brain, more specifically we must get an understanding of our true inner psyche. What makes us tick? How do we positively motivate ourselves under stress? What can we do to consciously control our mental state in the days, weeks, months and years following inherent stressful incidents that we encounter as police officers?
Recently the term “spiritual mental healing” has surfaced in police training discussions and other stress related professions. Often because of the term “spiritual”, it is wrongfully associated ONLY with religious genres. While religion can certainly be a positive “spiritual trigger”, the definition of spiritual in the term “spiritual mental healing” is defined more often as; “Relating to or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things”. In other words, our personal motivators that direct our thoughts and actions and dictate our moral compass and emotions not necessarily during the stressful event but more often in the aftermath of it.
Post Traumatic Syndrome (PTS) is a term frequently used by the military and in the law enforcement community. PTS-D (Diagnosed) is the most commonly known acronym, but most law enforcement officers never actually get officially diagnosed. We are often creatures of ego and denial. We try to convince the people around us that we are Superman and nothing can harm us. The truth is we are often all struck with some level of “kryptonite” during our career and depending on how well we handle our spiritual mental fitness will often determine how well we cope with the PTS that comes from those stressful events.
Ok, so what in the world am I talking about? Police train constantly for the impending stresses that may occur on any given day in our career. For example- firearms, driving, SWAT entry, Interrogation, active shooter, pursuits, investigations, you name it. Through that training we find that when the proverbial “fecal matter hits the oscillator” we subconsciously revert to our training tactics and perform accordingly. That’s great provided you have been trained properly of course. That said, what about the aftermath of the stressful event? The let down and the reality check that will come once everything has settled? How much training have we done to cope with that? In most cases, very little. Law enforcement agencies often fail to recognize that traumatic stressful events don’t end immediately for the individuals involved.
Take this example. Think of a loved one in your life. Now take a moment to imagine the unimaginable… You lose that person to a tragic event. Right now, an emotion should have flooded your body, a depression or fear or anger of some sort. For those who have experienced this terrible tragedy, you know what I am talking about. That emotional feeling will NEVER subside and if not addressed it will consume the mind and body. The aftermath will be as stressful as or even more so than the actual event itself. So ask yourself this… What training has prepared me for this? Likely… none. That means your psyche will have to revert to a default “fight or flight” setting and it will immediately begin looking for a way to offset the emotional drop. This is the danger zone for some officers as many of the default solutions are “negative triggers” that will result in added stress and lead to even larger problems such as chemical dependency, withdrawal from society, uncontrolled anger, eating disorders, etc. which can often take work stress and make it personal stress such as divorce, family dysfunction, medical complications, workplace violence, job loss, suicidal thoughts, legal issues, jail, and more. All of which compound the original stress factors and ultimately create a spiraling cyclone that will grow either until a strong positive intervention is introduced, or a tragic death occurs.
What can we do to train ourselves spiritually? Well, first and foremost we have to identify some positive motivators that are specific to our personalities and lifestyle. It is important to understand that what works for one person does not work for all. Just because I have a regimen that is fool proof doesn’t mean that my regimen is going to work for you. Ideas to consider will depend on you knowing what affects you emotionally. Just like training physically or tactically, we must utilize these triggers regularly so that they become engrained in our thoughts and ultimately become our new psyche default. Take music for example. When you hear certain songs, do they change your emotions or thoughts? I know I hear some songs that remind me of good times or tough times. Certain music may make us happy, excited, or sad and angry. That is what I am referring to when I say “triggers”. It is very important to understand that while identifying positive triggers that we can use to boost our emotions, it is equally important to identify the negative triggers that may create sad or angry emotions in us. By getting a grasp of what moves you positively and negatively, you can focus on removing as many negative triggers possible and begin replacing them with positive ones.
While songs may be one avenue for some people, other ideas may include personal memories or connections through pictures, books, television programs, movies, hobbies, sports, religion, land marks, aromas, exercise, you name it. All of these things may trigger positive emotions in a person and create a solid default buffer to stressful situations we have encountered. The goal is to find the things that help you remove the depression at the moment it begins to take over. While some PTS issues will never be fully removed they can become manageable. When we can manage our stress, we can cope with our lives and everyone around us wins.
The key to all of this is acceptance that stress is real in our lives and memories do trigger emotional reactions in our mind. By combatting the negative triggers with positive ones, we can continue to function in society, positively impact our loved ones, move forward in our career and above all lessen the chance of a catastrophic breakdown in our life or health.
The subject matter of spiritual mental healing is much deeper than this article, but it is important to grasp a few basic points.
- Accept the fact that spiritual mental healing is real and can be obtained.
- Know that there is NO ONE FOOL PROOF TRIGGER for every person and everyone is different.
- While spiritual healing is a great tool and it is a great immediate buffer for PTS, it does not necessarily negate other PTS (D) programs. Peer support groups, Employee Assistance Program, and General Psychological help channels should always be considered in PTS (D) situations.
Through continued study and research, I hope to see more and more agencies begin to adopt this type of training into their regimen. While we must keep our physical and tactical training sharp, ignoring the spiritual and mental aspect of stress management can be detrimental to many good law enforcement officers. Let’s get on top of this now, and evolve to the next level of positive police work.
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