From the Docs


When was the last time you paused and asked yourself, “What is one way I cared for myself this week?” This question may seem obvious, but many people still neglect to integrate self-care into their daily lives. Despite understanding the importance of wellness, there are 100-plus reasons that prevent us from prioritizing our wellness, including the demands of never-ending adult responsibilities.

Working in the law enforcement field adds different and additional components of stress, including frequent exposure to horrific incidents, constant risk and placement in life-threatening situations and ongoing scrutiny from the community. This environment often keeps individuals in continuous threat assessment mode, preventing them from fully recuperating and functioning at 100% capacity. Without adequate self-care, there is a risk of burnout, leading to feelings of exhaustion, stress, frustration, anxiety, depression, loneliness and disconnection.

In our search for quick fixes, which help temporarily mask some of those symptoms, we might turn to a common maladaptive approach such as excessive alcohol drinking or even drug use. Unfortunately, these can lead to counterintuitive results, such as the exacerbation of the exact symptoms you were trying to eliminate in the first place. It can also lead to less-desired outcomes, including legal ramifications such as a DUI or being relieved of duty.

Prioritizing self-care is not just a luxury; it is essential for maintaining resilience and well-being, especially in high-stress professions like law enforcement. To understand its importance, let’s get into what stress does to the body. The body automatically works to protect us from any perceived threats, which can be the demands we face each day, ranging from workload on the job, making sure we are paying bills on time or caring for the family. Depending on our perception of these demands, our body may feel like it is constantly under attack, activating the body’s stress response system.

With heightened anxiety, fear and stress, hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are elevated. Cortisol triggers the “flight, fight and freeze” response, while adrenaline increases physiological responses like increased heart rate and blood pressure. Most of the energy used for basic body functioning gets curbed and funneled into fending off perceived threats. Long-term activation of the stress response system can lead to many physical and mental ailments.

Being in law enforcement is inherently stressful, and without conscious effort, you may continue to function in the “flight, fight, freeze” mode even when off duty. Over time, the body can overreact to stressors that are not life-threatening, and chronic stress can result in the parasympathetic nervous system not being able to stop the body from turning off this “alarm.” This is why self-care is imperative to put into practice. It helps prevent natural stress responses from going wild and out of control.

Self-care is a perishable skill. It is about forming a conscious effort to make wellness a regular practice, not just something done occasionally or when situations are at their worst. It is about utilizing adaptive and healthy ways to be the best version of ourselves. Self-care can include, but is not limited to, taking up a hobby, reading a book, going to the gym, hiking, meditating, going to therapy and spending quality time with family and friends. These activities can help to increase neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins that lead to feeling happier, rewarded, loved and less stressed, respectively.

The benefits of self-care are extensive, including improved physical health, enhanced mental health and stronger interpersonal relationships. Despite understanding these benefits, many of us struggle to implement self-care due to a perceived lack of time, often because of being overworked. While the struggle may be true, let us be real — if you can find time to engage in maladaptive stress management approaches, you can replace them with more constructive ones, which will lead to more positive outcomes.

Surround yourself with individuals who are successful in balancing work demands and personal life while prioritizing self-care. Being around like-minded people with similar goals will help change hardwired habits of “just figuring it out” and “pushing through” to create better habits for resilience. Committing to self-care is not something we can put off until retirement. We cannot afford to trade the now for later because later may never come. If you would like help incorporating self-care into your life, contact the Psychological Services Bureau at (213) 738-3500. We can help equip, support and assist you in creating better habits.