Of the stressors at the 9-1-1 communications center, daily hassles create the most frustration. Sure, trauma from a critical incident can make the most ripples, but as these ripples subside, what are you left with? The day-in, day-out grind of callers, politics, and policies.
When you started the job, you had no idea it would be this way, did you? You joined to save lives, to help the community, or because it seemed like good money.
After making it through training, qualification, and probation (yes!), and the initial thrill wore off, things looked a little different. You didn’t anticipate being the answering service for the city’s complaint line.
I remember, at first, being slightly amused by the things people called 911 for: loud parties, neighbor disputes, “my 8-year-old won’t obey the house rules.” After a year or two, this amusement turned to frustration.
When I signed on for the job, I believed that callers would be courteous, that they would listen, and that they would know not to use 911 to report non-emergencies. I believed people were rational and polite. I believed I was working for the greater good and I would have a big impact on the community.
I never updated my beliefs or my expectations from before I started the job. For years, I rationalized my bad attitude. “The rules suck, the callers are dumb, and the supervisors are power mongers,” I thought to myself as I continued to vent my frustration on the world around me.
The gap between my totally unfounded beliefs and naïve expectations on the one hand and the reality that I experienced in the comm center on the other hand created a massive amount of stress over time.
In fact, this is one of the key definitions of stress. When things don’t look the way you think they should, you experience stress. You want to try to control your colleagues, your supervisor, the public, your spouse, and your kids so that they behave in a way that you believe they should.
Or you check out. You eat, smoke, watch TV, put in minimal effort at work, have a lousy attitude, and a whole bunch of other things to cope with your stress.
The bigger the gap between your expectations and reality, the greater the stress.
I had to face facts. Seventy percent of all calls are non-emergency. In a city like Los Angeles, where I worked, nearly 3 million calls come through the comm center each year. I had to change my beliefs. I had to reduce the gap between my expectations and reality.
You can either let yourself be frustrated by the way things are or you can try something else.
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t expect a level of common decency and respect from your coworkers and colleagues or that you should just be OK with everything. But, there are beliefs you’re hanging on to that help create your stress and undermine your own best interests.
Identify a few of your beliefs and expectations that need updating right now. What past thoughts are you holding on to, feeling justified in being angry about, when it might be better to just let them go?
When we begin taking 100% responsibility for the way we think and act each day, we realize we have much more control over how we feel. More control equals greater resilience. More resilience = more happy. That’s something we can all use.
About the Author:
Adam Timm is the author of the #1 bestselling book, Stress Is Optional! How to Kick the Habit, and the cofounder of The Healthy Dispatcher, a law enforcement training company that offers stress resilience, communication and leadership classes designed for Emergency Dispatchers.
A 9-1-1 telecommunicator for over a decade, he brings his stories from the frontline into his writings and classes. His second book, Dispatcher Stress: 50 Lessons on Beating the Burnout, is out now.