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Police stress sample essay


Stress is a psychological factor and a common feature of almost every kind of work. But it is important to note that it was only in the mid-70s that industrial psychologists focused their attention on the importance of stress in the workplace. “To serve and protect,” is the law enforcers’ motto as he works to accomplish the goals of his job which is primarily to provide protection to the citizens of his state. There accompanies with the work the kind of people whose shady and dark characters pursue the primary purposes in life which are to commit a crime and study ways to evade the long arm of the law.

In policing work, stress is not underestimated but rather an important and critical aspect of the job (“it goes with the territory,” so to speak); stress comes in different forms. It is a given then, that police work is pictured as a form of service where the challenges are not the same as the regular kind of job; more so when the person is in active post or duty and expected to meet the most difficult types of experiences but usually on a regular basis. It is this scenario that this paper explores and presents to the reader the nuances of the job, the stresses a police officer regularly encounters, possible consequences on his personal and home life, as well as probable interventions.

Significance of the study

Two reasons are suggested why there was a growing recognition of the importance of stress on the job. First, there is the general awareness that stress-related diseases have reached epidemic proportions. More people die or are disabled today as a result of stress than at any other time. Because stress is so physically damaging and pervasive in people’s lives and because it is primarily psychological in nature the discipline of psychology as a whole and especially the specialty area of health psychology is interested in studying and treating stress and other psychosomatic disorders (Chang et al. 2006).

The second reason for the growing awareness of the importance of stress at work is practical. The effects of stress on the job are costly and are reflected in a lower productive efficiency. Stress has been known to reduce drastically employee motivation and the physical ability to perform the task well thus, increasing absenteeism, turnover, and tardiness (Cahill 2003; Chang et al. 2006; Williams 2003).

Statement of the Problem

What is stress at work and how is this demonstrated in a particular individual worker like the police officer? What has personality trait or individual differences do with the development of stress as well as how do people cope with stress when the source is the place of work? This paper attempts to define, describe and explain the nature of stress, factors that contribute to the development of stress in an individual, and in particular what job stress or stress in the workplace can do to an individual.

~ The Nature of Stress

Inside the body, dramatic physiological changes take place under stress. Adrenalin, released from the adrenal glands, speeds up all bodily functions. Blood pressure rises, heart rate increases, and extra sugar is released to the bloodstream. The increased circulation of the blood brings additional energy to the brain and muscles, making us more alert and stronger sp that we can cope with the sudden emergency (Landy 1985).

A stressful situation mobilizes and directs one’s energy beyond its normal level. But if a person remains in that state of supercharged energy for too long, the body’s reservoir of energy will dissipate. Rest is needed to replenish the energy supply (Williams 2003).

Prolonged stress leads to psychosomatic disorders. Remember that psychosomatic diseases are not imaginary. They are real and involve specific tissue and organ damage even though their cause is psychological. In prolonged stress, the body may suffer physiological damage and the person may become ill (Landy 1985).

A. Individual Differences in Vulnerability to Stress

One factor that affects vulnerability to stress on the job is social support, one’s network of social and family ties. The person who is alone physically and psychologically is more vulnerable to stress than someone who has strong social relationships. Social support on the job is also important to reduce stress and to have better health (Cahill 2003; Chang et al., 2006; Landy 1985; Williams 2003).

One’s physical condition also relates to one’s vulnerability to stress effects. Persons in better physical condition suffer fewer effects of stress than those in poor physical condition (Cahill 2003; Landy 1985; Williams 2003). Level of ability to perform a job can make people more or less resistant to the stresses of that job. Employees with a high level of the skills needed for the job finds the work easier and less stressful than employees with a lower ability (Landy 1985; Williams 2003). Personality seems to be related to one’s ability to tolerate stress. This is particularly apparent with those of apparent with those of Type A and Type B personalities and their susceptibility to heart disease, one of the major effects of stress (Landy 1985).

The Type A personality is highly prone to heart disease by middle age, independent of physical factors or their type of work. The two primary characteristics of a Type A personality are a very high competitive drive and a constant sense of urgency about time. Type A personalities are hostile people although they successfully hide it from others. That is why Type A personalities are always in a state if tension and stress (Landy 1985; Williams, 2003).

Persons with the Type B personality never have heart attacks before the age of 70, regardless of their jobs or their eating and smoking habits. Type B people may be just as ambitious as Type A people, but they have none of their characteristics. They function under far less stress in all aspects of life including work (Landy 1985).

B. Stress at work

There are occupations that are considered very stressful. The following twelve are those that engender highest levels of stress: law enforcer, labourer, secretary, inspector, clinical lab technician, office manager, first-line supervisor, manager or administrator, waiter or waitress, machine operator, farm worker, miner, painter. This is taken from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Other occupations considered to be in high stress are the fire fighters, computer programmer, dental assistant, electrician, fire fighter, social worker, telephone operator, and hairdresser (Landy 1985).

Survey is also found that among working women, the most stressful jobs are in the health care industry. For example, nurses, medical, dental, and lab technicians and social workers (Cahill 2001).
Psychologists renamed the concept of overwork into the term overload and have identified two types:
1. Quantitative overload
2. Qualitative overload

Quantitative overload is the condition of having too much work to do in the time available. Qualitative overload involves not so much work to do but work that is too difficult (Landy 1985; Williams 2003). Another stress factor in the workplace is change. Many changes occur in the workplace. The introduction of a new work procedure may require employees to learn and adapt to different production methods (Landy 1985; Williams 2003).

Performance appraisal is a source of stress for a great many people. Few people like the idea of being evaluated whether at school or work. An employee’s role in the organization can be a source of stress. Role ambiguity arises when the employees’ work role is poorly structured and ill-defined. Role conflict arises when there is a disparity among the demands of a job and the employees, personal standard and values (Landy 1985; Williams 2003).

Problems of career development may lead to stress at work. Stress can arise when an employee fails to receive an anticipated promotion (Landy 1985; Williams 2003). Being responsible for other people is a major source of difficulty for some supervisors and managers (Landy 985). Contact with a stress carrier is also a cause of stress. A person free of stress can be infected by someone who is highly stressed (Landy 1985). Assembly-line work has been associated with stress because it is characterized by repetition and monotony (Landy 1985).

Overall, then, each person must confront and deal with a large and recurring number of stress-producing events everyday both at home and at work. Although most people experience at least some of the harmful effects of stress at one time or another, most people, fortunately, do manage to cope (Landy 1985; Williams 2003). One effect of stress on the job resulting from overwork is called burnout. The employee becomes less energetic and less interested in the job. He or she becomes emotionally exhausted, apathetic, depressed, irritable, and bored; finds fault with everything about the work (Cahill 2003; Chang et al, 2006; Landy 1985; Williams 2003).

Figure 1.0
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Model of Job Stress
(Source: NIOSH,

Burnout develops in three distinct stages:
1. Emotional exhaustion, with a feeling of being drained and empty (Cahill 2003; Landy 1985; Williams 2003).
2. Cynicism and the lack of sensitivity toward others (Cahill 2003; Landy 1985; Williams 2003).
3. Futility, the feeling that all the effort put forth previously was wasted and worthless (Cahill 2003; Landy 1985; Williams 2003).

Employees with burnout become rigid about their work, following rules and procedures blindly and compulsively because they are too exhausted to be flexible or consider alternative solutions to a problem (Landy 1985; Williams 2003). There is a price to pay for such overwork over a long period of time. Stress accumulates and leads to the psychological and physiological ailments described earlier. These people work so hard that they burn away their energy faster than the body can replace it. Such persons have been described as workaholics, or employees addicted to work (Cahill 2003; Landy 1985; Williams 2003).

Nature and Dangers of Police Work

Studies done by Malloy and Mays (p 177 1984) point to the importance of understanding the kind of job that policing involves. The authors not only examined the stress levels within the workplace but a comparative study was made as well with the amount of stress experienced by law enforcement officers and other workers in other organizations or institutions particularly in government entities. The findings show that few jobs can equal the kind of stress that police work entails; fire fighters may come close though the frequency of negative or distressful events or occurrences become a regular fare for law enforcers contributing to the overall danger and threat to their personal well-being.

Reports of suicide or attempted suicide have reportedly been high despite increasing awareness to the stresses of the job (Brown 2008). Symptoms may be there already but the few people close to the person refuse to recognize or identify the signs. These include irritability, lowered sex drive, digestive upsets, fatigue, muscle aches like backaches, insomnia or restlessness, overeating or drinking too much, muscle tics or rashes, a pounding heart, headaches and light-headedness may be evident on the individual. Cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or mental health issues can be some of the effects when prolonged stress is experienced and may even affect the immune system’s ability to protect the person’s body from everyday illnesses.

Because an officer regularly deals with stress and anguish experienced by people they meet on the job, emotions can easily be bottled up, or set aside and compromise one’s health or in many instances, affect the officer’s ability to deal with the issues and problems in his own personal and family life. Studies self-management skills program for the police officers show that there is a great difference when police officers go through programs that help them understand the emotional upheavals that go with the job. There was the reduction of signs and symptoms of imminent distress or physical and psychological manifestations of stress (McCraty et al 1999). Other techniques specifically used in other studies make use of films as tools to help debrief these individuals (Mann 1973 p 63).

C. Interventions and organizational techniques

The techniques for dealing with stress on the job involved both the prevention of stress and its reduction and elimination. Techniques that individual employees can practice on and off the job include relaxation training, biofeedback, and behavior modification. Some methods provided by organization include altering the organizational climate, providing employee assistance programs and treating victims of stress-related illnesses (Cahill, 2003; Landy, 1985; Williams, 2003).

Industrial/organizational psychologists have proposed several organizational techniques for managing stress at work especially with police work:
1. Emotional Climate Control. Because of the stressors of modern organizational life is change, the organization must provide sufficient support to enable employees to adapt to change. This can be accomplished by providing a climate of esteem and regard for employees and by allowing them to participate in all decisions involving change in their work and in the structure of the organization (Chang et al. 2006; Landy 1985; Williams 2003).
2. Provision of social support. Social support can reduce one’s vulnerability to stress. Organizations can enhance social support by facilitating the cohesiveness of work groups and by training the supervisors to be supportive of their subordinates (Landy 1985; Williams 2003).
3. Redefinition of employee roles. To reduce the stress caused by role ambiguity, managers must clearly state to their subordinates what is expected of them and what the precise scope and responsibilities of their jobs are (Landy 1985; Williams 2003).
4. Elimination of work overload and work underload. Proper selection and training, equitable promotion decisions and fair distribution of work can do much to eliminate these causes of stress.
5. Provision of assistance to stressed employees. More and more organizations today are recognizing the harmful effects that stress can have on employee health and productivity. As a result, they are providing in-house counseling programs that teach individual stress-control techniques and supplying facilities for physical exercise (Landy 1985; Williams 2003).

Some stress is necessary for normal functioning. The nervous system apparently needs a certain amount of stimulation to function properly. But stress that is too intense or prolonged can have destructive physiological and psychological effects. The actions of autonomic nervous system that prepare the organism for emergency can, if prolonged lead to such physical disorders as ulcers, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Severe stress can also impair the organisms’ immune responses, decreasing its ability to fight off invading bacteria and viruses. It is estimated that more than half of all medical problems are believed to be related to emotional stress. Psychosomatic disorders such as allergies, migraine, headaches, high blood pressure, heart disease, ulcers and even acne are among the illnesses that are related to emotional stress (Hilgard, et al., 1983).


Frustrations occur when progress toward a goal is blocked or delayed and when two motives conflict, satisfaction of one leads to the blocking of the other. For as long as a human individual is alive and functioning in whatever milieu he is in, these forces are at work, often straining and draining him. Coping and defense strategies oftentimes become indispensable but later become debilitating for most if no longer controlled and regulated. The severity of stress depends on the situation’s predictability, the potential for control, the individual’s cognitive evaluation, his feelings of competency, and the presence of social supports (Halonen and Santrock, 1996).

Works Cited:

Atkinson, R.L., R.C. Atkinson, E.E. Smith, D.J. Bem, and S. Nolen-Hoeksema, Introduction to Psychology, 13th ed. (1993). New York: Harcourt College Publishers.

Brown, Hal. Introduction to Police Stress. Accessed February 27, 2008

Cahill, C. A. 2001. Women and stress. In Annual Review of Nursing Research, 19, 229-249.

Chang, E. M., Daly, J., Hancock, K.M., Bidewell, J. W., Johnson, A., Lambert, V. A., & Lambert, C. E. 2006. The Relationships Among Workplace Stressors, Coping Methods, Demographic Characteristics, and Health in Australian Nurses. Journal of Professional Nursing, 22(1), 30-38.

Landy, F.J. 1985. Psychology of Work Behavior. 3rd Ed. Dorsey Press.

Malloy, Thomas E., G. Larry Mays. “The Police Stress Hypothesis: A critical evaluation. Criminal Justice and Behavior. 11 (1984): 197-224.

Sauter, Steven, et al., “Stress at Work” NIOSH publication. Retrieved December 20, 2007

Williams, C. 2003. Stress at Work. Canadian Social Trends, Autumn, 7-13.

Halonen, J.S. and J.W. Santrock. 1996. Psychology: Contexts of behavior, Dubuque, IA: Brown and Benchmark, p.810.

Hilgard, ER, RR Atkinson, and RC Atkinson, 1983. Introduction to Psychology. 7th ed., New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanich, Inc.

Mann, Philip A. “Stress Training.” In Psychological Consultation with a Police Department: A Demonstration of Cooperative Training in Mental Health, by Philip Mann, 62-64. Springfield Illinois; Charles C, Tomas, (1973).

McCraty, Rollin, Dana Tomasino, Mike Atkinson, Joseph Sundram. “Impact of the HeartMath Self-Management Skills Program on
Physiological and Psychological Stress in Police Officers.” Institute of HeartMath, Publication No. 99-075. Boulder Creek, CA. (1999).

Morris, Charles G. & Albert Maisto, 1999. Understanding Psychology. 4th ed. Prentice Hall, Inc. P. 73.

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