As we move through the events of each day at work — in custody, on patrol or wherever we find ourselves — we may think we are not touched by tough experiences, by the ugly things we see and raw emotions we are exposed to.
In many cases, this may be true. Deputies, in general, are resilient people. A single tragedy may not penetrate our emotional armor. But when we face people’s misfortunes day after day, month after month, year after year, we run a real risk that the toll will catch up with us. As time goes on, these experiences can sink in and affect us emotionally and physically. Police work “takes a bite out of your soul,” as one LEO put it.
The fact is we may not even realize how much we are affected. It can sneak up on us. For example, it is very hard to get the rest we need with such crazy schedules. And even when we get the time to rest, sometimes it is a challenge to get a good night’s sleep. Thoughts and emotions (and anxiety) can swirl in our minds. It takes time to wind down.
Even though it may be the last item on our to-do list, I believe we need to take ourselves off the hamster wheel of work. It is what God asked us to do on the Sabbath — take time to recharge and refresh. By breaking the stressful cycle of our busyness, it is easier to take advantage of time off, let our minds relax, catch up on sleep, spend time with family and friends, and cherish the good and beautiful things in our lives.
We chaplains advise people over and over to get out and enjoy doing the things they love (as well as trying new things!) for one good reason: It works! Hobbies, exercise, eating well and downtime help reduce stress.
Remember, your job is what you do for a living, not who you are. The Department will not fall apart if you are not there. Someone else will pick up the ball. But your family cannot replace you. Providing for them means providing a good work/home balance and investing valuable time together, essential for a good, shared emotional outlook on life. How do we know if we are getting off balance? We can always just ask! Ask loved ones or friends — people you trust — if you have changed, and not for the better. It is tough, but as a wise man once said, the truth can set us free.
Monitor how you spend your time. Are you out of the house all the time, not wanting to go home? Are you alone a lot, or secluding yourself? Drinking too much? And so on.
Everyone needs help at times. It is not that strong people do not experience pain or seek strength and wisdom. Strong people are those who are not afraid to admit it and seek help. We are all human. We do not have to pretend we are super-people. It is OK to take whatever time we need to address our emotional, physical and spiritual needs. Remember, life is messy, and no one dies with their inbox empty.
How can I contact a chaplain? Chaplains are available at their unit of assignment, or by calling the Psychological Services Bureau (PSB) at (213) 738-3500.