Module 11.1 – The Relationship between Stress and Security

Stress is a normal part of field life for individuals working in hostile environments. A little stress helps us function at a higher level. Fear, for example, quickens our responses and makes us alert and hyper-aware, which can be very useful when under the threat of attack. We cannot stay in this heightened state too long, however, before ill effects are felt. As soon as the challenge (or threat) is overcome, the body recuperates and readjusts to a normal level. Stress becomes harmful when the challenges in the environment exceed our capacity to adapt to the challenge or when our adaptation lasts too long.

In dangerous field situations the usual stressors of work are amplified. Activities take on a sense of urgency and staff members tend to push themselves far beyond their normal limits. The length of time that staff members remain stressed increases and the opportunities for recuperation and repair become fewer. In many cases, even taking the time to recuperate from stress can bring on additional stressors related to feelings of guilt for abandoning colleagues. These situations lead ultimately to poorer performance and bad decision-making. It is easy to see how insecure field situations contribute to stress, but how does stress contribute to higher security risk for the team in the field?

Stress contributes to security risk in many ways. When the team members are over-stressed, free and easy communication among the members is often one of the first casualties. Without friendly support and information sharing among the team, a core part of the team’s security awareness begins to fade. As stressed-out team leaders begin making mistakes, missions are sent to the field without proper preparation or planning. Small signs in the overall situational awareness will be missed. Previously cautious and careful team members may put themselves at greater risks. To further complicate this deteriorating security situation, team members’ diplomatic and negotiation skills that might help diffuse a tense moment with a checkpoint soldier or angry disaster victim are also reduced by the effects of stress. Fieldworkers that are more temperamental and easily irritated increase security risks to themselves and the whole team.