Five Ways Police Cope With Stress

Police officers undergo elevated levels of stress. Several coping mechanisms can help reduce and effectively combat stress police officers endure.

Not many have an accurate understanding of what police officers go through while working in high stress and dangerous environments. Police officers are taken for granted and people rarely think of the personal, mental, and physical sacrifices that police make in order to protect our community.

Police officers were nameless and faceless people separated from the rest of society. They are the enforcers of the laws our society deems as appropriate behavior -- even if it contradicts what an individual officer believes.

If it's hard for some to see that police endure great amounts of stress, think about the fact that police have to deal with the potential to get hurt or killed, being held liable, having alternating shifts, having less free time, and never escaping the police mentality; all are reasons that police officers face insurmountable stress and pressure over their career. Problems also come to police offices from alternative directions that cause even higher levels of stress: family, public, department, internally, and environmentally. Stress, as a whole, must be seen in the entire context to which it exists: physically, mentally, socially, politically, culturally, comparatively, and environmentally. Primarily, the best way to help to combat the increased stress level visited upon police offices is where officers have a better social support system, and can find available resources to help them realize the sources of stress and techniques to lessen the pressure. Other people, who lack such a system, may negatively suffer through isolation and estrangement from others, thus increasing a chance for depression, abuse, and possibly suicide.

There are two types of categories of stress: acute and chronic. Firstly, acute stress can occur as a result of short-term problems or occasional events, like witnessing a crime in progress, having someone close to you die, or dealing with a specific issue that can cause temporary, but adaptable stress.

Stress reactions vary by characteristics of the personality, social support structure, life experiences, years of service, level of education, use of coping strategies, the intensity of the stressful event, and any unique features of the organization. Nevertheless, five major strategies officers can use will enable them to take an active role in reducing their stress.

1. At home, maintaining a proper diet, exercising regularly, getting adequate sleep, having a stable and communicative relationship with family members and friends outside of the police force, and prioritizing items of importance can help sustain a healthy home environment. At work, having time to exercise, meeting members of the community, taking adequate breaks, and having the opportunity to discuss freely personal issues with counselors, superiors, or other officers can maintain a high level of support.

2. Remember that open communication, without fear of judgment, is essential because police stress is not going to go away. If anything, strong social support systems are important in combating personal and work-related stresses.

3. When having a stressful episode, remember to change your present state of mind by engaging in and activity that usually relaxes or outs you in a more pleasant mental state; Change internal communications from the negative to the positive - instead of rehashing what is wrong, reaffirm the things that went well or are going well in your life; find the good in a situation.

4. Departmental leaders can help limiting the amount of stress police officers encounter by being supportive both to the officers and their families; sponsoring events such as BBQ's, games, and picnics.

5. Having counseling services that provide confidentiality to the officer for helping them cope with stresses outside the control of the police organizational structure.

Be on the look out for the signs and symptoms of stress. Fatigue, muscle, tremors, vomiting, grinding of teeth, nausea, profuse sweating, chest pain, rapid heart rate, twitches, difficulty breathing, dizziness, diarrhea, black outs, headaches, anxiety, severe panic, guilt, uncertainty, fear, depression, denial, anger, irritability, withdrawal, insomnia, anti-social behavior, exhaustion, emotional outbursts, and even substance abuse.

Although stress is partially reduced by the professional knowledge officers use to deal with their work, they cope by using a number of less formal anxiety reducing, and often unconscious, strategies. The majority of these occur in the station house, a place where they find a laid-back atmosphere and company.

Whatever our situation is, if you are stressed, you don't have to combat your feelings alone. Talk to someone about what you are feeling, get it off of your chest. Of course, there is no quick cure all for stress; there is always work to be done. However, with proper coping mechanisms, support, and counseling services, you can beat stress.

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