Fearing the Worst

Being a cop's spouse can be emotionally taxing. Develop positive coping skills now to deal with anxiety.

“Honey, I need to hang up.  I’m about to make a traffic stop on a guy with an outstanding warrant.”   

*click* ... 

As a police wife, my mind and emotions began to stir.  Not much at first - I was at work and I had paperwork to do as I was between patients.  However it did start in my mind a familiar conversation of, “Ewww, this is the dangerous part of the job.  But I’m sure he’ll be ok,” followed by a quick, familiar prayer for the safety of everyone involved as I immersed myself at the task at hand.  I had to go about my day as nothing was happening and all is normal. 

But it’s not normal!  This life we live as police spouses is anything but normal.  It’s a very odd existence that is full of roller coaster emotions, yet the world goes on around us as if no tragedy or danger exists.  It is a strange existence, to say the least.

In moments like this, when I know danger lurks and evil may be present, I want the world to stop.  I want to yell, cry, and express my rage at a world that could harm my husband for doing his job.  But I can’t, because the reality is nobody really cares.  Life continues as if nothing is wrong even though I feel as if chaos is invading my world.  Instead I choose to put on my big girl panties and go about my moments (not “time” really, but moments, because breaking it down into breathable moments helps me survive) as if the world is normal.  I go about my day, get busy and focus on what is normal.

As a police spouse it is important to know how to rationally detach from distracting and destructive emotions and thoughts by engaging my coping skills so that the immediate reality does not interfere with being able to function in the moment.  I need to be able to not consume myself with the natural reaction to being afraid, angry, aggravated, helpless, or lonely.  It’s destructive to let my mind entertain the thoughts and visions of every way this call could go wrong. 

I’ve seen, as most LEOs have, dozens of videos of cops dying on traffic stops turned deadly.  I also am a part of social media with facebook and Twitter so I am constantly updated with who died, who was injured, or which police officer had a near death experience that day.  I get it, but in order to survive this life, I have a few tricks that help me remain sane.

Shots of Jagermeister while eating hot fudge sundaes as I online chat with my Latin lover ...
Actually that is exactly what I don’t do!  It’s maybe what my body and mind are telling me to do, but engaging in behaviors that will hurt me only make the anxiety worse because it adds shame to the equation.  Regret in what I have done to myself, my finances, my relationships, and my own self-esteem. 

What I love to do when I am upset or scared is impulse shop, but unplanned expenditures only hurt our budget or cause messes I’ll later need to clean up.  So I have learned that shopping is not an appropriate coping skill and I need to choose others.  We all have something we turn to that comforts emotional unrest in the moment but hurts us long-term. 

Since all spouses and partners go through times of being crap-in-your- pants scared for their LEO it is best to identify what is your negative behavior that becomes a coping skill and to make sure you don’t do that.  It will only make the feelings more intense and unbearable.

60 Second Rule to Positive Thinking
I’ve been taught, and I believe it is attributed to Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi from the University of Chicago when he did his research on the flow of thoughts, that once a negative thought begins we have only 60 seconds to get it under control.  Once the thought goes past 60 seconds it turns into an anxiety. 

The thought begins to snowball, growing at an ever-increasing rate of speed.  It will bounce around in the mind like a ping pong ball, morphing into a problem that is no longer based in reality because it has become exaggerated and distorted. 

For instance, the stressor of my husband doing a routine traffic stop can trigger thoughts of all the stories I have heard or seen of the person he pulled over having a gun in his car, to the last facebook post of the latest casualty of a fellow LEO who died, to pacing my house looking out the windows waiting for a squad to pull up in my driveway with the Chief, Chaplain, & Police Social Worker, to thinking about……. 

It is very easy, and our human nature, for a thought to rapidly turn into an all-consuming anxiety.  An important skill to implement during these times is realizing it is imperative to take control of a thought in the first 60 seconds after it begins.   How this is accomplished is by first recognizing the thought and then changing the negative thought by engaging in positive self-talk. 

So, in the first 60 seconds I will begin to soothe myself by saying, “Knock this off.  It’s going to be ok.  You’re talking yourself into frenzy.  Mike is skilled at what he does.  He does this all the time.  I know he is not doing this alone.  I trust his beat partner, his coworkers, the dispatchers, and his command staff.  So get busy and change the channel or it will ruin your day.” 

I then become intentional in channeling my thoughts into positive behaviors.  Positive thinking is a discipline and takes a lot of practice.  Negative thinking is human nature.  So keep at it; I’ve heard it takes 90 days to start a new habit and 90 days to break one.  Positive thinking will become a habit if you put the work into it, and it is a lot of work!

Changing the Channel
Another important skill is to “change the channel” by changing my immediate reality.  This involves focusing on thoughts and behaviors that fuel me with positive energy. 

For me those behaviors are: reading a good book, exercising, taking my puppy to the dog park, engaging in socialization with friends who are positive (I stay away from complainers, blamers, shamers, and worriers, for they only encourage or reinforce negative thinking or bad moods), or it can be as simple as catching up on Words With Friends.  I have coping skills I can turn to quickly and that I enjoy, and I have a mental list of them so I am prepared and it does not require any thought in the moment. Turning to them becomes automatic and a habit. 
So, if you do not already have such a list on hand, I suggest writing down 5 things you can do that can be immediately obtainable and that fill you with positive energy in moments of anxiety.  Find out what works for you.
Mike and I have recently been thinking a lot about anxieties and how they create chaos when unchecked.  Next month we’ll look further at some of the very practical skills and steps you can put to use immediately to allay fears in a very uncertain world.
Follow Mike and Althea on Facebook or on their website www.MoreThanACop.com.


Leadership From the Line

What is it that officers need from their supervisors? What do they expect?  

Lessons By the Decades: Virginia Tech Massacre

Law enforcement lessons learned from the 2007 shooting on the campus of Virginia Tech continue to inform our response to tactical incidents today. 

North Charleston – Patience Under Fire

The video released this weekend showing a North Charleston (S.C.) Officer shooting an un-armed Walter Scott looks bad. That was the first thought I had, and ...

End of Watch, March 2015

Longest streak without an LODD due to gunfire comes to an end

Madison Police Shooting Response Contrasts with Ferguson

Actions taken have been done so to avoid Ferguson problems.

Dealing With Trust Issues

In a tight-knit unit, you can't abuse trusting relationships