Too much stress at work can wreak havoc on your professional and personal life. And while police work can be rewarding; it is widely recognised as being dangerous, and emotionally and psychologically taxing.
In Australia, statistics reveal 62 police suicides in the years between 2000 and 2012. Understanding the impact of the job you do on your own mental health is an important step in managing stress and minimising its knock-on effects.
There are numerous emotional and physical disorders that have been linked to stress. Some physical symptoms include:
- Drinking too much
- Muscular tension
- Heart palpitations
- Insomnia and restlessness
- Gastrointestinal upsets
- Dermatological disorders.
Meanwhile, some psychological symptoms of work-related stress are:
- Feelings of being overwhelmed
- Reduced ability to concentrate or make decisions.
Beyond the physical and psychological symptoms, there are also behavioural symptoms which are caused by work-related stress. An increase in sicks days or absenteeism, diminished initiative, poor work performance, mood swings and isolation are the main behavioural signs that you are suffering from work-related stress.
How to manage stress
Police work will always carry risk and while work-related stress is unavoidable, putting actions in place to manage the effect of the job will go a long way towards stopping it from taking over.
Identify the cause
First things first: you need to identify your stressors. Taking the time to work out what is causing you stress is the first step to fixing the problem. Organisational culture, excessive hours, financial problems, post-traumatic stress (PTSD) and relationships at work can all ignite stress.
Understand your reactions
Understanding what your personal reactions are to stress – and how those actions might be impacting those around you will also help you to minimise the effects.
For example, If you are feeling tense and are quick to anger after a particularly traumatic day, you may be tempted to ‘blank it out’ with a few beers at the pub – but a session at the gym or a run after work will have a more sustainable and long-term positive effect on your mental well-being.
Watch what you eat and drink
What we eat can affect our mental health, so it’s important that you maintain a healthy diet.
Felice Jacka, associate professor, psychiatric epidemiologist and director of the Food and Mood Centre at Deakin University, says the reason why diet has an effect on mental health is due to the way certain dietary patterns influence parts of the brain.
“They’re quite independent of one another, but of course they are related. One is that the people who have higher intakes of junk and processed foods (the foods we know are higher in fat, sugar, carbohydrates, emulsifiers, artificial flavours, etc.) seem to be more likely to have depression, in particular,”
Take time off
Police officers tend to take on overtime to catch up on bills or to get some extra spending. However, it’s important to note that “all work and no play” can cause stress levels to rise. Ensure you take annual leave to socialise with friends, spend time with the family, exercise or play sports or even go away on holiday.
Talk to someone
There is a cultural shift happening across our law-enforcement agencies, with a move towards “are you OK?” instead of “toughen up, princess”. One great way to cope with work stress is to talk to someone about it. Stress can make you feel like you are battling it alone, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Developing a great support network can help you vent, connect and is the first step in releasing. Remember, release it, and you may find relief.
Strive for a good work-life balance
A healthy work-life balance allows time for work and all the other aspects of your life. Effectively managing your time is the first step in achieving a good balance. Ensure you get enough sleep, eat healthily, and exercise regularly. Last but not least, you need to switch off those devices. Technology has created expectations of constant accessibility. Allocate a time during the day or night where you switch off all devices and relax.
Blue HOPE is a not-for-profit organisation staffed by people with policing experience to support police officers and their families to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), suicide and other mental health issues.
The organisation understands that some officers may be reluctant to open up about stress to in-house support units because of concerns that their confidences will be shared with management. This is especially true if management itself or departmental practice is a cause of the stress.
Blue HOPE’s main aim is to raise awareness of police suicide and to provide a 24 hour hotline service for officers, both current and former.
In 2016, Blue HOPE launched an anonymous Help Line and can be contacted on 1300 00 BLUE (2583).