Especially as a cop, rolling into a fight is often just as bad as the fight. You’re tense, you’re trapped, you have no output for your energy, and you’re just waiting for the opportunity to jump out of the car and do work. The swing of the door going open is often a joy, and a fight over before you get there, a disappointment. This has nothing to do with the fight itself, but more our physiological responses to threats.
As much as this article addresses the stresses of being a cop, it will also be reminiscent of the experiences of troops. Believe it or not, your stress response when being stuck in traffic, fighting an arrestee, or actually being in a gunfight, is all the same stress response, it is just a matter of degree.
Operating in the Yellow:
Whether a deployed troop, or a cop on the road, you should be operating in yellow. Maintain awareness, scan your surroundings occasionally, people watch around you. Know that it can pop off at any time, but don’t let that ruin your day. Eat your food, drink your drink, talk to people, be a person, but be ready for the starter’s pistol. As a general rule, you should empty your bladder and bowels frequently. There’s nothing worse then rolling into something hot, and having to ignore your physiology. Just like an excited dog, make sure you’re actually ready for the fight.
So you just got your mission brief, or the radio just toned with something bad. Your heart rate goes up, and you’re on your way. There’s two ways to hone your focus and lower your stress while you’re en route.
The first one is visualization. Use the call details, your knowledge of the landscape, your knowledge of tactics, your knowledge of opponents, and your knowledge of teammates to game plan your action upon arrival. Consider alternatives and contingencies. This can be helpful for people who find themselves unable to think once excited. Getting the brain cranking again can break your physiological excitement and slow things down. For me, it has the opposite effect. While I still find it good to think about the call, I also found that my visualization of worst case scenarios often excited me more than the situation called for. Of course, worst case scenario thinking can prepare you for bad calls, but the truth is, most of the time, it sounds worse than it is, and your reaction will be better than you think.
The second strategy is consciousness. Being conscious isn’t just being awake, but rather being aware of your present world. Notice the way the steering wheel is gripped by your hands, the air conditioning blowing in your face, the glint of the sun of the front of your car, the smell of sweat and your neglected lunch. These are the details that might snap you out of your own inner dialogue, help you acknowledge, but not react to, the more concerning parts of the call. I have found this particularly helpful to slow down my brain while en route to something bad.
As a component of consciousness, you can use another meditative strategy known as “noting.” Your thoughts and emotions while rolling to a fight can be overwhelming. Simply acknowledging the most pronounced emotion you are experiencing can break it. Angry. Anxious. Fearful. Frustrated. Thinking these words aloud in acknowledgement of your own emotional reaction can interrupt the emotion, and put you on an even keel. I have found that a combination of consciousness, and noting, has led to me being a lot cooler in situations that were anything but.
Any time you’re excited, you can use tactical or “box” breathing. This technique tricks your body into relaxation, allowing you to avoid being overwhelmed. This is particularly useful when en route to critical incidents, where more alarming information is coming out by the second. Breathe for a four count in, four count hold, four count out, and a four count hold. I have toyed with the formula and find that if I breathe a four count in, a six count hold, a four count out, and a two count hold, it gives me a very relaxed demeanor. Now if you’re worried you’ll be too relaxed, don’t be, the stresses of the immediate moment will make it difficult to focus on your breathing, and your stress will only be stymied not stopped. This is a very useful, and life saving technique.
In summary, always be ready for the fight, but not too ready, use visualization and consciousness to achieve focus, and use breathing to slow yourself down. Use these techniques, and you can roll into the dirtiest fight with a huge advantage.