Because the concept of "off duty" does not exist for most law enforcement officers, they experience a higher rate of divorce, alcoholism, and suicide. Stress is simply defined as an elevation in a person's state of arousal or readiness, caused by a stimulus or demand. As stress arousal increases, health and performance actually improve. Within manageable levels, stress can help sharpen our attention and mobilize our bodies to cope with threatening situations.
But without proper outlets, stress can begin to take its toll on the human body. This is why it is so crucial that officers learn effective ways to manage stress, find balance, and recognize the signs that a fellow officer needs help.
Handling On-The-Job Stress
Officers need to be clear on the signs of stress. These signs can be different depending on the person. When the signs begin to appear, this is when you need to take time for yourself-to rejuvenate, refocus, and repair any damage that has been done.
To Minimize Stress:
1. Get enough rest.
2. Exercise regularly.
3. Maintain a healthy diet.
4. Have a life away from the job.
5. Avoid tobacco, alcohol, drugs, and excessive caffeine.
6. Have a strong network of family and friends.
7. Have a "personal stress plan."
8. Participate in training offered by your department.
9. Get regular physical exams.
10.Maintain your sense of humor.
11. Ask for help if you need it.
What To Do When It Gets Really Bad:
✓ Talking is the most effective treatment for dealing with personal trauma.
✓ Journaling your thoughts and feelings is also helpful. It helps clarify emotions and reduce stress.
✓ Alternate moderate physical exercise with periods of relaxation.
✓ Avoid drugs (especially steroids) and/or alcohol. This can slow down the normal recovery process.
✓ Seek professional help if reactions are prolonged or excessive.
✓ Concentrate on what you can control in your life.
✓ Tell your support system what you need (and what you don't need).
✓ Pamper yourself.
✓ Spend time with others.
✓ Be patient with yourself...never critical. Recover at your own pace.
The stress response becomes problematic when it does not or cannot turn off. This is when symptoms last too long or interfere with daily life. The fight-or-flight response is your body's natural (chemical) reaction to alarm-it makes sure you survive.
Physically, your pulse increases because adrenaline forces the heart to move faster, which sends additional blood to the muscles and organs. Oxygen reaches the lungs and the brain, which keeps you alert, and the brain releases natural painkillers called endorphins.
When this response is in place for an extended period of time, your body eventually suffers damage. People do not suffer severe effects from manageable levels of stress. But law enforcement officers experience chronic stress, and this is potentially very destructive for both physical and mental health. Staying alert to the consequences of prolonged stress and having a plan to combat it is the first step to minimizing the long-term effects and life disruptions that occur.