Having the job of a police officer can expose you to periods of prolonged stress, and perhaps even increase your risk for health problems. The University of Buffalo found that police officers have higher incidences of metabolic syndrome, which is a collection of health issues that contribute to heart disease and adult-onset diabetes. Police officers are also at higher risk for developing cancer and have higher incidences of emotional health issues such as depression, anxiety, and alcoholism. The physiological effects of stress are very real, and it is especially important for police officers to manage their stress.
Exercise and Relaxation
In order to handle the stress of your job, you need to take on stress proactively. Cops Alive recommends a daily regimen of exercise and relaxation techniques. Exercise helps support the immune system and is a great stress releaser. Exercise also helps prevent the chronic diseases associated with the stress of police work, such as high blood pressure and depression.
Cops Alive recommends using exercise coupled with relaxation to de-stress from your days at work. They call their system the "Rx3x": two workout sessions and one relaxation session to de-stress from the job, performed at certain times of the day on the days you work.
Session One: Strength Training
The first exercise session should focus upon strength training, such as weight training and core training, and you should couple it with balance and stretching exercise for a well-rounded regimen.
This session should be thirty to forty minutes long and should be performed before your shift starts.
Session Two: Aerobic Exercise
Your second exercise session should focus upon an aerobic exercise that uses repetitive motion, such as running, walking, or a stair stepping machine. The repetitive motion of the exercise should be coupled with controlled breathing and a mantra. This will help activate the body's relaxation response.
This session should be twenty to thirty minutes long. Perform this exercise session right after your shift and before you go home.
Session Three: Relaxation
Your third session is a relaxation session. Relaxation techniques, such as rhythmic, meditative breathing, choosing a mantra to repeat, and deflecting distracting thoughts provoke the body's relaxation response.
A thirty minute stress reduction session should be performed before going home from your shift. Cops Alive recommends some simple yet effective techniques from Harvard University:
- Find a quiet place.
- Sit and breathe deeply and rhythmically (in for a count of four, hold for a count of four, out for a count of four).
- Simply observe your thoughts without engaging in them.
When used frequently and correctly, this program offers a release valve for stress.
Special training programs are available that cater to police officers and help them learn to manage stress. Some common components of these types of training programs include:
- Develop coping skills. Developing your coping skills helps you deal effectively with stressful situations, such as shootings, hostage situations, car chases, etc. An increase in coping mechanisms help decrease negative reactions during and after the stressful event.
- Identify unconstructive attitudes. You may be adding to the stressful situations with your thoughts, emotions, and attitudes. Officers learn to identify their own negative reactions to these situations, making it easier to deal with them.
- Develop communication skills. Communicating ineffectively can cause stress in life overall by increasing the amount of unpleasant, tense interactions. Build healthier work and personal relationships by developing communication skills.
The Heartmath Research Center is a good example of a program that targets the on-the-job stressors for police officers.
Fortify Your Support System
Police officers with a strong support system typically experience lower levels of stress. You need to concentrate on taking care of business with your family and friends. You can be a strong person for them, but they can also be a source of strength and comfort for you.
A good way to strengthen your family relationships is taking the time to spend with them or calling to check in on your family at some point during your shift, if possible.
Officer spouses, family, and officers should go to counseling to deal with the specific effects of the stress officers undergo. Most departments have counseling programs, with varying degrees of how much is outsourced (external to the police department) and how much is handled in-house.
You should decide what option will help you feel more comfortable. Sometimes, officers are uncomfortable with the idea of using a counselor in house because they would like to maintain their privacy. Some officers elect to choose an in-house counselor because they feel the counselor will understand the demands of their job. Critical incident stress debriefing may be one part of it.
Some police departments offer peer counseling programs, where officers can go to other officers. Many officers find this type of counseling meaningful because they feel like they are speaking with a fellow officer who knows what their job entails on a daily basis.
Don't Delay Getting Help
Officers are subjected to many types of stress that are specifically damaging to their health. Stress management is important to prevent the onset of problems with home life, health issues, and mental health. Moreover, the effects of this stress can be damaging for family members.
It is against the culture of officers to reach out for help, but the daily stress of the job is enough to increase your risk for disease, which can in turn decrease your life span and your quality of life. If you think in terms of your family having to do without you, taking that step forward to help yourself seems like an easy thing to do.