Earlier this month, we shared a few "emotional first aid" tips that can help you and your family regain and maintain emotional stability after a particularly bad call. Today, we offer a few more.
Work it out...literally
“Exercise is amazingly effective at countering stress, clearing your mind, eliminating harmful toxins and helping to prevent a time of emotional difficulty from spiraling into physical illness,” Lewinski says. “People suffering from depressive feelings, anxiety and other post-trauma emotions can have a tendency to become sedentary. They just can’t seem to find the drive and energy to do anything physically taxing. This in itself can deepen the negative emotions.
“If you can push through that and force yourself to do something physical — biking, running, walking, punching a heavy bag, whatever — you’ll not only regain a sense of self-control but you’ll also reap the many benefits of tiring yourself out.”
Lewinski points out that when it comes to exercise, it’s also important to remember that you don’t need to — and really shouldn’t — push yourself into over-achieving. “In an effort to deal with some of the negative emotions they’re experiencing, some officers may decide that one way to make themselves feel better is to set a new personal record or push themselves to go farther physically than they’ve ever gone before. This isn’t advisable. The key is to work out enough to burn off some of the negative, stress-induced body chemistry, on to push yourself to exhaustion or injury. A ‘maintenance workout’ will do the trick.”
Get professional help if you (or your spouse or a close friend) think you need it
“Talking about getting emotional help used to be a taboo subject in law enforcement. Thankfully, those days are over,” says Lewinski. “Now, departments offer help in a variety of forms of psychological assistance and many private counselors specialize in working specifically with law enforcement officers, so there are resources available.
“Not every officer absolutely needs professional psychological intervention after having dealt with a particularly bad call,” he says, “but in many instances, seeking that help is the only way some of the painful — and sometimes harmful — emotions are going to be effectively dealt with. The best rule of thumb is to seek help, even if it’s just one visit with a trained counselor, if you have the slightest inkling that you might need it.”
Allow yourself to “get over it”
“An interesting phenomenon worth commenting on involves officers actually feeling guilty for starting to feel better,” says Lewinski. “Often, this can be the case when the officer has had to deal with the aftermath of a horrible event that victimized someone particularly vulnerable, like a child or an elderly person, and they were completely unable to help protect them. It’s as though the officer is trying to psychologically compensate for ‘not being there for them.’ They seem to feel that it’s now their responsibility to carry that victim’s pain. If the officer’s painful emotions start to subside, they tend to fall into a trap of thinking they’re not caring anymore. It’s as though they’re feeling like they’re letting the victim down — in their mind, for the second time — for not feeling bad for them. If this starts happening to you, you need to take immediate measures to counter it or it will spin into a vicious downward spiral.”
One of the most important steps you can take in a situation like this is to share your feelings with someone you trust...a spouse, a counselor, a fellow officer. “Your support people can provide you with a much-needed reality check.”
Let it out
Feel like yelling? Yell!
Feel like crying? Cry...
Feel like punching something? Find a heavy bag and go to town.
“Denying how you feel is a futile and counter-productive attempt to avoid feeling out of control and uncomfortable. How you feel is how you feel. Admit it, deal with it and release it. It will do you a world of good.”
Help other officers...you’ll ultimately help yourself
When the smoke clears and you’re back on track emotionally, you can use your experience to help other officers. If you know of another officer who just dealt with a really bad call, be proactive and reach out. Let him know that you’ve been there yourself and that you’re here for him. Just taking that first proactive step of reaching out can have a major impact on a fellow officer’s life...and your own.
Have more ideas for coping after a really bad call? E-mail us us your experiences and we may share them with other officers.