Whether you work patrol or custody, there’s no need for me to waste your time by telling you how stressful your job is and how it’s becoming even more stressful with each passing day. Most people know that toxic levels of stress are harmful to their mind, emotions and bodies. But, how many consider the effects of toxic stress on their loved ones?
Warning: Stress often has a way of building up slowly; it takes time before you notice its negative effects on your performance, sense of well-being and personality. By the time you become aware of how much you’re being affected, you might be so focused on your own discomfort that you don’t think to consider how it’s been affecting your loved ones. In fact, you may even think, “I’m the one having to put up with all of this crap to provide for my family, so my family needs to cut me some slack!” Although this thought is certainly understandable, your loved ones will only be able to put up with so much.
Here are some common ways toxic stress can affect you and your relationships:
• You become moody, quicker to anger or more easily irritated. Your growing irritability will be hard on your loved ones. Eventually, they may respond back with anger or gradually shut down.
• Your thinking becomes negative, and you focus on the negative aspects while overlooking the positive ones. You anticipate bad things will happen versus allowing yourself to feel excited. This one isn’t just a sign of stress, but it’s also an occupational hazard! A pattern of negative thinking can begin to affect the way you see your significant other. You might find yourself less interested in your partner, and you may even start to fantasize about being with someone else, someone who is fun to be with and isn’t going to burden you with the demands of everyday life.
• Your chores and to-do list feel more and more overwhelming, and nothing seems to come easy anymore. Your partner might begin to feel taken advantage of because you’re not helping out at home the way you did in the past.
• You gradually stop taking care of yourself, perhaps because you’re not sleeping as well or as much. This can lead to a huge domino effect! During sleep, your body makes feel-good chemicals, like serotonin, and the process of sleep heals and restores your body. If your body doesn’t have a chance to heal, restore and produce these important chemicals, you will wind up feeling tired, depressed and anxious. As a result, you do less and eat more (and you go for junk food because your brain knows that the yummy, bad food has chemicals that will help you feel better for a little while, like a drug or alcohol).
• You may find yourself drinking more or abusing prescription drugs to cope with how badly you’re feeling. Using alcohol/drugs to cope can negatively impact your relationships because when you’re under the influence, you aren’t present, and that can lead to a disconnect with your loved ones.
Here are some very powerful ways to decrease your stress:
• Start with getting at least 6 to 8 hours of quality sleep. Try to get this amount of sleep in one block of time. Breaking up your sleep into two to three naps can prevent you from obtaining an adequate amount of deep sleep, which is the sleep state where most repair and regeneration happens.
• Simplify your life. Respect that you have only so many hours in a day and scale back on some of your activities. Start saying “no” more often, get rid of possessions that are cluttering your space and get your debt under control.
• Don’t isolate! Get together with friends and family (especially when you don’t feel like it)! If you’re short on friends and family, go to meet-up groups that match your interests, join a club, or take a group-style dance class or a class you might find fun. And reduce the amount of time you spend on your electronic devices (this is a poor substitute for face-to-face interactions).
• Do 10 to 15 minutes of daily, vigorous exercise. It will burn off excess cortisol (your stress hormone) and increase the release of endorphins (your feel-good chemicals).
• Go to counseling! Most employees are surprised when they learn that the vast majority of those seeing a Psychological Services Bureau (PSB) psychologist are doing so voluntarily and that their primary reason for assistance has to do with improving their relationships.
If you would like to learn more about stress management, contact a mental health professional through your private health insurance or schedule an appointment for a confidential consultation with a PSB psychologist at (213) 738-3500.
Additional information may also be obtained by visiting our intranet site (http://intranet/intranet/ESS/Index.htm).