Feelings of anxiousness and fear are evident across all police forces. Tara Geraghty considers how gardaí can deal with such work-related stress
Working as a member of An Garda Síochána involves dealing with high pressure situations on a daily basis and it is natural to experience feelings of stress or anxiety. However, if these feelings become a regular side effect of your job it is important to take action.
Research in the UK has shown that 91% of police have experienced work-related stress and poor mental health and gardaí are far less likely to take time off due to stress than the general workforce.
There is often a stigma surrounding stress. There is a common misconception that the presence of stress or anxiety means that a person is weak minded or less capable than others; this, of course, is not the case. Anxiety is extremely common; we have all experienced it at some point in our lives. However, it becomes a mental health issue when it is experienced excessively, uncontrollably and is often characterised by irrational worry.
There are a number of factors which may be causing your stress. Relationships, financial concerns and work are the most common causes of stress. If you are experiencing stress in one area of your life this can often impact on other areas. Also, for example, if you are feeling stressed at work, this may cause friction in your relationship with your partner at home.
Often the first indicators of stress are physical; you may find yourself feeling more tired, you may be experiencing headaches or even an upset stomach. These physical symptoms occur because when we are stressed our bodies release hormones called cortisol and adrenaline. A certain amount of these hormones are beneficial as it allows our body to prepare to respond to a threatening situation; though if you are regularly producing high levels of these hormones it can cause us to feel physically unwell.
Whilst stress is not classified as a mental health problem, if you experience it on a regular basis and it begins to affect your everyday life, it is important to seek professional help as it may lead to the development of an anxiety disorder.
If you are suffering from an anxiety disorder, you may also experience other unpleasant side effects such as problems with sleeping, depression, lower sex drive and are at a higher risk of developing substance abuse problems such as alcohol misuse. Anxiety can also lead to panic attacks in some people. Panic attacks can cause excessive sweating, chest pains, difficulty breathing or feeling faint amongst other symptoms. During a panic attack it is normal to feel afraid that you are losing control or that you may die. These sensations can last from as little as a couple of minutes up to one hour or more. It is important to seek professional help if you are experiencing anxiety or panic attacks on a regular basis.
There are activities each of us can do to tackle our feelings of stress to ensure that it does not escalate. If you are experiencing stress or anxiety it is helpful to talk to friends and family. Also, you should identify the techniques that relax you; this may be as simple as listening to music, taking a bath or going for a walk. Once you begin to feel stressed you can set aside some time to enjoy the activity that relaxes you.
In order to combat the feelings of stress it is really important to take care of your physical health. Research has shown that physical exercise can help reduce feelings of depression and anxiety. It is also paramount to ensure you are getting enough sleep; when we are tired we often feel irritable and negative feelings and events are often exaggerated making everything feel worse.
Despite the demands of working as a member of An Garda Síochána, the job offers huge psychological gains. Research has shown that a high level of job satisfaction is experienced by members of law enforcement compared to those in less demanding occupations. Many studies have highlighted the importance of job satisfaction on a person’s well-being. If a person feels satisfied in their occupation, they are less likely to experience anxiety and feel more adept to combat feelings of stress and anxiety should they present themselves.
Tara Geraghty is an Assistant Psychologist with the HSE
For full and in-depth coverage, see the current printed edition of Garda Review.