The job of a police officer is extremely stressful. It comes with its fair share of trials and tribulations. After a while, the trauma officers’ experience can become overwhelming. Dealing with the daily situations can cause an extreme amount of stress for any officer.
For overworked and fatigue officers, expressing their emotions and dealing with stress can be easily dismissed because of the agency’s negative culture. The alternative is to internalize the stress, which can lead to poor morale.
Keeping all that stress bottled up can have a huge negative impact on an officer’s mental health. It is advised to let these emotions come out in a healthy way. There are some ways to make healthy connections and alleviate the stress in law enforcement.
Positive thinking or positive confession does not mean to keep your head in the sand and ignore what’s going in your life. Positive thinking just means that you approach unpleasant things in your life in a more positive and productive outlook. You think the best is going to happen to you, instead of the worst.
Positive thinking often starts with self talk. Self-talk is the endless stream of unspoken thoughts that run through your head. These automatic thoughts can be positive or negative. Some of your self-talk comes from logic and reason. Others may come fear and anxiety.
If the thoughts that run through your head are mostly negative, your outlook on life is more likely pessimistic. If your thoughts are mostly positive, you’re likely an optimist (someone who practices positive thinking).
If you’ve been a pessimist your entire life becoming someone that has a positive outlook on the issues of life won’t happen overnight, it will take time and practice. It took me time to master it myself.
Here’s how to start, in order to counter a negative thought about yourself, simply say something positive about yourself loud enough for you and you only to hear it. You can even mumble it to yourself if people are around. As you continue to use positive confessions, you will notice overtime that your outlook on life will improve.
Failure is a part of any job, and it can be easy for police officers to think that they have to be perfect. When officers who are fresh out of the academy first get on the job, they feel that they are unable to make mistakes. Let’s face it, mistakes for police officers can be very costly.
Any new officer should understand that letdowns and failures are inevitable. One of the best ways to learn is to find the ability to learn from failure. Learning to deal with adversity is a great way to become more resilient.
Resilient people are secure enough to share their failures with others. They understand that failure is part of the learning process and sharing those failures can help turn those mistakes into positive learning situations.
Connecting to other people during these times is good for an individual’s mental well-being. Social bonding helps to release oxytocin, which helps with stability, security, and aids in creating emotional bonds. Many police officers have been taught to just tough it out and feel that sharing these experiences might make them look weak or vulnerable.
Police departments have started to accept that the stress of the job is something that needs to be shared. They now understand that first person and even secondary trauma can severely impact the mental health of all first responders. Many departments have started to implement initiatives that are helping get officers the mental health resources they need to have longevity in their careers. Congress actually passed a Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act in 2018 that addressed these needs.
Being more resilient isn’t something you either have or you don’t. It is a skill that can be practiced just as much as other aspects of working as a police officer. Resilience is the ability to handle adversity, cope with it, and actually grow from those experiences that test convictions.
Officers come from a variety of backgrounds. Many had difficult childhoods of their own, which can affect one’s own resiliency. About 25 percent of officers have served in the military and some of those officers are combat veterans. This is another factor that can have a dramatic impact on an officer’s resiliency.
Many departments are offering mental health and wellness options for their officers. Activities like meditation, employee assistance programs (EAP), first responder specific counselors, resilience training, and family readiness programs are some of the options that these departments are starting to implement.
If an officer’s own department does not offer these initiatives, it is extremely important for those officers to find ways to relieve the stresses of the job. Healthy activities outside of work can be invaluable for mental health. Exercise, creative outlets, family time, and positive hobbies are all great ways to build resiliency.
Fear is often considered a dirty word in the law enforcement community. Fear can actually be a positive for law enforcement officers. When faced with a fight or flight type of situation, there are a variety of biological changes that occur naturally. These changes can actually hinder performance, impair decision making abilities, and impact motor skills. Acknowledging that this fear exists can help officers train themselves to react appropriately when confronted with these stressful situations.
Instinctual fear, like the fight or flight response, is healthy. There is another type of fear that is a fear of unfamiliar situations. This fear can negatively impact your ability to handle stress and keeps you from enjoying life. This fear of the unknown can be overcome by working on building your courage.
Courage is the ability to recognize that it is ok to have fear in certain situations, but find ways to not have it affect your performance. It is easy to build up your courage by setting career goals, asking for a promotion, and verbalizing your opinions and concerns during meetings.
With so many agencies experiencing manpower shortage it’s not a surprise that many officers are working more overtime and sleeping less. Bingeing on overtime to catch up on bills maybe inciting, but the reality is not getting enough sleep will interfere with your productivity, problem solving skills, and hinder your ability to focus.
Yes I get it, the extra money is great, but what is the cost. The trade-off isn’t good for your mental health, and it shouldn’t be up for debate if you really want to alleviate stress. Disrupted sleep or not enough sleep is so damaging that scientist are now saying it raises the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Some of the ways to to improve quality of sleep is to have a routine. For instance, try going to bed and get up at the same time every day, even if there’s a big game on the tube, or even if Netflix just dropped a new episode of your favorite show.
I know it sounds very strict, but sleep is vital to your overall well being as a police officer, it is as important as the air you take in, the water you consume and the food you eat. It can even help you to eat better and manage the stress of being constantly under rigorous scrutiny as a cop.
Try to aim for at least 8 hours of sleep. If you struggle to get 8 hours, the National Sleep Foundation suggests these criteria to help you get better sleep:
In conclusion managing your stress as full time police officer will be an on-going process in your career. This article was put together to help you realize there are ways to alleviate and reduce your level of stress.
Remember your mental health is very important so if you get to the point where you’re unable to function as a result of your stress level, contact a health professional as quickly as possible.