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A study put out by Kansas State University recently examined the differences between how male and female police officers experience on-the-job stress and burnout. One of the ways that officers most often blow off steam is by sharing war stories. While sharing this stories “they remove the fear and emotion that go along with it and replace it with these superhuman qualities.” When women did that, the stories were considered more suspect or less likely to be real, alienating them from their male peers. Female officers are also more likely to be put into cases that male officers consider to be the most stressful, often involving a trauma to a child. Unfortunately, those cases are generally considered lower level work in the police force. Finally, when looking at the intersection of gender, vocation, and family life, it was considered more acceptable for a male officer to need to leave a family gathering because of work or a call than for a female officer to do the same thing. All this adds up to a pretty rough outlook on female resilience in police forces, but on the other hand, it is considered career and social suicide for a male officer to demonstrate emotion when faced with a traumatizing case or situation. The expectation the females do experience emotion may be one of their saving graces.

I wonder how gender differences in stress management play out in other emotionally and physically challenging career paths, like child protection, social work, fire fighting or medicine. At your place of work, is it more acceptable for one gender to handle stress one way, but not acceptable for the other gender to handle it the same way? What differences or similarities do you notice?

Kansas State University (2009, February 27). Burnout Among Police Officers: Differences In How Male, Female Police Officers Manage Stress May Accentuate Stress On The Job. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 10, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2009/02/090226110651.htm

When humanity as a species was very young, survival was the number one priority.  When encountered with a challenging situation, like possibly being eaten, humans kicked into their “fight, flight, or freeze” mode.  Fight mode is a when people would try to fight off whatever predator was attacking them.  Flight was running from the predator.  Freeze was when people just froze and tried to avoid the predator’s attention.

Although the threat of being eaten has decreased dramatically since the dawn of humanity, our bodies continue to respond to acute stress as if it is a survival need.  When stressed our bodies may display some of the following signals:

  • Increase in heart rate
  • Change in bowel movements
  • Change in appetite
  • Change in sleep
  • Tense muscles
  • Dry mouth and throat
  • Flushed skin
  • Headache
  • Restlessness
  • Loss of sex drive

The way our minds work also change during times of acute stress.  We may experience:

  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Angry Outbursts
  • Difficulty Concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Increased desire to use alcohol or drugs

Stress is not by its’ existence a bad thing.  In fact, it is necessary for survival.  Some people even report thriving under stressful situations.  However, when stress occurs continuously or without an adequate time to decompress after a stressful situation, our bodies can experience long term negative effects like heart attack, stroke, mental health issues and digestive issues.

A normal stress response occurs like this:

A normal stress response consists of a period alarm in which adreneline production increases and the body begins to show the signs of an acute stress response, a time of resistance or escalation in which the body in fight, flight, or freeze.  Finally, the body enters the exhaustion phase in which the body crashes from the increased adreneline production.

A normal stress response consists of a period alarm in which adrenaline production increases and the body begins to show the signs of an acute stress response, a time of resistance or escalation in which the body in fight, flight, or freeze. Finally, the body enters the exhaustion phase in which the body crashes from the increased adrenaline production.

During times of persistent and enduring stress however, the body doesn’t have adequate time to crash.  When it does finally have time to relax, it crashes deeper than it would have before.  This reality is one the reasons that self care is so important.

From my poll last week, one of most common ways that you self care is exercise which tied with spending time alone.  Following that was spending time with others and entertainment.  Over the next few Sundays I will be giving some tips on those methods of self care.  I will also chat about some of the methods of self care that I have found to be effective for me.

An article from Science Daily today talks about an increase in depression rates among medical students especially for females during the internship years.  Depressive symptoms were most common in the affective and cognitive domains, with somatic being the third possible.  Having a family member who was a doctor was found to mitagate some of the effects of depression and generally lower the risk.

Some of the questions this article raises for me include:

  • Do initiates of other high stress careers experience similarly high rates of depression?  What about anxiety?
  • What sort of personality factors affect depression rates and longevity among medical students and doctors?
  • How does this increase in rates of depression affect patient care in teaching hospitals?
  • Would it be possible to affect the Resident-Intern relationship to make it more of a mentoring relationship?
  • What sort of mental health services are generally available to new doctors?

BMC Medical Education (2008, December 4). Depression Rife Among Medical Students. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 5, 2008, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2008/12/081205094515.htm

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