We all know stress is bad, right? But do we really grasp HOW bad it is for us? Our culture seems to place a weird value on stress. The more tasks we’ve taken on, the more packed our schedules are, the more jobs we’re working, the more problems we’re coping with-the better. Unfortunately, our society doesn’t place a high value on our health, whether that be physical or mental (and the two are often combined).
Being a LEOW can bring on all types of additional stressors. We worry about our spouse while they’re at work, we have to take on additional household duties while they’re out on overtime, we adjust our schedules constantly to fit their ever-changing work shifts, we explain to our families over and over why we or them are missing yet another birthday or holiday or dinner. Blue life is not for the faint of heart-but you already know that, and you’re already living it (and crushing it, I’m sure).
As a LEOW and someone who works in the mental health field I’ve seen firsthand the damaging effects stress has on our bodies, our relationships, and our life. Did you know, for example, that some effects of stress can include muscle tenseness (aka a constantly achy body), headaches, stomachaches (or funny tummy, as I like to call it), higher blood pressures and heartrates, trouble sleeping, food problems (over or under eating) and chronic crankiness?
Okay, so that last one might not be phrased according to the science journals, but we all know it’s true. Stress is, unfortunately, unavoidable. Let’s be honest-we’re going to have days where we are Stressed. The. Heck. Out. It’s just going to happen when we live full lives (and when we’re married to a police officer). Fortunately, there are things that we can do to help manage that stress.
In the mental health world we call these things coping skills or coping strategies. These things can range from muscle relaxation to deep breathing to making lists to meditation.
Before I lose you with talk of meditation and hippy dippy yoga talk, let me assure you that I am about the furthest thing from a traditional meditator OR therapist. I am an active, fun-loving girl in my mid-twenties who drinks too many bottles of wine, eats fried chicken way too often, and avoids talking about feelings just like the rest of us. However, I’ve come across a lot of things that really, actually, for real HELP. For me these include:
- Making a list. I’m one of those people that needs to write things down. I have a note in my iPhone that has a ‘To Do’ section and a ‘To Get’ section. My To Do can include scheduling an oil change, looking up vacation ideas, calling my mom, or ordering another wedding album. The To Get has grocery items, random desires for our house, stamps, a moving box, etc. I am constantly rushing around and am one of those people whose ideas pop into my head randomly (like at 2 am) so I need to write it down right then or else it’s forgotten for all of eternity.
- Listening to music. Music is one of the most magical things that we have and I think too often we don’t use it to its full potential. When I start my mornings getting ready to the Casting Crows Pandora station my entire mindset for the day shifts. Likewise, when I am on my way from one task to another and need a pick me up, you better believe I’m blasting old school Britney Spears in my car with the windows rolled down.
- Getting outside. Yall, this is important. We all like the outdoors differently (some people could live without roofs and some could happily live without ever seeing the sun) but it is essential for our health. I try to make a point to at least pop my head outside during a busy day at the office or to open my curtains and let the sunshine in.
- Breathing. Well, duh. We all are good at this (or we’d be dead, right?). But I’m talking about deep breathing. This can be putting a hand on our tummy and watching it rise and fall, 357 breathing (in for 3, hold for 5, out for 7), taking 10 deep breaths with the lights out-whatever it takes. Deep breathing has been proven to help lower our heart rates, add oxygen to our brain, and generally calm us the heck down.
- Drinking more water. This is usually the one that surprises people. We know that practically all of us are perpetually dehydrated. The human body needs way more water than we typically give it to run smoothly and efficiently. However, water also helps us flush out cortisol, which is our stress hormone. One of my professors who worked for child services (CPS) used to say the first thing she would do in high stress situations was offer a bottle of water to people-and start chugging herself. Now, I’m not a doctor, and I’m not saying you need like four gallons of water a day, but drink a few extra glasses of water next week and pay attention to how you feel. I’ve also found that there’s something relaxing about drinking water-the action if picking up a glass or bottle, taking a sip, swallowing, setting it down-it helps ground us and put us in the moment.
- Doing something relaxing. This can be the breathing, it can be muscle relaxation, it can be mindfulness, it can be yoga. Maybe it’s sitting in the hot tub or taking a long bath. Maybe it’s reading a chapter of a good book, sitting in your car listening to the last of that Michael Buble song on the radio, reciting your favorite Bible verse-whatever works for you, make sure to take some time to yourself. As LEOWs we’re typically always catering to something or someone-our officer, our children or families, the needs of our home, the demands of our jobs. Take some time for YOU and you only, even if it’s only for a few moments.
- Talking it out. We, as human beings, are social creatures. God tells us that we were created for community and for relationships. Some of us may be more social than others, but we all need someone to talk to sometimes. Our burdens are so much lighter when we share them with others. Just as your spouse sometimes needs someone to help him unload after a long day, so do you. Make a point to nurture the relationships in your life that lead to positive conversations. And (this is my therapist plug here) please hear me when I say there is no shame in asking for help. Counseling was designed to give people a hand, an outlet, or an extra set of skills when they need it. Please fight against the stigma that professional help has and make an appointment for yourself or your hubby (or both) if you need it.
This is, by no means, an all-inclusive list. Stress is not something that can be demolished overnight but something we must manage throughout our lives. Finding ways to help combat stress is a process, not a one size fits all. Shop around to find things that work for you, and please share any others in the comments.