Managing the High Stress Levels of Working in Law Enforcement

We all work in a job – maybe even several jobs – throughout our lives. 

The Work and Wellbeing survey carried out by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that one in three workers say that they are chronically stressed on the job. 

And it’s a number that’s much higher for those working in high-stress careers, like law enforcement. 

From our relationships, to our health, stress has a massive impact on every aspect of our lives. And chronic stress at work can have a devastating effect on employees. When you’re working in a position where the stress is constant, it can be even more difficult to spot stress-related health issues when they appear because at this point, your body is used to continuous stress and doesn’t know how or when to return to normal. 

If you do not put measures in place to manage stress well, working in a high-stress job can lead to difficulty concentrating, sleep problems, stomach aches, headaches, mood swings, weight loss, weight gain, and more. 

Ongoing stress can lead to a variety of serious health issues, including:

  • Insomnia
  • Obesity
  • Depression
  • An impaired immune system
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease

The most common symptoms of workplace stress, according to the APA 2014 stress report, are as follows:

  1. Anger or irritation (37%)
  2. Nervousness or anxiousness (35%)
  3. Lack of motivation or interest (34%)
  4. Fatigue (32%)
  5. Sadness and depression (31%)

It’s easy to see how working in a high-stress career position like law enforcement can not only impact your health and personal life, but also impair your ability to do your job well. 

Here’s what you can do to counter the effects of a high-stress career. 

Improve Your Confidence Through Learning More:

There’s no doubt about it, any job can easily become more stressful if you’re not confident with what you’re doing. 

Second-guessing yourself, constantly asking for help, and having to rely on others throughout the workday can take its toll on your mood, and your stress levels. 

When you work in a high-stress career like law enforcement, being at the top of your game will give you the confidence that you need to know that whatever happens, you can handle it. Some of this comes with experience alone. If you’re new to the field and want to boost your confidence so that you’re less stressed out at work, consider the following:

  • Additional education: A training program like this one – https://online.wlu.ca/ba-criminology-policing – will not only provide you with further knowledge and skills you can utilize in your career, but also help you stand out for promotions in the future. The best part is that with so many online degrees and other training programs now available, you can easily fit studying around a demanding career. 
  • Mentorship: Whether you’re working as a police officer, in another area of law enforcement, or another high-stress industry altogether, working closely with a mentor can help you learn more as you go, along with having somebody you trust to go to if you need the help. This is why it’s commonplace for new police officers to be paired up with senior colleagues when they first start. A mentor can help to put your mind at ease, reassure you, and share their knowledge with you. 

Keep a Diary:

Reflective practice is essential throughout your law enforcement officer training, and it’s also used in many other high-stress, fast-paced careers such as medicine or social work. 

Reflecting on your performance, moods, stress levels, decisions, and actions isn’t just useful in terms of helping you become better at what you do. 

Ways to help you develop your reflective practice skills include:

  1. Read: Pick up books or find informative blogs based on the topics that you are learning about, or the skills that you want to develop 
  2. Ask: Speak to other, more experienced colleagues about what they do in certain situations, and why
  3. Feel: Pay particular attention to your emotions, what triggers them, and the actions that you take to deal with negative ones
  4. Watch: Be observant of what is going on around you
  5. Think: Start to value time spent simply thinking about your work, your stress levels at work, and your future plans

This is why keeping a diary can be so useful when it comes to this skill. When you write down your feelings, actions, and more in a diary or journal, you can use it to reflect on and make better decisions regarding the future. Whether it’s directly about your work, or about how you handle stress on the job, knowing what you’ve done in the past and if it worked for you can help you focus your future decisions in the right direction. 

Take Time to De-stress With Healthy Stress Relievers:

When you’re working in a high-stress career like law enforcement, there’s always a risk of becoming totally consumed by the job. You might find yourself going over cases in your head when you’re at home and no longer on the clock. 

But if you’re not allowing yourself to switch off from your work, then you won’t be able to switch off from the stress of it, either. You might find it useful to keep a notepad and pen handy, or use the notes app on your phone to jot down any ideas or breakthroughs that come to you when you’re not at work. If it needs urgently discussing then let somebody know, but otherwise, return to it on your next workday. 

Days off are important for high-stress careers. You need them to mentally and physically recharge. So, spend them doing something relaxing and rejuvenating. Curling up with a good book will work! 

On your days off, put work on the back burner and try some of the following:

  • Exercising: it releases ‘feel-good’ hormones called endorphins and you also need it to stay in top shape for your job. 
  • Meditation: focusing on your breathing in a calm, quiet space can help you manage stress levels and deal better with stressful situations when they arise. Try a guided meditation app like Headspace. 
  • Spending time outdoors: Getting outdoors and into the fresh air is good for both your body and mind. Take a walk in the local park, go hiking, or go to the beach. 
  • Book a massage: If your body feels tired, stiff and heavy after working long hours, a massage could be just the ticket to feeling brand new. 
  • Socialize: Spending time with friends or family can be cathartic. Meet up with an old friend that you haven’t seen for a while, or spend some quality time with your relatives. 

Get Professional Support:

Sometimes, healthy stress relief techniques barely scratch the surface of the stress levels that this type of career can cause. Working in law enforcement – and indeed many other high-stress careers – can sometimes leave you dealing with traumatic experiences. 

If you’ve attended a gruesome crime scene, helped a badly injured road accident victim, shot a criminal, or been in a situation where your own life was in grave danger then nobody is expecting you to bounce back. These situations can cause severe levels of stress and anxiety and sadly are all too common for law enforcement professionals. 

You will have undergone training to help you prepare for these situations, but you’re only human. And what you’re feeling right now is a human, emotional response. There’s nothing wrong with getting some help with this. 

In fact, you may have been ordered by your employer to get therapy. Take it! Talking things through with somebody can help you come up with healthy ways to deal with your feelings together. It’s OK if you’re struggling to deal with it alone; asking for help is a sign of strength. 

Benefits of talking therapies include:

  1. It allows you to see your thoughts from a different perspective. Talking to somebody else means that you get to speak aloud and verbalize thoughts and feelings that you may have kept to yourself up until now. Speaking them out loud to another person gives you the chance to consider what their view is, meaning that you can gain different ways to perceive your feelings. 
  2. It can be relieving: If you’ve been dealing with the weight of stress, anxiety and other emotions regarding a high-stress experience on the job for a while, getting it all out can be a cathartic experience. It can feel like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders. 
  3. You will feel less alone: It’s not uncommon to feel like you’re all alone with your problems, even if you have supportive colleagues who’ve been through a similar experience. The difference between speaking to a friend and speaking to a therapist is that the latter is a trained professional who will not judge you and will keep anything you say private. 

High-stress careers like law enforcement can take a toll on your physical and mental health if you don’t manage the stress well. Use these strategies to get on top of your stress and get better at your job. 

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