By Amy Morgan, MSC, CFRC(D), TECC-LEO
If asked which we prefer, feeling happy or feeling depressed, I don’t think any of us would choose “I like to feel depressed.” But feeling positive, or negative, actually has a lot to do with a billion little things that we let enter our lives every day. Because of that, we do have some say-so about how we feel.
Officers tend to see a lot of negative, and all of that negative can start making the world look negative overall. What you see the most becomes what you think is “normal.” Let’s say there are 2 villages. In one village everyone is really really mean, angry all the time, and gloomy. Those who are born into this village learn to be just like everyone else there – gloomy, angry, and mean, because that’s all they see. Village #2 is the opposite - everyone is happy, nice, easygoing, peaceful, and kind. Anyone newly born into either of these villages learns to be the way everyone else there is, just because that’s the “culture” of that village, and what they see every day. If a couple villagers from #1 were to venture over to #2 and stay awhile, most likely they would lose their angry, gruff, mean disposition and find themselves becoming more like everyone they were surrounded by – nice, happy, and easygoing. We tend to become what we are exposed to the most frequently.
If officers are constantly exposed to negatives, like people lying and breaking the law, then they begin to see that happening so frequently that they can begin to think “most” people are this way. Unless an officer can also spend time with positive people, who aren’t involved in the negative behavior, it would change the officer’s view of the world to a negative one. When surrounded by negativity, we start to feel negative, and then act negative.
So what is the answer, for an officer who works every day in environments where people are doing bad things, and treating other people badly? How does an officer avoid starting to see the world overall in a negative way? It’s all about counter-balance. That’s more than just balance, because you don’t really want equal parts good and bad in your life. You want more positive – enough to dilute the negative so that it isn’t such an influence on how you feel.
What kinds of things can actually create this kind of counter-balance positive influence? Pretty much anything that works in positive ways on your brain. You can influence your brain chemistry with what you take in – negative influences start to change the brain’s chemistry in ways that lead to depression and cynicism. Positive influences, though, train your brain chemicals to feel happy and to have hope and optimism about life. It takes purposeful and consistent effort, but saturating yourself with positive influences in your life can actually start to change how you feel about the world and about life overall. And again, wouldn’t you rather choose positivity and happiness, over negativity and pessimism?
These positive influences can be things like exercise (which releases positive brain chemicals – even a brisk walk can do this!), happy music, being around people you like, participating in activities that you enjoy (remember those hobbies you used to love?). For sure, be around people who do good things, and people who support you as an officer. Whatever the negative behavior is that you’re experiencing and being exposed to, find behaviors that are the opposite, and make those a bigger part of your life. If you’re around a lot of people who criticize law enforcement, surround yourself away from the job with people who encourage your career. If you are around selfish people who make bad decisions, try to surround yourself with smart, happy and successful people away from work.
Most importantly, spend as much time doing things that are good for your life, good for your body, good for your mind & emotions, and which lead you to better places rather than more difficult ones. This means.. going for a drink with friends may seem like a positive activity, but when the alcohol starts to become the best part, well, alcohol is a depressant. And not good for your long term goal of a better feeling. If shopping makes you feel better, or gambling, those also might not be great activities for long-term betterment of your life and attitude, because they can start causing more problems. Be sure and introduce beneficial and positive things into your life, and do as much of those as you can.
The more you surround yourself with positivity, the more you will start to think positive, act positive, and then feel more positive. Your mental health is worth the effort, and your whole life will be better because of it.
About the author: Amy Morgan, MSC, CFRC(D), TECC-LEO, is the founder and Director of Academy Hour (www.academyhour.com), a training provider offering mental health & leadership courses to law enforcement, first response teams and public safety personnel. She has earned a Master's degree in Counseling, and holds a Bachelor's of Science in Behavioral Sciences. She previously served as the Training Officer for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. Ms. Morgan is TECC-LEO (Tactical Emergency Casualty Care-LEO) certified, and a member of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association.Let's Talk!