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From tense confrontations to high call volume, desk work and court obligations, the stresses of law enforcement can add up. Dealing with these on-the-job demands can be a challenge, which is why practical and effective stress management tools are key to staying healthy, maintaining job performance, and avoiding burn-out.

“Stress in the law enforcement field is one of the most important things to consider right now because the demands of the job have gone up,” says Steven Poplawski, founder and head trainer of Step Training Inc. “Whether it's increased paperwork, processing of job priorities, or greater scrutiny over public accountability – all of those responsibilities are ramping up and everyone is feeling the pressure.”

No doubt, from front-line cops to municipal and correction officers, law enforcement professionals face any number of stress drivers. Left unchecked, and job stress can lead to sickness, lost work time, and sub-par job performance. "We all undergo a physical response to stress. Your heart rate goes up, adrenaline starts pumping through your body, and your cognitive abilities can diminish.  When those reactions start to happen in the field, it affects things like perception, gross motor skills, and the ability to think clearly," Poplawski explains.

As such, he continues, there growing need to equip officers with the practical tools and techniques to help them manage stress in productive and sustainable ways: “Officers have a lot of training around field-specific skills, but those can go out of the window when stress responses kick in unless you're also training them how to deal with what's going on inside.”

Building resilience

Learning to manage stress is no doubt fundamental to law enforcement. It begins by recognizing typical triggers and learning to manage both acute and long-term stress.

Acute stress, for example, is stress that happens in the moment. It can be triggered by confrontations, emergencies, colleague disputes, and other events that aren't easily shaken off.

"Simply telling yourself to calm down isn't going to work in these situations," adds Poplawski. "That's why professional trainers like myself focus on helping officers tackle stress from a physiological side; that is, practicing techniques that reduce tensions and stress in the moment they arise."

It's also not uncommon for officers to remain at high states of stress over the period of days, which results in poor sleep, bad moods, and difficulty performing at their best. To that end, managing long-term stress involves taking a few minutes out of the day – be it on duty or at home – to deal with stressors in effective ways.

“We're not talking a lot of time, either,” says Poplawski. “Some stress-reducing exercises or processes might only take 10 minutes a day, but by doing them consistently, you learn to mitigate those long-term effects and become better at handling pressure situations.”

Training inside and out

Managing stress is as important as any other field skill. The skills of managing stress can be taught like any other skill. This is backed by years of professional research that the team at Step Training Inc. uses to help law enforcement professionals at all levels.

“There is a lot of focus on external skills like, 'this is how you talk to someone,' or, 'this is how you handcuff,' but we really need to focus more on internal skills that ensure officers are acting appropriately and making the best decisions no matter the stress level of the situation. Officers need to learn the skills of fixing their own stress responses before they address the stress responses of the person(s) they are currently dealing with.”  insists Poplawski.

Learn more about Step Training Inc. courses for law enforcement, municipal staff, and security professionals. Visit www.steptraininginc.com, email info@steptraininginc.com, or call 1-647-402-2027

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