Thursday, August 13, 2009

Treating Police Burnout

When it comes to treating police burnout, policing has been referred to as “the most stressful occupation in America.” That according to Hans Selye, one of the world's preeminent researchers on stress.

As a leader, you already know that three high level indicators of stress - alcoholism, divorce and suicide, are all alarmingly present in policing. Much has been studied and written about this.

As an executive in policing you have the opportunity to make an impact in treating police burnout in those you are responsible for.

You already know the background situations that policing professionals face every day. Our aim is to provide a synopsis of possible actions and shifts in attitude that may lessen the number of cases of police burnout.

Here are a few things police can be intentional about promoting, encouraging and acting on.

  • Continue to grow as a person. Seek to be mature and avoid being self-centered. Cultivate those characteristics that make up what we now call emotional intelligence – honesty, emotional self-awareness, resilience, good communications, compassion, integrity etc. Don't push those things down because your primary contact with people is in bad situations.

  • Develop your character. Pay attention to it. Stay sensitive to what you are feeling. Stay sensitive to what others are feeling.

  • Let go of what people say to you or about you. Their comments reflect their problem, not yours.

  • Don't stuff emotions inside. Talk with others about what you see and experience. Stress is cumulative unless dealt with. Deal with the accumulation of daily stress ... daily. Otherwise what gathers in your daily job is brought home. Don't take out stress on those within your own home.

  • Find positive ways to address stress each day. This is one of the keys to treating police burnout.Who we are does not consist of bits and pieces that can be isolated from each other. Your body's reaction to stress does not stop to ask whether it is job related or personal. It's just stress ... related to you as a whole person. Incorporate holistic strategies.

  • Understand the vast majority of the public respect you and what you do. They are absolutely grateful for you. They don't want you to be another cop burnout statistic. They want you healthy and well in every way.

  • Find a means to deal with anger and frustration in healthy ways. Participate in group sports, work out. Expend energy. You already know it will have all sorts of benefits.

  • Love your spouse. Actively look for ways to romance them. Make your own personal growth as a husband or wife one of your highest challenges so you can make loving your spouse your highest priority. Be intentional in working on this area.

  • Do not drink for escape. We are told alcoholism is high with far too many over-stressed officers. You may need to avoid drinking altogether to be safe.

  • Remind yourself every day that you are creating an environment where people can work and play and do well.

  • You are not your job. You have a passion to see good things happen, but whether or not they do does not affect the fact that you are a great person. You are valuable by creation, not by occupation.

  • Cultivate friendships outside the force. Go out with other couples not connected with policing. Talk about other things. Go with your spouse to his or her events.

  • Don't let a feeling of superiority creep in. Yes, you have a lot of street smarts others don't have. But they are wise in unique areas you are not. Benefit from their wisdom as well.

  • Cultivate balance. You are mostly with people at their worst. Spend time with people at their best, doing positive things which contribute to their families and communities. Let the good around you be the greater influence.

  • Continue to be bothered when injustice occurs. Don't become callous to being passionate about wrong behaviors.

If we are going to decrease law enforcement burnout these are the simple things that have to be paid attention to.

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