October 27, 2014

Stress Advice from a Washington Cop.

peace officer

In the state of Washington, cops are commissioned as “Peace Officers.”

I really like that, because I’ve been one for almost 18 years.

It’s my job, but it’s a big part of my life, too. I’m one of those cops who likes helping people and solving problems. I’ve also got a lot of varied life experience, and every year I go to Guatemala with my friend Patch Adams (yes the Patch Adams) to clown around.

One thing I’ve learned is that we have plenty of opportunities to be a positive influence on others.

As a cop I never know what to expect from the next phone call or radio dispatch. This call was for “telephone harassment” and the woman was simply beside herself. She told me she regularly has panic attacks, and a recent case of phone harassment had put her over the edge.

I talked to her and joked around a bit to help calm her down, and then I gave her a few strategies for dealing with phone harassment. For me it was really no big deal, but for her it was a major source of stress and I’d been able to chart a course for her to get out of it. When I was done, though, rather than just saying “goodbye” I asked her to tell me more about the panic attack.

She told me she’s been having them for a long time. A few weeks earlier she’d gone to the ER because she thought she was having a heart attack. It turned out to be a panic attack because her anxiety level had simply gotten so high. I asked if anyone had ever coached her on breathing techniques for relaxation (something I do) and she said no.

Right then, while talking to her on the phone, I guided her through a short exercise and she said, “Wow. It’s working!” I replied, “Of course it is.”

She went on to tell me I could have saved her a lot of money if she’d called me instead of going to the ER when she did. I laughed and told her I’d send her a bill. We talked for a bit longer before saying goodbye. The anxiety was gone and she sounded like a completely different woman.

It was just a simple exercise: breathe in for three seconds, hold for three seconds, and exhale for three seconds. It’s easy to remember, and is a basic technique that anyone can use at any time to help start calming down.

What’s the point of this story?

You never know when you’ll have an opportunity to help someone, so be ready. By seeing this opportunity to go beyond my normal “cop” role and helping this woman with her panic attacks, I think I’m living up to the title “Peace Officer.”

You can do the same thing.

When you see someone who is clearly having a rough day, rather than just walk by, you can offer some words of encouragement, a hug or even just a smile. At the very least you can help turn someone’s day around, and you may have a lifelong impact on someone.

Also, it’s been said that when you do a good deed for another not only do both you and that person benefit from it, but also anyone who sees it. I believe that.

So if you find yourself in a stressful situation and the anxiety starts to build just breathe deep and slow. Calm yourself so you can be better able to deal with whatever you’re facing.

We’re all in this together. Peace!

~ Rob Kearney

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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Elvert Barnes/Flickr

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Rob Kearney