Helping Someone Suffering from Stress

I know many of our followers are police officers, but many of you are not – you are family members or friends of officers, or you just simply want to be involved in an organization that engages in support for law enforcement.  This message is for any of you who are wondering what you might be able to do to help someone who is suffering from stress – whether that means acute stress from a particularly traumatic incident, or the effects of chronic stress that have built up over time as a result of multiple exposures to traumatic incidents.

I’m going to share some thoughts with you today about how to provide the right kind of social support.  It is not uncommon for people suffering from stress to withdraw from friends and family.  You can respect those boundaries, of course, but if you make it known that you’re still there and that you still care, that can help your friend or loved one overcome feelings of helplessness, grief, or despair.  Face-to-face support is one of the most important factors in recovery from stress.

So how do you provide that support?  Knowing what to do and say is not always easy.  So here are some quick suggestions:

Don’t pressure the person into talking.  It can be very difficult for some people to talk about traumatic experiences, and in some cases it may even make things worse.  So let them know that you’re willing to listen when they’re ready to talk, or that you’re willing to just hang out even when they don’t feel like talking.

Do “normal” things with the person.  It is perfectly okay to suggest an activity that has nothing to do with the traumatic experience or chronic stress.  Do enjoyable things together, go to breakfast or lunch, take a walk together, visit a museum or some other local attraction . . . just spending time together aids the healing process.

Let that person take the lead.  Instead of feeling like you have to make all the suggestions and make it seem like you are always telling that person what he or she should do, take a cue from that person as to how you can best provide support and companionship.  Most people instinctively know what makes them feel calm and safe, and that is your most important goal.

Manage your own stress.  The more calm, relaxed, and focused you are, the better you’ll be able to help someone else.  Make sure you are getting plenty of rest, eating right, and engaging in at least some moderate exercise on a regular basis in order to stay more mentally healthy yourself.  And you may even need to take a break from caregiving once in a while to protect yourself emotionally.  There’s no need to feel guilty about that.  It’s like putting your own mask first on an airplane before you try to help someone else.

Be patient.  Recovery from stress is a process that takes time and often involves some setbacks.  The important thing is to stay positive and maintain support for your friend or loved one.  Slow and steady wins the race.  The running may get difficult, but keep your focus on the finish line and keep going.

Finally, educate yourself about the symptoms and warning signs of stress.  Most law enforcement officers are pretty resilient, but many times there will be one particular traumatic event that may impact them in a significant way.  For others, it may not even be a traumatic event, but something seemingly much less significant, that may push them over the proverbial edge.  In these first two cases, those individuals may be suffering from what are called acute stress disorder or adjustment disorder.  Based on averages from studies done by the federal government and others, about 12 percent of law enforcement officers may have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

If you’d like to ask any questions, I would encourage you to email me at david@humanizingthebadge.com.  And if our mental health and peer support team can help you in any way, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us by sending a private message on our Facebook page (facebook.com/humanizethebadge).  We will respond to you as quickly as we can.  God bless you, and stay safe.

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