December is here, ushering in the most festive — and equally stressful — time of year. We somehow have to manage in a few short weeks holiday shopping, back-to-back family engagements, travel and more on top of our day-to-day responsibilities. Just thinking about these is enough to fill your holiday with dread, rather than cheer. For peace officers, stress during this time of year is multiplied tenfold. Officers need to monitor large, crowded places, such as shopping centers, manage congested traffic and patrol neighborhoods for porch pirates. LAXPD and Van Nuys (VNY) Airport officers, by vigilantly patrolling the airport for threats inside and outside, also have the challenge of ensuring the safety of thousands of travelers flying in and out of Los Angeles International and Van Nuys Airports.
The inevitable stress that accompanies the holiday rush often comes as no surprise to officers, who have one of the most stressful jobs in country. They risk their lives each day as part of the job, making them vulnerable to serious health problems, such as high blood pressure, insomnia, obesity and more. Stress also gives way to fatigue; exhaustion makes officers susceptible to bad decision-making, endangering themselves and the public.
LAAPOA wants to remind law enforcement to de-stress this holiday season. We have compiled a list of ways to help you feel wonderful during what has been called the most wonderful time of the year.
Build a Schedule
Reduce stress before it happens by creating a schedule for the entire month. Lay out a weekly timetable and break down your list of tasks to stay organized, prioritize what’s most important, manage what you need to get done and, most important, prevent you from feeling overwhelmed.
Don’t Try to Do It All
Another benefit to writing things down is that it allows you to pick and choose which gatherings to attend, helping to prevent burnout. Sometimes it’s not possible to do it all, so don’t feel bad for not making all the engagements to which you’re invited. You’re only human.
Focus on Quality Time
Work-life balance is hard for officers, who often have to balance family gatherings with long, unpredictable work hours. Most officers often have to work during festive events, leaving them with limited time to spend with loved ones. It’s important to make the most of these moments and take what time you can to appreciate what you’re grateful for. You’ll de-stress, feel grounded and be more present around those who are most important to you.
LAAPOA Director Fran Sur has extolled exercise as a great tool to relieve stress. Our bodies treat all types of stress — physical, emotional, environmental or relationship stress — the same. To combat stress, get your body moving a few times per week. Go for a brisk walk during lunch, a run after work or hit the gym before your shift begins. Breaking a sweat helps release endorphins (our body’s natural painkillers), decrease anxiety and improve sleep. Sur recommends aerobic exercise (cardio), supplemented with a few days per week of strength training with weights.
Getting an adequate amount of sleep is just as important as eating well and working out. Sleep deprivation has been linked to obesity, heart disease (the number one killer of officers), stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression, inflammation and more. Lack of sleep also inhibits the way you interact with others, making it difficult for you to do your job and to do it well. The ideal amount of sleep per night is seven to eight hours.
Take Time for Yourself
Although it may seem to be counterproductive, carving out time to be alone during the holidays is beneficial; it will give you a breather and much-needed space to collect your thoughts. Solitude has been known to increase productivity, spark creativity, build mental strength and much more. A great way to unwind during alone time is to unplug from the world through meditation, which allows you to practice mindfulness, the mental state achieved by focusing your awareness on the present moment. Other ways to make the most of your time alone include literally unplugging from all electronic devices (the constant checking of social media has been linked to stress), opting to go for a hike, reading a book, taking a long bath or writing in a journal.
“At LAAPOA, we’re always looking for ways to strengthen and advocate for the mental health and well-being of our officers,” says LAAPOA President Marshall McClain. “During the season, it’s easy to get swept up in your work and home life and forget to practice self-care. We hope officers use our tips as a starting point to better take care of themselves year round. Doing so will help them excel personally and professionally and physically and mentally.”