Illustration: Sequoia Blankenship
Stress gets a bad rap today. Almost daily I read about how to get rid of stress by doing this or that or taking this or that, or more often, not doing this or that. The problem is that the writer or expert doesn't explain what kind of stress he or she is talking about.
Almost everyone not wearing a badge assumes fear of death is the daily stressor on law enforcement officers that causes us to get divorced, drink, drive too fast, and swear too much. The truth is the distress, or bad stress, in our lives is usually the pressure from administrative concerns. The other stuff we pretty much do for recreation.
Eustress, or "good" stress, is the stuff that makes us feel good, get stronger, or otherwise invigorates our "souls." Lifting weights stresses our muscles and they grow stronger in response, and the exercise brings us a sense of wellness or peace; the other meaning of "eu" in Greek is "well."
Now much of the activity involved in fighting crime has a certain element of risk or "high sensation," such as driving fast, and it turns out we find that sensation a very powerful positive stressor. Living fast is a good euphemism for the young crimefighter's lifestyle, but sometimes it behooves us to evaluate ourselves and why we do the things we do.
For instance, no one wants to get divorced going into a marriage (I'm assuming), but many of us have been to the altar several times. My wife, the Sarge, and I talk about writing a marriage manual about how to ruin a marriage since we have each done it twice, giving us a collective wisdom of four failed marriages between us. High-risk, high-sensation folks just need to seek out new sensations, new "Eustress," to make them feel better. Knowing this about yourself could help you better understand your relationships.
Too much of any stress, good or bad, can be overdone, leading to emotional or physical problems. Lift too much and you'll be getting your right pectoral muscle reattached to your arm—a surgery that I, from personal experience, don't recommend. Driving fast may be fun, but the Memorial Wall is full of the names of our brothers and sisters who paid with their lives the price of admission for an "E" ticket ride to a crime.
You see, much of what we find fulfilling and exciting can be destructive to others and ourselves. Once we decide that the person or persons waiting at home just don't understand us, but that cute new K-9 handler will, we are seeking new stress and sensation that may feel positive at first but will be quite distressful later, and not only for us. Speeding through life is intense and exciting, but we need to find eustress that not only gives us a sense of joy, fulfillment, or wellness, but has less destructive side effects than many of the activities that we may be doing today.
Let's look at a favorite of mine, a good glass of wine. Science says two glasses of wine a day is good for my heart. But when two becomes the number of bottles drunk in an evening, we have taken the "eu" and turned it into "dis" as in distress. Some blame the job and its "stresses" for their drinking problem but I don't buy it since drinking is one of the symptoms of being a high-sensation person.
You seek excitement and stimulus and it makes you stronger when you do it properly, but don't blame law enforcement for your three failed marriages and bad liver. You, like the rest of us, sought out the profession because it let you drive fast, provided moments of sheer terror, gave you a pool of other sensation seekers to be around, and was a damn fulfilling job.
Heck, as I said, the greatest distress in law enforcement is "administrative stress." Putting a bunch of high-sensation seekers in a bureaucracy is tough and it is the minority of us who don't find budgets, process, and rigidity stressful. From rookie to chief or sheriff they will all tell you the same thing: "I hate writing and I love driving fast!"
So take an inventory of your habits and hobbies and ask yourself what you do off duty that is eustressful. If your list is too short sit down and come up with others you can seek out, because the day will come when you hang up the uniform and begin your life without lights and sirens. I guess that is why so many of my old amigos have Harleys … sensation!
Dave Smith is an internationally recognized law enforcement trainer and is the creator of "JD Buck Savage." You can follow Buck on Twitter at @thebucksavage.