8 ways correctional officers can get through hard times

During the 2015 Correctional Officer Appreciation Week, columnist Harriet Fox outlines what grief is, how it impacts officers and how they can work through the grieving process.

Hard times suck. There is no other way to say it. It’s the part of life that I think we should be able to do without. But apparently when we signed up for this thing we called life, it was thrown in there.

We face hardships. We face stress. We face pain. We face crisis.

It is imperative that we have a supportive workplace environment to provide support to fellow officers in times of crisis.

In this line of work, we are taught that we are supposed to be able to handle anything and that showing emotion is weak. We are taught we must act without emotion no matter how stressed or affected we are and to keep plugging along. I was raised to believe there was no room for weakness and that being emotionally strong was a must.

I was raised with the message that asking for help is weak. I later realized this is completely false and the opposite of healthy. Remember while yes, we are some kind of superhero, we still are only human.

It’s okay to ask for help. It is okay to need help. It is strength to seek support and avoid a crisis. We are human and we cannot control hard times, but we can control how we respond to them.

Facing your feelings is what is actually going to allow them to dissipate when the time is right. Not facing your feelings causes them to simmer, compile, and not breakdown. Unresolved and lingering feelings of sadness, anger, hostility, and aggression can accumulate stress that makes every day living harder or can result in serious health problems later.

We are exposed to potentially traumatic events every day in our profession. When a traumatic event like the loss of a coworker or an in the line of duty death strikes us, grief support is necessary. The shock, anger, sadness, and guilt faced is enough to put anyone in crisis mode. Grief can feel overwhelming.

While grief is universal in life, it does vary and how we grieve is different. Grief impacts us physically, mentally and spiritually. There is no such thing as a “typical” loss. Grieving is as individual as our lives are. Stress can overwhelm the defenses despite your best efforts to cope.

Here are a few tips to use when facing grief or crisis:

Understand the five stages of grief. Grieving is a natural process. Understanding grief and its process can help with coping as you are going through it. The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. You may think you are done with one stage and find yourself back there. There is no time limit to each stage of grief.

Effective mourning is not done alone. You may feel like wanting to withdraw and be alone but effective mourning is done with others. Spend time with your family and friends or with your coworkers who are grieving. Ask for comfort. Ask for what you need. It is hard to ask for things but utilize the support you have from family and friends.

Draw comfort from faith. Whatever your faith is, religious or spiritual, use it to cope. Spiritual activities that are meaningful to you—such as praying, meditating, or going to church—can offer solace. Speak with your agency’s chaplain.

Spend time with your coworkers. Get together before shift for coffee to decompress on the way into work or meet up after work for breakfast (graveyarders) or dinner (dayshifters) or for “choir practice” (just do not overdo it!) to bond during this time.

Look after your physical health. The mind and body are connected. Combat stress during hard times by sleeping, eating right, and exercising. It may be hard to do these things in times of crisis but remember it is extremely beneficial during this time. Do not abuse alcohol, cigarettes or any other things that are or may become addictions.

Utilize the peer support program. Your agency has a peer support program that is there to provide a safe place to speak feelings. Talking helps. Holding in feelings distorts your thoughts.

Death may have ended a life, but it does not end the relationship you had. It is normal and healthy to foster the continuing bond you had, as you decide how your loved one will be remembered, memorialized, and included in your daily life.

Take time to reinvent. Take time to reinvent the joys of life. These may be small things that can bring joy to you again. Utilize these even when you feel you should not be happy or doing happy things.

Time does not heal grief but you can start to control and heal your grief. Just because we move on, does not mean one forgets. As time goes by, the difficult times are shorter and may be less intense. Some loss never goes away but we can return to a new normalcy after the grief subsides.

While we cannot control what crisis we may face at work, it is the coming together of coworkers and providing support when life is hard that will get us all through those times. 

Ed Note: Harriet wanted to include this song as a memorial for all those killed in the line of duty, overseas or even those who passed away at home. 

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