As police officers, not only must we be physically prepared to deal with a threat or a high stress situation, we have to be mentally prepared to do so. Experience usually plays a role in how calm an officer will be when under stress, and one of the most obvious cases of this I have seen is when officers are engaged in a vehicle pursuit or are driving Code Three (lights and sirens).
An experienced officer is usually able to keep his/her emotions under control, resulting in clear, calm radio broadcasts. Secondary officers responding to the call know where the officer is, are able to understand what the officer is saying, and are able to paint a picture in their minds about what is happening. Remaining calm on the radio is paramount.
There are several articles and techniques on how to maintain your calm when feeling the effects of an ‘adrenalin dump’, and I’ve located two that are worth taking another look at:
- Dr. Michael J. Asken writes about Tactical Arousal Control Techniques (TACT) in his article THE ADRENALIN DUMP: IT’S MORE THAN JUST BREATHING posted on PoliceOne.com.
- The second article, PURSUIT INDUCED ADRENALIN OVERLOADS, written by Sgt. Charles E. Humes, speaks of how important it is for an officer to control their physiological and emotional arousal levels when faced with a high-stress situation.
I’m going to leave all the professional medical talk and research to those who know it best – the experts. What I am going to mention is how I’ve learned to use one of these techniques to keep me calm.
The very first day of my Block Two training in 1995 (the practical portion of the Police Academy with actual graduation still weeks aways) was the first time I had presented myself to the public while wearing a uniform and a pistol. As far as any citizen knew I had been an officer for years, when the truth of the matter was I was too new to even know how to speak into the police radio! My field trainer and I had only just belted ourselves into the police cruiser when an in progess call was dispatched. It was all I could do to keep from grabbing the “Oh S#@*” handle on the doorpost as my field trainer rocketed the cruiser across the city with the lights flashing and the siren wailing. We made it to the incident, but by the time we got there, I was useless – the adrenalin pumping through my system had overridden my ability to function properly.
Later, after seeing how my body reacted to the call, I focused on learning how to overcome the physiological effects of an adrenalin dump, and it’s a focus I still have to this day. One of the techniques that works for me is when I control my breathing. There are several ways to control your breathing – ‘combat breathing’, ‘four-count breathing’ and ‘diaphragmatic breathing’ (all can be read about in the above linked articles), and I think I use a combination.
These days, not many calls cause me to have a major adrenalin dump – the exception is a vehicle pursuit. A vehicle pursuit, especially when PSD Hondo and I are directly behind the suspect vehicle, will always cause the adrenalin to go racing through my system. But remember what I said in another post about knowledge being power? The same goes for this. I know my adrenalin is going to skyrocket, so before it gets a chance to override my ability to fuction, I take several slow, deep breaths, completely filling and emptying my lungs. Sometimes, I chuff the air out in one harsh breath, and sometimes I breath out slowly – it depends on the situation. I ‘combat breathe’ for as long as it takes for me to gain control over the adrenalin, and until an eerie calm comes over me, enabling me to focus on the task at hand.
Oh, and I whistle. One Block Two recruit out on a recent ride along with me mentioned after a long Code Three run that I whistled while driving. Who knew?