Food fights stress. It seems silly but intuitively we all know this. Those healthy officers that snack on veggies and drink smoothies are right. It's tempting to make a joke about doughnuts but the truth is that bad foods actually inhibit your body's ability to heal and fight off the stress hormones. One simple street rule is if it's white do not eat it. Now I'm not being racist here; white foods are devoid and empty of nutrients. Here is your substitution list:
- White Bread for whole wheat or multi grain.
- White rice for brown rice.
- Potatoes for yams and sweet potatoes.
- White pasta for whole wheat, vegetable or rice pasta.
- Milk for soy or almond milk.
Additionally we as a country consume far too few vegetables and fruits. Fruits and veggies are natural stress fighters; they help to decrease inflammatory processes in the body caused by stress. Without adequate intake we as humans are at a loss to fight disease, especially when your career dictates stress as a constant. On duty I am a big fan of super food drinks; at home juice is better. Beware the vitamin drinks as they have little of what you need and way too much sugar, which is on the white list. Cut down on portion size as well, most restaurant portions are at least two servings if not more. The best thing to do is bring your own food and snacks. Then, when it hits the fan out there it's easy to grab something from your cooler instead of going hungry.
Hobbies are a wonderful way to forget about work. If your hobby has anything to do with your job it does not count. Going to the range to squeeze off a few rounds is job related. Try something that truly allows your brain to disconnect. A good fiction book, home projects, sports, games and even golf can be a healthy mental past time. In public safety we tend to become our job; we are referred to Joe the cop or in my case Bryan the Paramedic. People want us to talk about our job and their favorite question, What is the worst thing you have ever seen? A hobby or a sport gives us something else to talk about other than our job and will allow us to open our minds to the world outside law enforcement.
Talk. It seems simple but there is a code of silence that surrounds law enforcement and public safety professionals. We see and have to react to horrible circumstances and deal with life threatening and human suffering situations every day. We talk amongst ourselves but rarely is professional help sought. Unfortunately many of your peers turn to alcohol, medication, violence and deafening silence. No one expects us to take it all in and just deal with it and admittedly the affects sometimes take years to surface but that is all the more reason to have someone to talk to. Every department and county has an employee assistance program; use it. Write about it, start a blog (be careful what you publish), talk to clergy or a superior. Spouses and non-law enforcement people do not understand what goes on out there but holding it in is much worse. You are human and just because we see inhumane actions and behaviors does not mean we have to be inhuman in our emotions.
Stress is like a freight train; it's slow to get a hold and begin but once it starts to roll and gain momentum it's awfully hard to stop. By the time you, a loved one or a coworker notices that stress has taken over the train is rolling fast and it's hard to stop. Officers can learn to lessen the effects of stress by following the steps outlined in this article series. If the old dogs teach the rookies not just the ropes but how to stay alive and healthy then a culture will have begun to change. Academy classes need to be educated on stress how to deal with and overcome it. Teaching stress management techniques ahead of the stress response is essentially paying it forward. It will cost a bit up front to get the ball rolling but will pay dividends for generations of officers as they are on the street longer, healthier and more productive. Let's face it the cost of dealing with the disease processes caused by stress is insurmountable; prevention and education is the key.
No one wants a partner that is clearly unfit for the job both physically and mentally. They are dangerous to themselves, their squad mates and the community. The communities we serve expect officers to be fit and able to handle the call. Not only are we letting the people we serve down we are doing a disservice to ourselves. You took an oath to the badge and wear it proudly every day. Pride in physical ability, fitness, strength, marksmanship and driving skills all set officers apart from the public. We owe it to ourselves to have some pride in our wellness and managing stress is the first step.
Without sufficient stress management skills the freight train will roll on and eventually will take its toll. Denial and the it won't happen to me attitude have no place on the street and have no place when it effects your health. Once your career is over, you have to live with your body and the demons that dance in your head to quote a officer friend of mine. Be proactive now to have a better and healthier life with fewer health problems, less stress and a whole lot more fun.