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Police Career – How to Keep Police Stress Syndrome From Taking Over Your Life

The law enforcement profession is legendary for its high stress. It is repeatedly in the top ten of most stressful jobs. And there’s nothing like police work to make a candidate for ‘bringing your work home with you’, because you naturally encounter things on the job that take some processing in the off hours to deal with.

The first tip is to lose the macho exterior. As John Wayne said, courage isn’t not being scared. Courage is being scared as heck – and saddling up anyway. Acknowledge that you have picked a tough job to do, and that you’re only too human. Expecting huge reserves of guts from yourself, going around denying it by saying, “It doesn’t bother me.”, this doesn’t help you psychologically work with and move past the issue. Being able to face the fact of stress helps you vent it to your peers (or doctor, if need be), and move past it on your own.

Second, it may be perfectly OK to have a drink when you feel like it. But if you find yourself stopping for a drink every single day after you get off your shift, that’s a big trouble sign. Police work has one of the most frequent instances of alcoholism, with police more likely to develop alcoholism than nearly every other profession. The problem is not so much the alcoholism itself, as that after a while it becomes your automatic answer to everything. Anything, even water, is bad for you if you do it too much. The key is to moderate. By all means, if you just went through a scene where weapons were drawn and you need a drink to stop your nerves shaking, that’s a different matter.

Don’t take it personally. This especially applies to the pressure you get from the top. No matter what, every officer feels they deserved that raise or promotion every time it comes around. Every officer gets frustrated when they see another not doing his or her job with perfect ethics, or feel stressed out at the inherent inadequacies of the system. These are natural problems, but if they didn’t happen to you, they’d just happen to somebody else. It just happened to you this time. An officer’s career is likely to have many ups and downs, and officers do tend to experience emotional drama over things that affect their career. It’s just how things go sometimes.

Take a step back from the monoculture. After a while, officers tend to identify so much with their job and their peers that they become unable to see things from any other perspective. You do do an important job, but the human mind just isn’t designed to exist in a continuously shrinking frame of reference and the full-blown cynicism that comes with it. Try to get out when you can, keep socializing in your civilian life, stay current with the culture. Maybe have a hobby or interest that takes you far away from the job. It helps you remember that the whole world isn’t one huge drama, and that there’s still a lot of things worth living for.

Take advantage of your force’s stress management and counseling services. No matter how tough you think you are, the procedures and practices your department puts in place are there for a reason. Employee assistance programs were put in place to respond to the high incidents of stress disorders affecting officers in the field. Especially after a critical incident, you are, indeed, either in shock or dealing with some stage of grief. Even if you think you can handle things just fine on your own, talking to the councilor never hurt anything.

Learn when the time comes not to sweat the details. Police work seems to bring out the perfectionist nature. After all, attention to detail is a survival skill. Not only that, but you’re surrounded by perfectionists. Your peers and superiors all had the same rigorous training you did, and there’s still a little drill sergeant left in everybody from their academy days. But going around expecting everything to be perfect all the time is just unrealistic. We do live in an imperfect world, which is why you have your job, after all.

Revel in your family. The families of officers receive a lot of residual stress from your job; it’s tough for them, too. If you have a spouse and kids, there’s almost no limit to how much time you should spend with them, and it helps all of you keep a stronger family unit. Family problems are another famous occupational hazard of police work. Most especially infidelity is a frequent result. You should realize that serial affairs, like alcoholism, are just another escape mechanism that is likely to have you mentally trapped. It doesn’t even necessarily help if your spouse is also an officer; what you actually need is the perspective of somebody who doesn’t wear a uniform every day.

The bottom line is, police work is a special job that is prone to some of the greatest challenges of any profession. You are in the role of trying to be a hero to society, but don’t forget to be a hero for yourself.

Freelance writer for over eleven years.

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Image taken on 2009-09-28 14:14:58. Image Source. (Used with permission)

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