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article / April 26, 2023

Four Resilience Strategies Used by Law Enforcement

Axon Aid experts share key practices for building upstream resilience and mentally preparing for the realities of the policing profession.

Last updated: 4/26/2023

Law enforcement is a dangerous profession. Some dangers of public safety work are less obvious to outside observers. As many as 19% of active duty officers suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, which contributes to higher rates of suicide among officers. It is imperative that responding officers learn resilience strategies to prepare for the challenges of their jobs and maintain a healthy, balanced life.

Although an effective resilience strategy will differ person to person, the following 4 techniques are widely applicable. These resilience strategies encourage calm crisis response and emotional grounding, leading to better outcomes for both officers and community members in the field.

Four Key Resilience Strategies

1- Know Your Why

Any good resilience strategy begins with a bit of introspection.

What drives you to be the best you can be? What do you hope to achieve in your life and in your work?

The daily stress of law enforcement can cause officers to lose track of these fundamental motivators. That’s why it’s crucial to return to the things in your life that bring you meaning and make you excited to wake up each morning.

Maybe you have a partner for whom you want to care and provide. Maybe you like to start each weekend with a long, solitary hike to your favorite nearby peak. Whatever motivates you and brings you joy — and it really can be anything — keep it in mind whenever you clock in.

2 - Daily Upstream Habits.

With your motivations clarified, you can start building habits that will enable your continued success. Upstream habits, also known as “left of the boom” habits, are the practices you put in place before a critical incident that help their response when a critical incident arises. Rather than let your mental and physical health waver such that a critical incident becomes a crisis, healthy habits can bolster your mental health and resilience during and after stressful situations.

Upstream habits can be broken down into three categories: move, eat and sleep.

Move

Moving includes any physical activity that gives you time to de-stress. Distance running, hiking, fishing — anything that gets you out of the house and exercising.

Eat

Eating refers to thinking of food as fuel for your body. Eating only healthy foods is an unreasonable expectation, but making sure your food is as nutritious as possible will help counter the impact of stress on your body and mind.

Sleep

Finally, although sleep is one of the most challenging habits for first responders to maintain, it’s the only regenerative process humans have, both mentally and physically. Carefully guard your chances for good sleep.

In addition to physical habits, experts recommend cultivating positive psychology. That means using gratitude, mindfulness and acceptance to shift your outlook from a negative cycle to self-reinforcing positivity. Gratitude is a particularly potent tool in this process. It encourages us to identify things we’re thankful for, thus shifting our perspective toward positivity. One way to embrace gratitude in your daily routine is to write down 3 things you are grateful for before you go to bed. Research shows people who do this simple task are significantly happier and have lower rates of depression.

3 - Personal De-Escalation

When the boom does arrive, having resiliency strategies in place to deal with the incident and the subsequent fallout can make returning to your equilibrium that much easier. Again, a two-pronged approach tackling both the physical and the mental tends to produce the best results. One common strategy is what’s known as “box breathing” or “tactical breathing.” This mindful breathing technique brings the nervous system down from its fight or flight peak, bringing your body back under your conscious control and better empowering you to deal with the situation calmly and rationally.

Check out Axon Aid's Tactical Breathing video.

Once the situation has been resolved, many find it helpful to work through the resulting nervous energy rather than force stillness. Releasing that energy into heavy movement can give you a handle on your immediate stressors and make it easier to return to positive psychology techniques.

As in any crisis, preparedness is key. Knowing your personal de-escalation strategies beforehand makes them easier to execute when the time comes.

4 - Reach Out For Help

No one is an island, but sometimes even peer networks such as friends and family can fall short of our needs for emotional support. In these moments, it’s vital to seek out the help of a qualified mental health professional. Culturally competent counselors and therapists are trained specifically to aid in the de-stressing process and can help you develop further strategies for managing the challenges of a career in law enforcement. It can be helpful to reach out before you think help is critical…before something becomes a crisis.

Reaching out to others extends beyond the call for emotional reinforcement. Just as individual law enforcement officers should look for professional help when they need it, agencies and departments can do the same. Axon Aid aims to support first responders by creating resources with tools and procedures that help them thrive while supporting their communities throughout their public safety careers.

Contact us to learn more.