Police Psychology | Building Resilience
by Doug Gentz, Ph.D. Psychological Services
Resilience is the ability to effectively and quickly recover from difficulties, failures, illness, and injuries. From a neurophysiological perspective, resilience is the ability to recover rapidly from sympathetic nervous system (SNS) over-activations with adequate parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) activations. Since working in law enforcement guaranties moderate SNS over-activations on a frequent basis and intense SNS over-activations on occasion, enhanced nervous system resilience is a long-term survival booster.
Four strategies for enhancing resilience are 1) minimize your exposure to unnecessary negative environmental over-stimulation, 2) take more responsibility for how you interpret your experiences, 3) notice and manage dysfunctional SNS over-activations with PSNS activations as soon as feasible, 4) stay in good cardiovascular condition with a regular aerobic exercise program supplemented with regular strength and flexibility training.
Strategy 1 – Limit your exposure to unnecessary negative environmental over-stimulation. Avoid rush hour traffic if you can. Reduce your overall “screen time.” lay off your phone in the car as much as possible. Bid away from aversive squad situations if feasible. Avoid financial debt and manage the 1,440 minutes you get each day to reduce time related pressure. When your memory or imagination is provoking over-stimulation, leave the “theater of your mind” by deliberately refocusing on the external environment.
Strategy 2 – Take control of your interpretations of your experiences. Avoid blaming other people for your negative emotions. Feel angry or anxious ABOUT what somebody did or said instead of BECAUSE of it. This helps you take yourself out of the victim role or the martyr role and helps you reduce feelings of helplessness and resentment.
Strategy 3 – Learn to notice when you become slightly over-activated.Take corrective action immediately instead of waiting until it’s obvious that you’re hyper-activated. Breathe through your diaphragm and deliberately let go of muscle tension.
Strategy 4 – Maintain excellent aerobic conditioning and supplement it with strength and flexibility training. Staying in good physical condition metabolizes excess epinephrine and cortisol and increases the amount of SNS over-stimulation you can tolerate.
Site Administrator: Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP
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