Posts Tagged ‘stress’

Police Psychology | Sleep

By Doug Gentz, Ph.D., Psychological Services

Chapter 1 of the excellent book on sleep Wide Awake at 3:00 A.M. by Richard M. Coleman describes the police psychology sleep“biological clock” that all organisms have built into their nervous systems. Research indicates that the biological clock in a human being’s brain operates on a 25 hour day, about an hour slower than the 24 hour rotation cycle of the earth.

Well designed, frequently replicated experiments

show that if a human being is placed in an environment (think of a cave) without any time cues and left to their own devices regarding when they sleep and wake up, he or she will reliably go to sleep an hour later every night and then awaken an hour later the next morning. So if our human subject goes to bed at midnight the first night we can assume he will wake up about 0800 the next day. That night he will tend not to go to bed till 0100 and then sleep till 0900 followed by going to bed at 0200 and getting up at 1000. On day 12 our subject will be going to bed at noon and waking up at 2000 and on day 24 he’ll be back where he started. This natural tendency is called “free-running” and will continue as long as the experiment goes on.

This tendency, while real and ever-present, is weak. It can easily be overcome by the presence of time cues (light, dark, clocks, etc) and self-discipline. It will have a noticeable effect when sleep cycles become irregular. If a subject who goes to bed during the work week at midnight stays up an hour later (0100) on his Friday and then an extra two hours later on his Saturday (0200), then counting the extra hour, he probably won’t want to get up on Sunday until 1100 and won’t feel like sleeping till 0300 that night. When the alarm goes off five hours later at 0800, he’s three hours short of sleep and may feel a little jet-lagged. Every time a person has to “reset” their biological clock there is an uncomfortable adjustment of some degree ranging from having a hard time waking up to the actual disorienting jet lag experience people have when crossing time zones, especially going east. These adjustments have the short term effect of degrading performance and have long term negative effects on health.

The counter measure to those negative effects is to interfere, to the best of your ability, with your natural tendency towards “free-running.” The most effective way to do that is to do your best to get up at the same time every day, within an hour, seven days out of seven. When you get up turns out to be much more important then when you go to bed.

 

Blog by Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D.

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Police Psychology | Emotional Labor in the Workplace

 

Police psychology has to deal very often with an ultimate question: does the person really like being a police officer?   For the most part the answer is “yes…but” with the “but” usually being something about a boss. Everyone Police psychology: frustrated girllikes to complain about his or her job, yet when you really think about it, does your boss expect too much of you? When the average person asks this question to him or herself, the common considerations that you would judge would most likely be: “Does my work keep me ridiculously late? Are my quotas realistic? Am I being paid corresponding equally to the amount of work I invest in my job?” There is actually something much more important to consider. Put the physical labor you invest into your work on hold for one moment and consider something much less tangible: emotional labor. Taking emotional labor into account, ask yourselves once more: are our jobs expecting too much from us?

The Managed Heart

In order to understand this question fully, we need to explore exactly what emotional labor means. Early psychologists and sociologists focused on the rational, enlightened individual, ignoring emotions and feelings altogether. That great for “rational, enlightened individuals,” I think I even met one once many years ago, but what about the rest of us normal people? In fact, even when normal individuals begin exploring emotions, they tend to do it on a societal level, ignoring how emotions are involved in personal, day-to-day interactions. Arlie Hochschild, a renowned sociologist, discusses the concept of the “managed heart.” In this exploration of emotions, she explores how they relate and are expressed in social interactions among individuals, sort of a real thing.

When Hochschild refers to the managed heart, she is referencing an idea she calls emotional labor. Emotional labor, much like physical or mental labor, requires effort, especially when done in public or for an institution or organization. Most people create a public façade that is in line with the expectations of society. They say when a cop puts on the uniform, they put on a “cop personality.” But that happens with others too. For instance, a flight attendant is required to smile, regardless of how they are really feeling inside. This requires tremendous effort, particularly when they are tired or upset about something, or just having a BFD (bad day). This problem, when there is a disjunctive between how a person really feels and the emotional display necessary for a situation, it can lead that person to feel isolation from their emotions, like their emotions are just a “thing” used for work and not something very private and very personal. In short, they can feel alienated from their own emotions! This is what is called isolation of affect. Isolation of affect can wear you down and cause your job to have emotional labor. Now if you followed all that without drifting off, you got a really important concept down. And if you drifted to a Caribbean beach, with bikini clad women or hunky men (your choice) , take me with you next time I need a break.

kid tantrum, police psychologyHochschild refers to the idea of transmutation to explain that things that we normally manage in private (like our feelings and emotions) are now being dictated by organizational rule books. In general, people apply latent feeling rules to all situations, changing their emotions based on how they think they should react to situations, but now, with the advent of emotion as a form of labor, people are required to socially engineer their emotions based on company policy or social requirements. So now, an employer is feeling like they not only bought your physical labor and intellective skills, but some emotional labor as well. That sort of sucks!

Companies value communication and interactions with other individuals and, above all, social appropriateness. This is significant because if you are feeling emotionally drained while working on a machine, you didn’t used to need to hide it, but now depending on the company you might. The rules change from company to company, and sometimes it is hard to know what the rules are until you “mess up.” When you are working with people, there is always an expectation that you will manage your true feelings and only display that which is appropriate or acceptable for the situation (ie. smiling on the job, being sad at a funeral, etc…). (Unless you are a lawyer, then you have no rules). The labor of controlling your emotions is now a large part of the job and a part it takes people some time to understand.

Instruments of Labor

Darwin considers emotions instinctual; Freud considers emotions as part of libido. Hochschild differs in her understanding of emotion because she sees emotion as being constructed by individuals through interactions with others. This concept of emotion also differs from our typical understanding of emotion in human jargon, in which emotions are seen as sensual, angry, sad…essentially extensions of our inner beings. But Hochschild converts emotion into an “instrument of labor”—a commodity bound by the laws of supply and demand. This suggests emotions and emotional management is no longer private, individualized, but instead structured according to rules and external expectations.

Although Hochschild’s study was with flight attendants, the idea behind emotional labor is not limited to that profession. Any time you need to put on a fake smile for your job, anytime you need to be falsely cheerful, or pretend to commiserate with a client, you are using your emotions as a form of free labor. If your boss has ever demanded of you good cheer regardless of how you’re feeling, or if you’re a waiter or waitress dealing with particularly rude customers and you’re still expected to put a smile on your face, you’re using your emotions as a form of free labor.

In police psychology, you have to be well attuned to this as cops are major emotional managers. I see this concept fairly frequently in my therapy sessions. Sometimes I will ask someone how they feel about something going on in their life, and instead of getting an honest answer, I can tell these people are telling me what they think I want them to feel. In other words, they are managing their emotions based on perceived “rules” of therapy and society. I don’t let them get away with that. I usually use a very graphic, creative, and often times funny way of embarrassing and causing pain to someone when a cop hits me with an appropriate way of dealing with someone who has frustrated them with emotional labor. I usually get a laugh and an agreement, then I can go into the concept of emotional labor with them. A Chris Rock version of police psychology, I guess. It works!

Now consider the emotional labor you invest in your work and once more ask yourselves: is your job expecting too much of you?

Police psychology: simple stepsThree Ways to Reduce Emotional Labor

  1. Try to compartmentalize emotions and distinguish between “work” emotions and “home/real emotions.” Have a separate space for each. Find friends that you can totally tell everything to about your emotions. Sometimes a spouse is good for that, but frequently they are not because they are so intertwined in your life. Be careful when you find this person because you will become exceptionally close to this person and you don’t want to risk your marriage to them.
  2. Stay in touch with your own emotions by keeping a journal or emotion diary to explore how you really feel about something (to prevent alienation from your own emotions). We don’t want you getting to a point where you can’t laugh anymore and where your built of frustration explodes.
  3. I don’t refer people to the helping professions often, but I will this time. If you can find a therapist to help you sort it out, structure them with the idea of isolation of affect and emotional labor and keep them on task when they are talking to you. You will get a lot out of it.

Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D.

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Rumors, Gossip, and Urban Legends

 

Gossip

Rumors, gossip, and urban legends are all motivated by different things, and lead to various repercussions.

Every profession in the world deals with rumors and gossip, and police psychology is no different. Much like how animals tend to migrate toward large water sources, where they can find safety in like animal-friends, people tend to drift toward the water cooler to hang out with individuals of the same corporate “species.” Yet, just as with animals, the water source can also be a dangerous place where predators lie in wait of innocent prey to wander by. The water cooler at any organization usually has its share of predators.

Predators at the Water Cooler causing Stress

Who—or what—are the predators you may encounter? Rumors, gossip, and urban legends: the downfall of many individuals and organizations. These things can ruin a person just as easily as a human can crush an ant—and usually with less remorse. It is very common, in fact it is practically human instinct, to gather at the water cooler and gossip. “Did you hear…” or “Can you believe what X did,” takes the place of a cry of pain, a stalking of a poor helpless animal, or a roar of conquest. Yet these very instinctive sayings emerge from very different motivations, and each results in different repercussions.

Understanding Rumors

Rumors satisfy a basic human drive: the need for security. Rumors are often ambiguous, yet informative and newsworthy. They are unverified, and thus there is no guarantee they are true. Rumors are also used in order to make sense out of things and tame a fear. Rumors tend to be more global, and thus result in more generalized consequences. Saying a plant will be closing down, or a police department is going to start making officers accountable to civilian review are examples of rumors that could have great impact on organizations. Rumors often result in the destruction of an organization’s reputation or status quo.

Understanding Gossip

Everyone loves to gossip: from celebrity gossip to who ate whose sandwich at work, people always find something to talk about. Gossip is for people who feel that they do not belong and thus try to fit in. Gossip is generally motivated by a sense (or a fear) of social isolation. A person is trying to fit into the group, or trying to manage the social network of the organization, will often try to break up other bonds so he or she can form his own bonds. So they start to gossip. This could also be an attempt to elevate his/her status within the group. While rumors tend to be more large-scale, gossip tends to be private behavior. “I saw Joe kissing the bosses wife.” It gets personal. It is gossip that tends to destroy an individual person’s reputation.

Understanding Urban Legends

When most people think of urban legends, they picture sitting around a campfire telling ghost stories. While this is certainly one way people understand urban legends, they are actually far more than folklore, myths, and ghost stories. Urban legends help people make meaning out of something; they endorse values and mores. A popular urban legend that gained notoriety when cars were first being marketed for the public domain involved a boyfriend driving with his girlfriend through a forest, breaking down, and eventually being killed by a psychopathic killer on the loose. This urban legend was started by worried parents and religious persons who were afraid cars would provide their children with new opportunities to have sex without being under watchful eyes. That was even before Elvis. Urban legends, when used in the corporate world, can destroy a value system of a company. Urban legends can be as innocent as the recounted story, or as harmful as the one that maintained General Motors was owned by Arabs and thus discouraged people from doing business with them.

gossiping babies

The #1 way to fight rumors, gossip, and urban legends is to speak up.

Each of these water cooler fantasies is socially different, but each can be destructive in their own way. I will be writing much more on this in future blogs and many can see me talk about this topic when I travel to police departments and corporations. For now, one bit of advice:

The #1 tip for dealing with rumors, gossip, and urban legends

 

Rumors, gossip, and urban legends are like counter-intelligence during war: they need to be corrected before they send a battalion on a wild goose chase. It is so easy to use the things you hear to evaluate another person’s performance, when in fact, this should have no bearing on it at all. Don’t use another person’s evaluation to determine the worth of something. The first rule for overcoming these water cooler predators may seem so simple, but it is often ignored. They will not disappear if you don’t say anything—and if you don’t say the same thing consistently. The actual idea that the best thing to do is ignore it is an urban legend all to itself. The next time you gather with your friends, co-workers, or family and someone says, “Hey, did you hear…” don’t just shrug your shoulders and listen. Instead, say something. And no, don’t respond by saying an even juicier piece of gossip—tell them that what they are doing is wrong and harmful, dispute it with evidence, tell them they will have to prove that one to you. Confront them. Make sure you do this every time someone opens his or her mouth to say something gossipy or rumor like. It may not make a difference the first time, or even the tenth time you say something, but slowly but surely we can create a new culture – a culture in which rumors, gossip, and urban legends have no place. This will help bring simplicity back into your life. 

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Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP

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Psychological  Shot-Peening

Let’s talk about an often overlooked police psychology concept – shot-peening.

controlled-shot-peening

The scientific ideas behind shot peening can be used to help explain mental health in stressful professions.

Now, I know shot peening isn’t a top 10 on anyone’s choice of psychological technique, but before you click on that little “x” button, hear me out. We’ve been discussing how scientific theories can extend to your head, and the practice of shot-peening is another example. Shot-peening is a process in which metal is hit with small bits of material, called “shot,” in order to prevent microcracks from turning into fissures. In the process, the metal becomes much stronger because the compressed fibers are now pushed tightly together. However, just like candy, ice cream, and the worm from a bottle of tequila, the benefits from shot-peening must be tempered by moderation. There is real truth to that favorite saying of dentists, doctors, and parents, “too much of a good thing is a bad thing.” If the welded metal is hit too many times, it can either bend or break—and neither of those outcomes is a good idea. In fact, the last thing you want to hear when you are on an airplane is, “It appears we are suffering from some technical difficulties. It seems the wings of the plane are…bending….”  That’s worse than, “I’m sorry sir, but we seem to be out of peanuts on this flight.”

Emergency room physicians, nurses, cops, even business people in strenuous times, are shot-peened. The exposure to pain and human suffering can strengthen them in a way that nothing else can. You can swing a bat all you want, but until you actually step up to the plate, look the pitcher in the eye, and play in a real game, you are not ready to face a 97-mile an hour pitch coming at you. Sure, the training you do can help prepare you, but it is your participation in many actual baseball games that strengthens your skills and gives you the experience to be a ball player. With cops, training is necessary and important, but the actual work they do is what strengthens them, consolidates their abilities and makes them calm and cool under pressure, able to tune out negative voices and trust in their own abilities.

The results of too much stress

ball_peen_hammer

Don’t let the stress in your life overwhelm you until you break.

But, shot-peening has a flip side too. Too much exposure to suffering, threats, and high-risks can be detrimental to the head of a cop. Too much crisis in business makes a person unable to react effectively. We call this operational stress (as opposed to institutional stress, lifestyle stress and traumatic stress). And just like with metal, there are two possible consequences for a man or woman — they can bend or they can break. If they break, they may experience a mental or emotional breakdown, or just decide to quit. If they bend, they can get too comfortable with suffering and problems, and develop an indifference to it. Neither of these possibilities seems good. As in metals, no two people are identical, and thus everyone can handle a different amount of stress before they break or bend.

How to deal with Stress

Engineers have developed a formula to determine exactly how much strain a piece of metal can handle before it cracks. You don’t hear engineers going around yelling, “You stupid piece of metal! Why can you handle less shot-peening than that other piece of metal?!” Rather, they reinforce the metal with other pieces in order to give it back its formerly solid grounding.

No one has a “people” formula. That’s why psychologists exist. Be aware of the shot-peeing you have been under, then read a good blog or talk it out, evaluate how you want to manage your time, and help create simplicity in life before you feel like you’ve been hit with a ball “peen” hammer.  Same principle, but the indentation it causes are bigger.

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Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP

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