So you got the tap for the assignment and a spot on the detail? You are good to go for the next several days, weeks, or possibly even months. It’s constant work.
You may be spending hours everyday planning, advancing, checking, re-checking everything, being alert, and moving. You’ll be noticing everything – watching, adjusting to changes and making adjustments. You spend hours preparing for anything that might happen, and even more hours anticipating and thinking ahead to make sure nothing does. You may spend hours standing at a post, trying to notice anything and everyone. Or you may spend hours in an operations center monitoring CCTV screens, manning a security gate, standing outside a door, or in a hallway.
There will be hours of boredom that may be followed by minutes of excitement. You’re expected to stay sharp and on point, ready to respond to anything that may arise at a moment’s notice. You’ll potentially be interfacing with someone – other team members, detail leaders, the client or their representatives, fans, employees, member of the general public, etc. At the end of the day, you’ll staff the problems and the solutions. What went wrong? What went right? How do you make improvements? It’s constant pressure. There is always pressure – personal and operational. Then there’s the so-called “downtime”. For many it might be catching up on emails (or scrolling social media), making calls to loved one you haven’t seen in weeks, reading, working out, and trying to catch a few hours of sleep before the arrival of the next shift or movement. You know your role to play. And the tasks at hand become your focus. Even the downtime can become routine. But what happens when the detail ends?
Unless you are paid a salary, the source of income likely stops when the detail ends. Not only are you losing monetary income, you may also lose socialization and social identity. When you are on an assignment you are spending days, weeks, or months with the same like-minded group of individuals.
You build professional relationships that become the backbone of your social interaction during that period of time. Let’s face it, humans are social beings, even the most introverted among us, and now that’s abruptly over. You’ve likely just spent an extended amount of time away from family and other friends, and for some, once the pace slows down the readjustment back to life can be challenging. Long periods of time away from family and friends may have created some tension in those relationships. Sleep patterns and habits may have to be readjusted. Your finances may become strained over time. The longer you go without that next assignment phone call, the more opportunity for anxiety and depression to creep in. The uncertainty might increase with thoughts such as, “what if the call doesn’t come?”
Maybe you go back to doing a different job and start settling into a new routine. Maybe you don’t work out as often, eat a little bit more junk food, don’t keep your go-bag stocked. Your operational readiness might start to take a back seat to other life priorities – like paying bills. All the while the depression can get worse and anxiety levels can spike.
So what does it look like?
Depression and anxiety are two of the most common mental health conditions in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual). In fact, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, more than 40 million adults in America suffer from anxiety, with as many as half also having diagnosable depressive symptoms.
There are, in fact, different diagnosable conditions that could fall under the anxiety header. These include Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety, Panic Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Separation Anxiety, and specific phobias, to name a few. The most commonly diagnosed forms of depression are Major Depressive Disorder and Persistent Depressive Disorder – which is depression that has lasted two years or more. Both depression and anxiety can have a negative effect on physical and mental health, thus affecting many different areas of life. General signs and symptoms of anxiety may include being restless, easily fatigued, having difficulty concentrating, experiencing increased irritability, muscle aches, trouble sleeping, and excessive/obsessive worry, or sometimes unrealistic worry. Social anxiety-specific symptoms may also include an intense fear of interacting or talking to others, fear of being judged, blushing, sweating, avoidance of speaking to people or being in situations that might put you in the center of attention, or situations where you may look anxiety.
Symptoms of depression include depressed mood (sadness, tearfulness, etc.) or irritability most of the day, nearly every day (the length and frequency is important to be officially diagnosable), decreased interest or pleasure in most activities, most of each day, significant weight changes or changes in appetite, sleep problems (sleeping too much or staying up for extended periods of time), fatigue or loss of energy, feelings of guilt/worthlessness, difficulty with concentration, and/or thoughts of suicide or self-harm.
So how do we combat anxiety, depression, or other potential mental health problems?
First off, this list is not meant to serve as a guide for self-diagnosis. If you feel you may be experiencing anxiety or depression, you need to seek assistance from a therapist or doctor for proper screening and diagnosis. These are some of the most commonly found mental health issues in the world, and there are well-documented treatment options. These options can include traditional therapy, medication management, and making certain lifestyle changes to improve overall health and quality of life – or a combination of all three. The most common therapy techniques include cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness, and relaxation techniques. Medication management can include medications prescribed by either a Primary Care Physician or by a Psychiatrist. Simple and effective lifestyle changes can include such things as making dietary changes, maintaining a regular exercise routine, decreasing time spent with negative peers or relationships, spending more time outdoors or engaging in recreational activities, and meditation or yoga.
In the end, Protective Assignments come and go, it’s how we deal with the time in between and the effects it has on our health and relationships that matter in the long run.
Assignments Over. Now What?
By: Jason Poston
Jason Poston is a trained Executive Protection Agent and a licensed clinical social worker and certified substance abuse counselor.