Can you imagine if the police academy didn’t teach officer safety? What if they told you that it would be important one day, that it might even be the difference between living and dying, as it had been for many who had come before you, but that they were going to let you sort it out as you go? That would be ludicrous! Yet, more officers die by suicide, struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and even have avoidable car accidents than die at the hands of another. For this reason, it makes sense to regard resilience as an officer safety practice. It’s worthy of being taught at the academy level and throughout the policing career.
Assess your resilience
Like many people, cops tend to get more serious about their resilience once there has been a threat to it (a health, relationship or financial crisis). That makes about as much sense as waiting until something bad happens on a call to start surveying your options. Just as you would when you respond to calls for service, you should size up the threats and protective factors in your personal life to remain psychologically safe.
How’s your head?
Are you able to “embrace the suck” when facing challenges? Or do they suck the life out of you? What do you think about the world, the people in it and yourself? (Yikes?) When I ask cops this question in training settings, I get some colorful responses. Are you positive, negative or balanced in your thinking? It might help to ask those closest to you what they think of your mindset. (Brace for an honest answer!)
How’s your health?
It’s impossible to have a healthy mind with an unhealthy body. Are you getting eight hours of sleep, eating healthy most of the time and getting at least 30 minutes of exercise three days a week? Do you get an annual physical to check health markers such as blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar?
How’s your honey/harmony?
Do you feel like your relationships (marriage, family, work, community) are healthy? Do you believe that you are investing in your relationships? Further, are you investing with nickels and dimes of your time and attention, or are you making serious investments of your time and attention so that, should you need to make a “withdrawal” of support, your emotional bank account won’t be overdrawn? The wrong time to find this out is when you’re going through a hard time. You might see that your support network isn’t there, or doesn’t care to be there for you, since you haven’t been there for them along the way.
Build your resilience
Breaking the three categories of head, health and harmony down into specific recommendations for action, expertsCharney, D.S. & Southwick, S. M. (2012). Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Challenges. Cambridge University Press. identify 10 key methods to build your resilience (see sidebar at right).
I believe all of the recommendations are easy to understand without explanation, but I want to expand on recommendations No. 5 (facing fears) and No. 6 (active coping). You face your fears at work on a regular basis, but you sometimes do the opposite in your personal life. For instance, you might avoid places (crowds, locations of traumas, etc.) because they cause you anxiety. You would be wise to go there anyway and conquer the anxiety. A related concept is active coping, in contrast to passively coping with problems. A common example of passive coping is distracting yourself online or drinking to forget intrusive thoughts about traumatic calls. Resilient cops use active coping methods such as asking for support from significant others or professionals. They recognize that running from your problems is a race you will never win.
I challenge you to think of your resilience as officer safety and make a daily commitment to it. Each week, pick a component that you think needs developing and identify concrete steps you can take to shore up your resilience. Periodically, reassess how you are doing, and don’t forget to ask others how you’re doing. Awareness precedes change!
As seen in the May 2021 issue of American Police Beat magazine.
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|1||Charney, D.S. & Southwick, S. M. (2012). Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Challenges. Cambridge University Press.|