Transitioning Between Work and Home
Law Enforcement is one of a small number of occupations for which the people doing those jobs identify so strongly with the role that it becomes part of who they are. It is a truly noble profession. Unfortunately, it is also a truly stressful profession as well. Without a conscious transition between the work role and the home role, that job stress gets pulled along into the home causing problems for the family and personal relationships. Creating a proper transition takes a conscious effort, but can soon become a healthy habit.
I realize this is starting to sound a bit like “The Transformers.” When the officer gets home, his or her uniform and equipment swirl around them and magically transform them into a different person. If it was only that simple! This nifty bit of magic takes some planning and effort to become a habit that seems so effortless.
Because stress is harmful, being linked to heart disease, obesity, metabolic syndrome, and behaviors like Gilmartin’s “magic chair” phenomenon, it needs to be recognized and addressed. Taking stock at the end of the shift (or before leaving for work) of what has gone well and what was troublesome can help an officer be more conscious of where and what the stress is from. Allowing stress to accumulate can actually affect brain functioning, slowing down information processing, increasing impulsivity, decreasing the effectiveness of sleep/increasing fatigue, and reducing the person’s ability to see options and cope effectively with problems. Stress also can increase symptoms of both mental health problems and physical health problems (headaches, pain, anxiety, and depression for example).
Being consciously aware of the stress allows a person to avoid going onto autopilot which causes them to become reactive rather than proactive. It also allows the person to control when and how they react to the stress rather than taking it out on the folks at home.
The next step is to create a routine to follow when making the transition between home and work. For some people, the drive home is long enough to decompress and leave the work stress behind. For others, a stop at the gym to use exercise as a way to combat stress is a choice. For many officers though, their schedules and their families’ schedules don’t always allow these options. For these quicker transitions, a more conscious and shorter routine can be used.
Most officers don’t wear their uniforms when they are home or off duty, so the uniform itself can become an important part of this transition. Writing down work issues or stresses and leaving the paper in a uniform pocket before changing to go home can be helpful. The flip side is to consciously look at family photos or objects with strong connections before leaving home. Once the clothing is changed, doing the reverse (reading yesterday’s work note, or coming home and consciously touching something that represents the importance of your home) can help signify the transition. Getting ready to leave for work and the first few minutes at home from work can also be choreographed. By doing these things (changing clothes, touching objects or writing notes, packing a lunch for work, taking 15 minutes to decompress before diving into family life) in the same order every time
, they become a habit. Habits only form when done consciously and intentionally over time, so it can take a few weeks of intentionally thinking through the new routine each time before it becomes automatic.
We have routines and ceremonies for most of our important life transitions, why shouldn’t going home in a healthy and conscious way to the people who love and support you become the most important routine you follow?
Beth Jordan is a retired police officer, with experience in CISM, crisis negotiations, training, and running a Chaplain program. She currently works as a licensed professional counselor and addictions counselor in private practice, as well as providing consulting, training, and crisis support for law enforcement agencies. Beth is a member of the Law Enforcement Family Support Network board of directors and can be reached at Jordancandc@centurylink.net or 763-424-2100.