Police Psychology: Merry Stressmas
by Gary S. Aumiller, PH.D. ABPP
So I was riding on a train on Wednesday of last week, December 13, 2017, at 6 am in the morning going into New York City for a OASAS seminar. OASAS is the certifying group that allows you to do evaluations on people who got a DWI and recommend the type of treatment they need. I sat down and noticed in the car I was riding on in the train every person, regardless of age, was looking at the phone. I stood up to looked around and over the seats and every last person was looking at Facebook or YouTube or texting or for whatever reason was phone involved. I had my phone packed away in my briefcase and wasn’t going to open it because I never really commuted into the city, so I wanted the experience of watching people on the phone. Then I looked out the window and an absolutely gorgeous sunrise was starting. It was one of those crisp cold clear winter days and the sunrise was there for all to see. Dark shades of red and orange and it looked so absolutely beautiful contrasting some of the dark buildings of Queens New York. It was a sunrise that perhaps you only get 15 of these gems in your whole life and it was there outside the window for all to admire. At least if they’d lift their heads from the phone, which I was the only person on a crowded train that did. I thanked God for giving me a stunning sunrise to watch all by myself, a show just for me apparently. I hoped someone else saw it too, but in my car.
Annoying little kids excited about Santa coming or the Hanukkah fairy, or whatever’s coming. Funny how they forget parents have feelings too. Annoying bosses that want work done before the end of the year. Or quotas to meet before the holidays. Christmas parties we want to go to, combined with Christmas parties we don’t want to go to, combined with a get together we are having at the house where we only wish we could narrow the attendance list by one or two less desirables. Then the family Christmas or Christmas Eve dinner. It is amazing any of us make it through this time.
So, it is no wonder that people have perpetuated the myth that suicide rates are the highest in the holiday season. Then they issue the warning “watch your friends and watch your neighbors to determine if someone is trying to ‘off’ themselves.” (It is sort of like the myth that officers commit suicide at a higher rate than the general public). All are myths or misused statistics perpetuated by people telling them over and over for impact. In fact, the lowest suicide rates are in November and December. Now, one suicide is one too many and leaves a family devastated and wondering what they could have done differently, but the overall effect of the holiday on suicide is very little. Felt stress, however is highly raised at Christmas.
Now for the good news and the bad news. Good news it will be over in a week. Bad news – stress is usually felt after the event and Christmas stress may linger into February. Higher level of anxiety and depression are reported in February through April, the months of Christmas reckoning. So, what is some advice for making the holidays smoother. Three simple tenets.
- Be non-judgmental – Let people be themselves. Correction at Christmas will just start fights. Let some people brag, and some be mischievous, others get beat up or show off their skills, and some be humble all without an ounce of your comment. I always say to clients who get stressed out frequently: “sit back and enjoy the show.” If your injection into a scene is not necessary, just enjoy the show and laugh at it. People are going to hold grudges or change plans, so you are better off letting people be themselves.
- Keep extremely positive – Ever find that when a group like a family gets together it is the sick and the deceased that tends to control the family conversation. Time to get up and walk away, or turn the conversation to good things about the person who is deceased. “It’s a good thing we are all doing well at this table.” Holiday are not the best time to talk about your ills. This goes for all parts of life. If you can turn it positive, you can have a better holiday.
- Play – Many forget to play when the Christmas time comes. Play with the kids, play with the adult, turn it into the Christmas of play. We don’t play enough when we are adults. Stop the anxiety with play. You’ll be surprised how much it help pass time.
And have a very Merry Christmas and last day of Hanukkah!!
Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP
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