Reducing Stress Through Mindfulness
Guest Blogger: Deputy Chief Hector R. Garcia (ret.), Ed. D, Miami, FL
IACP’s Juvenile Justice & Child Protection Committee
“Whenever we get too caught up in the busyness of the world, we lose connection with one another – and ourselves.” --Jack Kornfield
No one would be shocked to hear that the law enforcement profession is one of the most stressful occupations in our society.[i] The pressures of the job, coupled with periods of monotony, require keen mental and physical abilities. Officers’ psychological and physiological well-being can be affected by these work-related stressors, which can lead to strained relationships with their loved ones at home. The police officers’ families may be ill-equipped to handle these stressors and often experience complex emotions themselves. One increasingly popular practice to combat the stresses of law enforcement and its manifestation in law enforcement families is the practice of mindfulness.
Over the past four decades, the practice of mindfulness has increased significantly.[ii] The practice of mindfulness has been used to manage a variety of conditions ranging from anxiety, heart disease, sleep problems, and stress. But what exactly is mindfulness? Simply put, mindfulness is where a person “maintain[s] a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.”[iii] For example, the United States military has participated in mindfulness training[iv] and reports that mindfulness sessions have produced “…positive impacts on working memory and cognitive resilience – the ability to use attention effectively to solve problems when you are under stress.”[v]
The practice of mindfulness can bring law enforcement families together to mitigate the effects of stress that the profession carries. Mindfulness is not just for adults or only to be done in solitude, instead, Dr. Susan Pollack, psychologist and family resilience expert, embraces the idea of mindfulness as a family activity in the form of a family walk; even the most energetic members of an officer’s family could benefit by engaging in this type of mindful activity.[vi] Focus on engaging all five senses on this walk to truly block out distractions. This means no electronic devices, just walk and take in your surroundings. Pay attention to the environment, the sounds, the colors, and the smells. Talk with your family at the conclusion of the walk. What did they see, hear, smell, touch? More importantly, how did they feel while on this walk? Were they calm, or anxious? These conversations are a great way to encourage self-reflection and identification of emotions. Being able to self-identify feelings becomes important for law enforcement families who experience periods of heightened emotions.
Law enforcement officers and their families should take proactive steps to combat the stress that they face daily. By practicing mindfulness, we can escape from the noise of our minds and learn to focus on our life right now and everything that we can be thankful for. As Buddha mused, “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”
For more information:
And family support resources from the IACP please visit the Law Enforcement Family Resources webpage.
About participating with the Juvenile Justice and Child Protection Committee or any other IACP Policy Council.
This blog post is part of a series highlighting the importance of including families and companions into officer safety and wellness. This project is funded through the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.
[i] “The Most Stressful Job in America Pays $26,802- Here are the other 9” CNBC. March 7, 2019. https://www.cnbc.com/2019/03/07/the-most-stressful-jobs-in-america.html
[ii] “The History of Mindfulness” Inbreathe. 2016. https://inbreathe.com.au/the-history-of-mindfulness/
[iii] "Mindfulness." Merriam-Webster. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mindfulness.
[iv] Jha, Amishi P., Alexandra B. Morrison, Suzanne C. Parker, and Elizabeth A. Stanley. "Practice is protective: Mindfulness training promotes cognitive resilience in high-stress cohorts." Mindfulness 8, no. 1 (2017): 46-58.
[v] Suttie, Jill. "How Mindfulness Is Changing Law Enforcement." Greater Good. May 18, 2016. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_mindfulness_is_changing_law_enforcement.
[vi] Pollack, Susan M., MTS, Ed.D. "Mindfulness for the Entire Family." Psychology Today. July 14, 2015. Accessed July 09, 2019. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-art-now/201507/mindfulness-the-entire-family.