5 simple rules to beat stress

Police officer stress is the silent, ever-present killer — here are some easy ways to defeat it


In this profession of ours, there are many things we can control, such as the time and place for a traffic stop or whether to arrest or not arrest. Likewise, there are a great many things we can’t control, such as what happened just before the domestic started or what’s going on inside a vehicle as we approach it. The things we can control are usually not even thought of in the course of a shift and the things we can’t control, are, hopefully, recognized and compensated for when they arise. Both sets of variables lead to stress. I believe that stress is the biggest killer of police officers.

Unfortunately, stress is one part of this profession that will never go away. We always have to be hyper vigilant, even when just driving around. We have to always have a little adrenalin flowing when we respond to domestics, fights, or traffic stops because you just never know what’s in store for you. Given the fact that stress is a constant companion in police work, I find it hard to understand why a good many officers add to it by doing things that just add to the stress.

Now, don’t misunderstand, once upon a time I did exactly that. Thing is, eventually I paid for it. I wound up with a stomach ulcer that caused me some time off and six months of medication before it healed itself. During that time I decided it was time for some introspection. During some critical moments I realized that I had been doing some things right, but some other things very wrong. I fixed the ones I thought were wrong and I never had any problem again. Now I’m retired and in good health and having a good old time.

So, for all out there, here are some ideas — lessons learned the hard way.

1.) Eat Right
I know I hammered this to death a couple of columns ago, but let’s be honest here, police officers are some of the worst eaters on the planet. We sit in a patrol car all day, then we drive into a fast food joint and order a greasy burger and greasy fries. Somehow we then wonder why we don’t feel all that well. This not feeling well just adds more stress to what you normally get.

2.) After Your Shift, Go Home
I think every department has at least one officer that hangs around because they’re afraid they’ll miss the “big one”. Look, an eight hour shift has enough stress. When you’re done just leave. If you’re destined to be in one the “big one” don’t worry you’ll be there when it goes down. Get out of the station, out of your uniform and join the human race.

3.) On Your Days Off, Forget Police Work
I had a standing rule that I’d never watch any police reality shows, especially when I was off. You need time to decompress and unwind. Enjoy being around the wife and kids or enjoy doing something you like. Like I said in another article, don’t worry all the wonderful individuals we meet will be there when you go back on duty.

4.) Have Some Hobbies
I don’t care what they are, skiing, golf, hunting, fishing, whatever. Hobbies are a great way to get rid of some build in anxiety and stress. You’re doing something you like and your mind is off police work. Try not to make it police related though.

5.) Make Friends with Non-Police Officers
I don’t think I ever hung around with the officers I worked with. The reason was two-fold. First, they were kind of boring. Second, you can’t get two or more police officers together for more than five seconds without the conversation turning to police work. With this in mind, I refer to the third rule above. Also, meeting people from other professions can be a great way to network and maybe set up something for retirement. It was also fun to sit back and let them do the talking for a change and I just listened and relaxed while they talked about what they did.

So, there are the five simple rules that I followed for decreasing the amount of stress on the job. Hopefully, they can do the same for you.

Of course the number one rule, “Don’t Take The Job Home With You,” still applies, but the five above can help reduce even more stress. In a profession that automatically puts stress into every second of an eight hour shift, every little bit of relief is a bonus.

About the author

After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh, Jim Guffey began his Law Enforcement career in 1977 with the Pennsylvania Capitol Police. In 1980 was hired by the Ross Township Police Department. He remained there until January 1, 2002. During that time he worked as a plain-clothes detective, on the traffic division, and was promoted on 1996 to Lieutenant. He remained the Administrative Lieutenant until his retirement. Not satisfied with retirement, he became the Chief of Police in Blairsville Borough in August 2003 and remained there until July 2004.

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