While we appreciate law enforcement every day for their dedication and service to our communities, acknowledging Law Enforcement Appreciation Day on January 9 is the perfect opportunity to share some important tips for developing and sustaining health and wellbeing on and off the job. In appreciation for what you all do daily, we’re providing suggestions for enhancing your overall wellbeing.
A Baseline Understanding of Wellbeing
Health, wellness, mental health, wellbeing – all these terms are becoming increasingly prevalent in law enforcement, more so than ever before. Although the prevalence of these conversations is a critical step forward for agencies to address the immense need for support, it is even more essential to continue discussing different ways that those in the profession can manage stress and ultimately live healthier, happier lives on the job, off the job, and beyond the job in retirement. Given your commitment to a career in which you put others first every single day, it isn’t easy to spend time focusing on yourself. However, your health and wellbeing will likely suffer over time without intentionally practicing self-care. Notably, various aspects of wellness are often overlooked, and instead, the focus is often on reactively coping with crisis.
So, first and foremost, it’s essential to explore and gain a deeper understanding of the different aspects of wellness. Check out our previous blog on the eight dimensions of wellness and reflect on your current needs, identifying where you might want to focus on the most.
Tips for Law Enforcement Professionals to Improve Wellbeing
Here are a few simple ways to start enhancing your wellbeing:
Find a Hobby Outside of the Job
From fly fishing to building models and golfing, find activities that allow you to harness your skill-building energy, which is typically an innate characteristic of first responders, and connect with something meaningful outside of the job. A hobby provides a healthy outlet for you to engage, be present, and continuously develop a skill set. Hobbies can also lead to connecting with others with similar interests outside the job.
Build Your Social Network Beyond Other First Responders
Camaraderie and connection with peers at work is crucial to mental health. Your support system within law enforcement is critical, especially given the nature of the work. Keep those connections, but also work on growing new ones. With conversations with co-workers, there is often a risk of co-rumination or talking about the same issues or frustrations repeatedly without focusing on or even really reaching a solution. Venting with people who have shared lived experiences can be cathartic, but doing so continuously without resolution or problem-solving can be problematic for your overall wellness. By interacting with individuals who are not in the first responder profession but share other interests, you can talk about topics beyond what you experience at work, which provides an opportunity to shift your focus and establish more of your identity beyond the job.
Schedule Time to Spend in Nature
Given the nature of law enforcement, officers and civilian employees tend to spend a lot of time in the car and or the department. Research suggests that exposure to nature is beneficial for prompting more positive emotions, self-reflection, and higher overall wellbeing. While spending time outside might sound like a good idea and easy enough to complete without scheduling it, you might forget and miss out on the chance to connect to nature. This means that scheduling time to just be in nature with no phone and no distractions is not easy because of the job, but just by doing so once a week, you can start to improve your wellbeing. By forcing yourself to be outside, you can increase your mindfulness, which is crucial for processing and addressing stress more regularly.
Dedicate Time to Move
Finding time and motivation to do a full hour workout before or after a shift daily can be taxing. While that might be a tall order, the benefits of exercising are worth the effort. Exercise prompts the release of endorphins, which act as a natural stress reliever. Finding at least 30 minutes daily to walk, jog, rock climb, etc. can positively impact your overall wellbeing.
Find Ways to Truly Engage and Be Present with Family/Friends at Least Once Every Week
Being intentional in spending time with family and friends during the week can be overwhelming or perhaps not even a thought in your mind when managing work and life, and maybe just surviving. To start, try finding at least 30-60 minutes a week to be shut off from work and any other noise and just be present with your spouse, friends, kids, etc. In doing so, you will further build those relationships and, in turn, enhance your overall wellbeing. Transitioning home can be a particularly challenging interaction, especially after a stressful day. Here are some tips for improving that process in order to be more engaged at home:
- Practice Self-Awareness – What do I need to feel ready to be home? Reflect on some of the stressors or challenges you face when you return home from a shift for a few days. Then, start brainstorming what might be helpful to feel better equipped and comfortable engaging with your family.
- Find Your “Warm Up” – Just like athletes need to warm up before a game, your body needs to get used to being back at home after a shift. This is normal and essential for strong familial relationships and your overall home environment. You might need to try a few different things before identifying the one that truly works best for you. Some examples include going to the gym after a shift, changing your clothes to your “home clothes,” or simply taking time in a separate space (e.g., upstairs in the bedroom before coming downstairs) for an hour before joining your family.
- Communicate and Set Boundaries – Your family is excited to see you after a shift, but it is important that you have the time and space you need to effectively engage with them after work. So, being open and honest with them about your needs upon your return is crucial.
Wellbeing of Law Enforcement Matters
Law Enforcement Appreciation Day might only be one day out of the year, but you deserve to be supported and praised well beyond that. In celebration of your career and, more importantly, your life, we challenge you to implement at least one of these strategies for improving your overall wellness this week. Your health and wellbeing matters.