Coping With the Past Few Years — And Emerging Stronger as a Police Officer
Police officers experience tremendous stress in the best of times. Civil unrest, anti-police sentiment, and COVID-19 outbreaks have taken that stress to new levels. How can police officers better manage these trials and tribulations? Here are some suggestions, courtesy of Foundation 1023.
Stress is plaguing the law enforcement community. Morale sank and resignations rose during the last couple of years, leaving departments short-staffed and remaining officers overworked.
Burnout does more than create exhausted and irritable officers. Burnout makes police officers cynical, indifferent, and even angry, according to psychologists quoted on GPB News. It’s also linked to substance abuse and suicide.
This is why making your living space as free from stress as possible is important. Home should be a place where you can come to unwind after long hours on the job. Simple steps like letting in more natural light and doing a little decluttering go a long way toward replacing a negative environment with a positive one. You can even get your kids to help with tidying up so that isn’t one more thing you’re carrying solo.
The COVID-19 pandemic put an end to most social engagements, leaving officers more socially isolated from the outside world than ever. While it’s important to have camaraderie with fellow officers and people who understand what you’re going through, it’s equally important to maintain relationships with people not involved in law enforcement.
Socializing outside the force provides a healthy distraction from work stress and a different perspective on issues. Civilian friends and hobbies also help officers maintain a sense of identity outside of law enforcement. If you feel like you’re always “on,” make a point to pursue activities that take your mind off the job. Hobbies don’t need to be expensive either. Geocaching, metal detecting, wood carving, and tombstone cleaning are among the interesting pastimes law enforcement officers write about at American Police Beat.
Having a hobby is a great way to refresh your mind when you come home from work. It’s something that can reset your outlook on life and provide tremendous satisfaction. Plus, you can turn it into a money maker and boost your income. The economy is shaky, but you can capitalize with the right business idea. Maybe you love numbers and would enjoy doing a little bookkeeping on the side, or you’re handy and want to help people with their home improvement projects. Think about what you enjoy and dive into a sideline that gives your finances and your mindset a boost.
Walking is an excellent way to incorporate physical activity into your routine, particularly if you spend most of your time in a patrol car. Regular walking before or after work can help to maintain fitness and promote well-being. To identify the best places for walking near your home or station, a walk score map can be incredibly useful. Walk Score is a tool that measures the walkability of any address on a scale from 0 to 100. It calculates this score by mapping out the distance to amenities in nine different categories, including grocery stores, restaurants, shopping centers, and coffee shops. Therefore, using a walk score map can assist in finding the most suitable and enjoyable routes for your walks.
Alternatively, step back from the front lines and pursue a different path in law enforcement. Rather than working yourself to the point of burnout, you can pivot into a role that lets you continue doing what you love without giving up your career.
Some patrol officers transition into investigations, internal affairs, or another specialized position, while others climb the supervisory ranks. If you have your eyes set on upper management, consider whether now is the right time to pursue a master’s degree. A criminal justice master’s degree opens the door to high-ranking positions in police departments, corrections facilities, and the court system.
There’s another benefit to career advancement for police officers: A higher salary eliminates some of the financial stress faced by families living on a patrol officer’s pay. Many junior-level officers earn around $63,000 annuallyaccording to Salary.com. That’s a relatively tight budget in most cities and those financial stresses were only elevated during the pandemic.
A raise won’t solve your problems if you’re swimming in financial debt, especially if your goal is to purchase a home for the first time. Beyond the stress on your wallet, debt strains marriages and family relationships. Police Magazine suggests making a plan to get out of debt starting with a budget. Once you’ve dug yourself out of the hole, build an emergency fund that can sustain your family for three to six months. Budgeting and saving take diligence, but you’ll be relieved when you no longer have to pick up over time to pay the bills.
These days, police officers face stress unlike ever before. Whatever you do after this difficult couple of years, don’t give up. Find ways to keep your home your happy place, like decluttering and enjoying a hobby. Do some socializing to help you unwind, and if finances are tight, start a business or look for other opportunities for career growth. There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel — you just have to find it.
For confidential funding for emotional and mental wellness services for first responders and their families, visit Foundation 1023 today!