If you’ve been working as a police officer for many years, then it’s normal to start feeling symptoms of burnout. Police work is very tough, and the average officer only lasts around 10 years before they leave the force. But that doesn’t mean that you should quit the minute you start having bad days. There is still a possibility that you can turn yourself around and continue working. You could also consider taking a break or using your talents and expertise to help in other ways. Here are some tips for police officers who feel like they’re burning out.
Look at Your Life Outside of Work
A lot of officers believe that it’s the job that is burning them out, when, in reality, it’s because they have a poor work-life balance. If all you do after shifts is have a beer and then go home, then you might not have a rich enough life outside of work.
You have to play as hard as you work, so we suggest that you start looking at fun activities you could do outside your shifts. This will help bring things into perspective and allow you to tune out. These could be individual activities, or you could organize activities with people from your job that you like.
Organized sports are a great option there. You could have nights when you and other officers play sports at the local rec center, for instance, or you could join an amateur sports league. If you happen to like and play music, then you could see if other people in your team play instruments too and form a band.
Finding a hobby and sticking to it will allow you to recharge your batteries and come back to work more motivated than ever.
Look at Your Lifestyle Habits
You also have to look at your lifestyle and if you’re making healthy choices. You can’t expect to be in a cheery mood at work if you only sleep five hours per night and eat junk food.
We can’t stress the importance of proper nutrition enough here. Some foods are directly related to a higher risk of depression and burnout while others can prevent it, so look at foods that can elevate and stabilize the mood.
Your diet should consist mainly of healthy protein and vegetables. Be very careful with the amount of sugar and carbs that you consume during the day, as they’re known as mood killers. White carbs and refined sugars are particularly bad, so try to avoid them as much as you can.
The way you cook also makes a big difference. Saturated fats are the biggest culprit here, so you have to take out any source you can find.
Fried foods are the worst and will lead to inflammation, which will make you feel sluggish and depressed. Try to go for the baked or grilled option instead if you can. If you’re going to eat vegetables, don’t drench them with heavy sauces or dressings. Try to favor healthier options like olive oil or yogurt-based dips and vinaigrettes instead.
As far as sleep goes, you have to make sure that you get your eight hours of sleep every night. If you’re having trouble getting to sleep at night, when you look at your sleep environment and what you do before sleep.
First of all, taking a “nightcap” is a big no-no here. Cut alcohol out of your diet completely if you can. Alcohol will actually affect your REM sleep and leave you feeling groggy even if could help you fall asleep faster.
You will get better results if you start doing things like stopping looking at screens at least two hours before bed, investing in black-out curtains so that light coming from outside doesn’t disrupt your sleep rhythms, and doing some light exercise a few hours before sleep time.
Exercise should play a central role in your life and is one of nature’s best mood boosters. It’s recommended that you do at least 30 minutes of cardio activity three to five times per week to counter the symptoms of burnout and depression. Strength training can also work wonders on mood, so add some to your routine if you want to get even greater effects.
Look at Your Habits While Working
You may also be doing things while you’re working that is affecting your mood without you realizing it. For instance, did you know that just drinking water and staying hydrated could reduce the symptoms of stress and anxiety? A lot of people are feeling depressed and are actually dehydrated, so if you never drink water during work, try to bring a large bottle of water with you and constantly sip from it during shifts.
Watch your interaction with the people you’re dealing with. If you tend to have a harder impersonal approach, then try being more humane. Build a genuine rapport with the people you work with instead of being overly inquisitive. Just changing your optic could change your feelings about your job and give you some more motivation.
Remember Why You Joined the Force
You also need to focus on the things you like about the job. Think about the people you get to help every day and the lives you get to save. Think about the crimes you helped stop or the tough investigations you worked on.
A lot of people leave the profession without thinking about what life as a civilian really is like and what it’s like to see crimes happening but not be able to intervene directly. Some ex-police officers end up regretting their decision because of this. So, before you call it quits, take the time to consider your future and speak with other officers who retired early to see how they managed to adapt.
Start Looking at Alternative Careers
Now would also be a good time to start looking at specializations. You could start getting your credentials right now and if you feel like you absolutely have to quit, you’ll at least have something you could fall back on. Let’s take a look at some alternative careers you could consider.
A lot of police officers become border service officers when they leave the force, for instance, and ex-police officers are tailor-made for the job. Border service officers have to intercept illegal contraband and people trying to enter the country. This is a job where you’ll be able to delve deeper into the world of national security and bring some of your expertise. If you’d like to become a border patrol officer, check out this border security course Canada.
Another common second career option for police officers is security work. This will be much less stressful than police work, but you will still be in familiar territory. You’ll be much more equipped to deal with intruders than the average security guard and will have already received specialized training to confront and neutralize threats. There’s a strong chance that you’ll be offered a leadership position very fast too, so that’s a great option if you always wanted to have a greater role in your department but never were able to advance.
You should also look at private investigator jobs. The job of private investigators is similar to police, and you should feel in your element as a PI. You will have to run surveillance on people, collect information and conduct background checks, gather evidence, and regularly collaborate with police officers.
One of the great things about being a private investigator is that you’ll be your own boss and will have much more freedom. Your police skills will also give you a significant edge over other less experienced investigators.
Correctional services are another area that you should consider. Or you could become a parole officer. Since you already understand criminal psychology to a certain degree, you would be a perfect fit there. Some police officers even move into areas like fraud detection or get an accountant certification so they can do forensics accounting.
You have to understand how valuable your skill set is and how well it could transfer to other careers. If you have access to counseling, try to sit down with a counselor and look at possible options for you.
Police officers often see themselves as the rock of their family and have trouble reaching out to people in their circle when they’re in need, but this isn’t a sign of weakness, so don’t be afraid to let people know if things are going bad at work.
Now would also be a good time to start looking for a support organization for police officers. Canada Beyond the Blue is one you could check out. They are specifically for police officers who are thinking of leaving and offer support at multiple levels, so we suggest you give it a look and see how they can help.
If you feel like you’ve fallen out of love with police work and are burning out, we suggest you seek out resources in your department right away. Also, see if you could get professional help before you decide to quit.