When your life is defined by how much you do for the world—the difference you make to those around you—it feels counter-intuitive to hit the PAUSE button. But what if a simple pause held more happiness and an increased ability to care for the world? Yes, by slowing down it’s possible to do more! Read on to discover why hitting "pause" reduces stress and is especially beneficial if you have a high-stress role.
Are you a "Type A" public safety professional?
Type A perfectionists have a lot going for them. They are go-getters: always on the move, taking care of business, and providing for those they care about. They are attentive on the job and take pride in the quality of their work. The world would likely be a better place if more had this kind of work ethic.
There can be a downside to all this productivity, though. A feeling of incompletion lingers over most tasks (“perfect” doesn’t come easy). Being good at “doing” makes it difficult to stop, even when there’s time for a break. Years of saying “yes” makes saying “no” a foreign and uncomfortable concept. Add to this a caregiver mindset, and it’s a perfect storm.
When your life is defined by how much you do for the world—the difference you make to those around you—it feels counter-intuitive to hit the PAUSE button. But what if a simple pause held more happiness and an increased ability to care for the world? Yes, by slowing down it’s possible to do more!
Several studies in the fields of happiness research, positive psychology and 9-1-1 point to the power of learning how to slow down, stop, then look around every once in a while.
Overthinking: A barrier to 911 dispatcher satisfaction
A fast-paced life with an overfilled plate begins in the mind. Anxiety about the future or a hypervigilant worldview often translates as an inability to sit still. Even while physically sitting still, we get caught up in unproductive thought-loops, ruminating about any number of daily challenges.
One of the first-ever large-scale studies of happiness in daily life, conducted at www.trackyourhappiness.com, found a direct correlation between time spent ruminating and lower happiness levels.
Other studies repeatedly link excessive rumination to adverse mental and physical health outcomes. As Dr. Hendrika Meischke says in her 2015 study, “Being overly committed psychologically and emotionally to a high-stress job may result in more numerous and/or more frequent stress symptomatology in 9-1-1 telecommunicators.”
Said in another way, overthinking the stressful aspects of your day can lead to experiencing more stress symptoms, including insomnia, anxiety, depression and anger.
If overthinking is associated with lower happiness levels and more stress symptoms, what can we do about it? Thankfully, Dr. Meischke’s study also offers a potential solution. The study, which polled a large sample of 9-1-1 telecommunicators, found that mindfulness, or the ability and willingness to pay attention to, recognize and process one’s experiences without judgment
and in the moment, was associated with fewer symptoms of stress.
This solution should be in every public safety pro's "tool kit"
Mindfulness is literally the antidote to the stress effects caused by overthinking. Setting aside just a few minutes each day can help you tap the power of mindfulness and experience its positive effects.
5 steps to decompress
1. Find a quiet, private place where you cane undistracted for a few minutes. For instance, close your door and put your phone in airplane mode.
2. Sit comfortably, with back straight but relaxed.
3. Focus your awareness on your breath, staying attentive to the sensations of the inhalation and exhalation, and start again on the next breath.
4. Do not judge your breathing or try to change it in any way.
5. See anything else that comes to mind as a distraction—thoughts, sounds, whatever. Let them go and return your attention to your breath.
consistent mindfulness reduces stress
To get the full benefit of your mindfulness practice, doing it daily and on a consistent basis works best. Think of it like a mental exercise routine. One day at the gym won’t produce instant results, but after a few weeks the body begins to change. In one study, after 8 weeks of mindfulness practice, a group of employees at a high-pressure workplace shifted from a baseline of
“stressed-out” to “resilient.” The practice was found to rewire the brain for a less stressful response to environmental stressors.
If you don’t have blocks of time to set aside for your mindfulness practice, that’s ok too. Maria Gonzalez, author of “Mindful Leadership: The 9 Ways to Self-Awareness, Transforming Yourself and Inspiring Others,” suggests using “micro meditations,” that can be done several times a day for one to three minutes at a time.
You can easily incorporate breath awareness - anywhere
Periodically throughout the day—while speaking with a caller, broadcasting on the radio, spending time with family or driving, for example—become aware of your breath. First, notice the quality of your breathing. Is it shallow or deep? Are you holding your breath or hunching your shoulders? Next, start breathing into the belly. If the mind wanders, just bring yourself back to
the breath. In time, you’ll be better able to quickly connect with the breath, along with the specific task before you.
Additional benefits of mindfulness
Aside from reducing the frequency and severity of stress symptoms, mindfulness also helps cultivate more patience and positivity. When the mind is no longer stuck in overdrive, it’s easier to relax, both physically and mentally. Being able to relax is an important aspect of making time for it. If you feel like you can’t relax, you’ll continue to plow yourself into more work. Which is fine, until it isn’t.
Taking time for yourself in the ways mentioned above, if only for a few minutes each day in the midst of your busy-ness, is the key to your health and longevity.
By doing a little less, starting today, you will ultimately end up doing more.
Goleman, D. (2016) Resilience for the Rest of Us. Mindfulness: HBR Emotional Intelligence Series, p. 47-54. La Vergne: Harvard Business Review Press.
Gonzalez, M. (2014) Mindfulness for People Who Are Too Busy to Meditate. Mindfulness: HBR Emotional Intelligence Series, p. 89-96. La Vergne: Harvard Business Review Press.
Meischke, H., Painter, I., Lilly, M., Beaton, R., Revere, D., Calhoun, B., Seeley, K., Carslay, Y., Moe, C., Baseman, J. (2015) An Exploration of Sources, Symptoms and Buffers of Occupational Stress in 9-1-1 Emergency Call Centers. Annals of Emergency Dispatch and Response.
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About the Author
Adam Timm is the president and co-founder of The Healthy Dispatcher. Previously a 9-1-1 telecommunicator with the Los Angeles Police Dept. for over a decade, Adam now provides leadership and resilience training to PSAPs around the country. His second book, Dispatcher Stress: 50 Lessons on Beating the Burnout, is out now. Visit www.thehealthydispatcher.com for more.
Also available at watsonconsoles.com, How the Best Comm Centers Motivate Frontline Employees.