Stress is a natural response that can occur in any occupation – especially among law enforcement officers. Unmanaged and prolonged stress can take a physical toll on your body. That’s why it’s so important to learn effective ways to manage stress.
Simplify Your Life and Recognize Stress Triggers
“Delegate chores and responsibilities in your home to your family, so you’re not the only one taking care of day-to-day duties,” says Allison Urey, M.D., an Internal Medicine physician at Kelsey-Seybold’s The Woodlands Clinic. “Try to minimize negative, toxic or harmful people in your life.”
Dr. Urey recommends trying to maintain a regular schedule as much as you can. “If you feel stressed or anxious at home, try yoga, meditation or breathing exercises. Find a hobby you enjoy doing that requires some focus so that you have an outlet to unwind. Most importantly, learn to talk about stress, fear, anxiety or sadness with people you love or trust so these feelings don’t build up.”
Take Care of Your Body and Mind
Controlling stress is very much about keeping body and mind in a healthy balance. Regardless of what shift you work, be sure you’re getting enough sleep. That means at least seven hours of shuteye. If you’re on the night shift and sleep during the day, invest in blackout curtains, a sleep mask and some good ear plugs. Set a specific bedtime. Going to bed at a set time will help allow your body to get into a routine of shutting down, relaxing and ultimately falling asleep. The idea of going to sleep about the same time each day is to get your circadian rhythms back in check.
“Exercising also helps and may leave you feeling happier and more relaxed. Not only will the endorphins from exercise boost your mood, but exercise often helps people de-stress and think more clearly, not to mention the numerous physical benefits your body will receive. Regular physical activity can help you fall asleep faster and deepen your sleep, but don’t exercise close to bedtime, which could leave you too energized to fall asleep,” says Dr. Urey.
Healthy eating also helps to keep your mind and body in a healthy balance. Food fuels your body, so when you put good things into it, good things come of it. Before leaving home, packing a small cooler or lunch bag with meals and/or snacks to have during your shift will help keep the right nutrients for fueling your body within reach and help you avoid the convenience store snack attacks. “Pack vegetables, lean proteins, fruits and whole grains. Eat five or six small meals a day and don’t skip breakfast, which kicks your metabolism into gear and gives you energy to start the day,” reminds Dr. Urey.
Avoid smoking and limit drinking alcohol and caffeine intake. Not only do these contribute to health risks, but they’re also associated with higher levels of anxiety.
Get a Regular Physical Exam
“An important part of managing stress and maintaining good health is getting regular preventive checkups,” says Dr. Urey. If you are over 40, you should be getting a comprehensive physical exam with your physician every year, and if you’re under 40, every two years. During your visit, your doctor will review your medical history and may order lab tests. Your checkup is also a great time to speak with your doctor about any health concerns you may have, including workplace stress.”