Tensions have flared in McKinney, Texas after a pool party got out of hand. Video taken by a local teen shows a police officer ‘barrel rolling’ across the grass, shouting at teenaged partygoers, wrestling a young girl to the ground, and most disturbing of all, pulling his firearm in the midst of the chaos. The police officer on the viral video has now officially resigned and is facing a criminal investigation. During the course of trying to do his job, this officer became overwhelmed by the anxiety of the situation before he even arrived at the location. As a result, according to his police chief, “he came into the call out of control, and as the video shows, was out of control during the incident.” In a nutshell, the officer reacted to his anxiety inappropriately by skipping over other tools at his disposal and choosing a potentially lethal tool. He came into a chaotic situation and, instead of taking action to control the scene he reacted to his perception of where the situation could lead. He made a poor choice but, fortunately, no one was seriously injured.
Just like this officer, we all have a toolbox at our disposal for dealing with stress and anxiety. Each situation we are presented with allows us a new opportunity to choose the correct tool. We can choose less extreme tools first, such as mindful breathing, or we can overreact and move straight to a harmful coping strategy. Each tool in our toolbox has a situation where it is more useful and, just like a mechanic, the more we practice using them the easier it becomes to select the correct tool. If, for example, when visiting a relative’s house for dinner questions about relationships cause high levels of stress and anxiety, prepare responses in advance to let the relatives know that you prefer to discuss other things. If that does not help, take some deep breaths to calm yourself or, you might even excuse yourself from the room to take a break from the conversation. If necessary, you are always free to leave. You do not have to resort to negative or harmful coping skills such as drinking or isolation. There should be no place in your toolbox for negative or harmful coping skills. They take up too much room and are too heavy to carry around on a daily basis.
Each new challenge we face gives us a fresh opportunity to use our tools so it is good to occasionally take an inventory and see what we have or what we may need to add. Some of the items in your personal toolbox could include quality sleep, deep breathing, mindful contemplation, exercise, reframing skills, access to a support group, a good book, music, or a deep love for yourself. These tools can be used together for even more effective results. It is possible to combine soothing music with mindful contemplation and deep breathing to find or maintain calm. Mindful contemplation can be combined with exercise to actively work through issues while working out. Find out what works for you and use it. If you don’t have it available, find a way to acquire it. Do what it takes to take care of yourself.
What tools do you have in your toolbox? Which tools could you add?