Many jobs are stressful. That being said, I think that criminal justice jobs are especially stressful given how many hours of work are involved (quite often significantly more than 40) and given the types of things that cops have to witness and encounter in the course of their duties. The police are rarely called in when everything is going perfectly, usually people only call the cops when something is going terribly wrong. These types of incidents include serious car accidents, suicides, murders, rapes, and many more highly traumatic incidents. Not only do police officers frequently have to function effectively in very stressful and adrenaline-inducing incidents, but they also have to deal with the emotions of the general public who are less-accustomed to dealing with traumatic incidents. Most people know that there is a risk of PTSD when one experiences severe trauma first-hand. What many people do not realize is that it is also possible to get PTSD second-hand, from dealing with people who have experienced trauma first-hand. “‘Vicarious trauma is the transformation that occurs within the therapist (or other trauma worker) as a result of empathic engagement with the clients’ trauma experiences’ (Perlman and Mac Ian, 1995)” (Rousseau D., 2019. Module 1.) While this quote is referring primarily to therapists, police officers also experience vicarious trauma because of their interactions with severely traumatized individuals or through looking at media, such as photos or videos, of traumatic incidents including rape, murder, suicide, and other violent deaths. All of this means that law enforcement personnel are usually under a tremendous amount of stress, and not surprisingly the rates of PTSD in Law Enforcement are between 7% and 15% (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2018), which is significantly higher than the national average, and suicides rates among law enforcement are roughly four times the national average (National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2019). In order for law enforcement to stay sane and continue to do their jobs they need to have effective methods for coping with stress. Self-care techniques are almost never sufficient to address issues such as PTSD, but these techniques can help alleviate daily stress, and can help prevent a buildup of stress that could cause more serious health issues. These techniques can also help those who are suffering from PTSD, as long as they are combined with visits to a specialist who can help with the aspects of PTSD that cannot be effectively self-treated.
Over the years both in school and in various jobs I have had to learn to deal with being in stressful and sometimes frustrating situations. Throughout this time, I have found three specific things that help alleviate my stress and help me relax. The first one is dogs, well really any type of animal, but I prefer dogs. Growing up I had dogs and I found that when I would get stressed out, if I just played with the dogs, I would feel better. When I went away to college, I was not able to take my dog with me and he had to live 7 hours away with my parents. While I was away, I met professors who had animals and I would go over to their houses and play with their pets. Now that I have a house with my wife, we have a two-year-old Siberian husky and I find her very helpful in reducing stress. Over the years I have found that taking a dog for a walk is particularly effective at reducing stress. And this brings me to my second strategy – exercise. I enjoy walking and hiking, but I do not particularly enjoy running. That being said, I have found that any form of outdoor exercise, including running, is effective at reducing stress and frustration. This is particularly true if I combine it with dogs and go for a walk or hike with my dog. The third strategy that I use is music. I have studied classical violin my whole life and for the past ten years I have also played Scottish fiddle music. I generally do not find that playing music is as effective as outdoor exercise, but it certainly helps. I am sure that these strategies will not work for everyone, but in my experience, exercise helps most people, and animals help those whom are not allergic to them or afraid of them.
Rousseau D. (2019). Module 1. Introduction to Trauma. Lecture, BU Blackboard Learn
Rousseau D. (2019). Module 6. Trauma and the Criminal Justice System. Lecture, BU Blackboard Learn
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2018, September 25). National Center for PTSD. Retrieved April 29, 2019, from https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/treat/care/toolkits/police/managingStrategiesPolice.asp
National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2019). NAMI. Retrieved April 29, 2019, from https://www.nami.org/find-support/law-enforcement-officers