The term Stress is well known by most people. But is it truly understood or in some cases even recognized? However, most people will or have dealt with stress at some point. But it could be considered important, that it is in small manageable chunks and that it does not escalate into chronic stress. Different people handle stress in different ways and some people handle it better than others. With that said ideally no one would ever have stress, but in a lot of life situations people will have stress to some extent. Stress can affect people in their professional lives and/or their personal life. There are many professions that have a high level of stress, such as emergency services, senior management and as even a student. There are also examples of stress in personal life, such as bereavement, family separation and financial. What is considered stress for one person may have no effect on others.
With this said; 1) How do we recognize stress? 2) How do we overcome stress? And 3) How can we support people suffering with stress?
Stress comes in many different forms, physical, cognitive, emotional and behavioral. Stress can be described as “a normal response to situational pressures or demands and is a part of everyday life. But chronic stress can lead to mental health problems and medical issues” (CAMH, n.d.). Some physical signs of stress could be clenching jaw, grinding teeth and lack of energy. “Much has been reported about stress and its relationship to other health problems, such as heart disease, blood pressure and depression” (Bressert, 2018). Police officers experience at least one of the forms of stress as they work a job that is highly demanding on their lives. Police officers can show signs of stress in the same way the general public can, after all police officers are human to. Therefore, they must deal with the physical stress just as anyone else would. “The pressures of law enforcement put officers at risk for high blood pressure, insomnia, increased levels of destructive stress hormones, heart problems, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and suicide”(University at Bufffalo, 2008)
Stress has many negative impacts on a person’s body for example headaches, increased depression and heart burn. If those stress levels stay elevated for too long, it could result in chronic stress. Chromic stress “is stress resulting from repeated exposure to situations that lead to the release of stress hormones. This type of stress can cause wear and tear on your mind and body. Many scientists think that our stress response system was not designed to be constantly activated. This overuse may contribute to the breakdown of many bodily systems” (Police Health Your Health Fund, n.d.). In order to control your stress, you must firstly realize that you are stressed. Many people are unable to realize that they are stressed as often as they are. There are many ways for people to keep stress out of their day to day lives, for example eat healthy and manage their time and activities. However, some people may turn to drugs, alcohol or any other substance. Police officers need to be able to recognize signs of stress in both themselves, colleagues and in dealing with members of the public. They also need to develop the skills to effectively manage stress and avoid being overwhelmed or negatively impacted by its consequences.
Policing can be a stressful job, many officers are regularly dealing with severely stressful situations, which could result in mistakes or accidents. Policing has repeated high levels of pressure; with that pressure it can cause increased levels of destructive stress. “Many police officers, and particularly those working in poorer neighborhoods or those with higher crime rates, experience physical danger on an almost daily basis. The constant possibility of being injured or worse by criminals is something that can weigh heavily on the mind of a police officer and cause a great deal of stress”(Hansen, n.d.). Many people have different stress triggers but for the majority the biggest trigger is work. That isn’t saying that everyone has the same trigger, for some it is from their daily life for example, divorce. When in a stressful situation the body creates a fight or flight response. “When you’re in a stressful situation, you may notice that your heartbeat speeds up, your breathing gets faster, your muscles tense, and you start to sweat”(Goldberg, 2018).
It is important that police officers recognize stress and if they demonstrate signs of it, they take time to seek treatment. However, the following statement suggests that this may not be happening, “Officers are under constant stress and do not take the time to seek treatment. Many times, they deny the stress they are experiencing for fear of being viewed as weak or not being able to handle their job”(Beshears, 2017). Officers have consequences for untreated stress that can lead to members of the public, family, friends or colleagues getting injured as the police officer isn’t fully aware of what is happening as the stress affects their thinking. There are ways for them to reduce the stress and that is for police officers to take regular vacation time or other personal time that allows them to have time away from the stressful situations that they deal with at work, share workload with colleagues and be aware of the hours worked in any given week. However, “Not all stress is bad. In fact, it can be positive. It can help officers get out of dangerous situations and it can also motivate individuals to achieve. However, too much stress can affect your emotional and physical well-being and can cause significant problems in your life at home, work, and school”(Beshears, 2017).
Within policing there are many different high-pressured tasks that are to be done, such as investigating a murder. With that comes a lot of stress as the families of the person who was murdered will want answers and quickly. “Even officers who are mentally prepared and experienced still suffer from stress. There are a multitude of layers of stress – such as the degree of threat and using judgement to shoot, and how the media treats the situation. There are court appearances, the negative attitudes towards police from the larger society, and the lack of rehabilitation agencies”(Police Health Your Health Fund, n.d.). Police officers can be as ready or prepared as they can be but still wouldn’t be able to avoid the stress as stress isn’t a thing that could be picked up and moved. Stress can come to mind at any time of the day even when a person is trying to relax and not think about it. As soon as that person’s mind goes back to blank space the stressor will pop back into the mind.
Police officers must find a way to manage their stress as majority of the community would not want the officer to mentally and physically crash. Some ways that police officers could manage stress is by having a support system. “Though it might be hard to explain your day to family and friends, it is vital that you maintain your support systems outside of the PD”(Flavin, 2018). Another way would be regular exercise, that helps you to take their mind off their daily life and go into a world where there is no stress. If a police officer lets the stress take over their lives, then there is a high risk of the officer making mistakes or even accidents while on the job. As a whole society would not want that to happen to an officer, as then they wouldn’t be able to continue to keep the community safe and there could be a chance of someone getting hurt, that maybe shouldn’t have been hurt to start with.
Police officers have many different training events that they must attend but there is also training that they can do to help to manage their stress. Three training modules that police can take are self-regulation training, relaxation training and resilience training. All three of these modules will help the officer to understand what they could do to relax or take their mind off the stressor that is controlling them. The officer doesn’t always have to do it themselves; Sadulski, 2018 explains that the department can also help by having supervisor training, having supervisor-subordinate meetings, aligning officers’ strengths with their assignment, support police families and create a framework of incentive. While Borelli, 2017 explains; most if not all police departments have a training offer in place for stress management, as the departments are aware that policing can be stressful and draining on an officer’s physical, emotional and mental health.
Stress can affect everybody’s lives. Police officers need to know what stress effects their specific body. They also need to know how to deal with the stress when it comes, for example knowing to take a vacation or a personal day so that the stress doesn’t get worse. Although policing is high-pressured, police need to realize that they are never alone, if they need to talk with someone there is always someone their willing to listen. Police officers stay in a car with their partner all day and that could be the person that they decide to talk to. Many like to keep all of their thoughts to themselves as they don’t want to show that they could need help, in fact it is better to tell someone what you are experiencing and see If they are able to help or find someone that could help.
In conclusion, most police officers will face stress on many occasions during their professional life but also in their personal life. Stress can affect them physically, mentally and emotionally. Many officers would rather not seek treatment and would deny that they are suffering from stress. Although there are many different courses available to help avoid the stress getting worse, many would rather not tell anyone for the sake of recourse. Officers must find a way to identify and manage their stress either by telling someone or not. Policing can be high-pressured and stressful, however there are many ways to try and address it, such as regular personal time and many resources to keep their stress at a manageable stage.
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