The Psychological Effects of Stress and Anxiety on Police Officers

Law enforcement is believed to be one of the most significant occupations in which workers have to interact with a wide variety of people from various levels of society. Police officers are supposed to work with offenders and juvenile delinquents, numerous community members and other law enforcement officers. Despite the fact that people working in the sphere of law enforcement are instructed to control and manage their interplay with various types of individuals, the requirements to make decisions under time limits for particular settings results in solid stress among law enforcement personnel. Despite the fact that the consequences of stress vary in accordance with the conditions, features and the character of people encompassed, its outcomes for people are becoming progressively intense. Doldrums, anxiety, unrest and discontent are the possible consequences of police officers’ work. Depression and cardiovascular disease are prevalent negative effects of stress experienced by law enforcement officers on their health. Moreover, stress among police officers leads to negative consequences in terms of their conduct, including violence towards coworkers and family members combined with alcohol consumption and addiction. Generally speaking, there are two major kinds of stress endemic among police officers, which cause unsatisfactory job performance, lead to health issues and ruin family life. The first type of stress concerns pungent or situational stress, whereas the second type concerns chronic stress. The first type appears because of the work in situations incorporating cruelty or victimization of children or accidental death. It can also appear when a police officer encounters physically and emotionally hazardous situations. The second type results from exasperation with department operations and connected operational functions. Chronic stress occurs due to conflicts between conception of the administration and a police officer regarding police functions and issues connected with internal department investigations. Law enforcement officers acknowledge that stress is a constituent of their occupation and working circumstances. The statistics demonstrates that one U.S. police officer dies in the line of duty every 53 hours. Thus, starting from the first known line-of-duty death in 1792, more than 22,000 U.S. law enforcement officers have been killed. As many as 12 police officers died from gunfire during August-October period of 2015. Thus, a police officer from Memphis was shot several times and died on October 11. A few days later, on October 16, a part-time police officer was killed by a car thief. Many police officers are killed on the grounds of hatred and violence, which makes national police demand hate crimes protection. Due to recent crimes against police officers, they are at a higher risk of the development of stress and anxiety related health, job performance and family issues. The major objective of this paper is to examine how stress connected with the law enforcement job can negatively affect officers’ health, job performance and family relationships.

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Effects of Anxiety and Stress on Job Performance

Numerous law enforcement officers are typically unaware that long-range influences of stress and anxiety can seriously affect their occupational performance. If stress prevents normal sleep hours (a person is recommended to sleep at least 6 to 8 hours), an officer can rapidly develop sleep deprivation. In fact, the impacts of sleep deprivation can be compared to drinking of alcohol. Sleep deprivation can cause incapacitated speech, incapability to balance, challenged eyes-hand coordination and falling asleep during work. Officers suffering from stress and anxiety demonstrate a tendency to utilize more sick-leaves. Secondly, they have difficultly managing effective and successful personal intercourses. Thirdly, these law enforcement offices have numerous time management problems, especially appearing in service on time. Fourthly, they have a tendency to make mistakes in various departmental and court paperwork. Fifthly, stress and anxiety lead to fatigue and provoke officers to sleep on duty as they are supposed to operate under rotating shifts. In addition, officers suffering stress generate greater rates of citizen accusations due to reported misconduct. Then, they demonstrate a tendency to have difficulties while interfacing with superintendents and have stressful intercourses with superiors. Finally, they often experience incidental traumas on duty, so their risk of being injured or even killed due to the lack of concentration or inability to perceive hazardous signs is much higher.

The effects of stress and anxiety continue to grow due to the present current economic issues. Officers tend to overwork; they often work double shifts, take additional patrols or even second jobs. The researches demonstrate that stressed officers encounter performance issues on and off duty. Law enforcement officers are ready to sacrifice their health, security and family relationships by assuming the elevated workload in order to earn additional revenue for their families regardless of the alarming signs provoked by operating while stressed or fatigued. The researches argue that police culture still inclined to thinking that working more is better for career in spite of the fact that chronic stress leading to fatigue provokes serious performance and health problems.

The workplace setting of law enforcement officers is regarded as repressive; it precipitates the feeling of cynicism and causes burnout and decrease in the overall performance. It is acknowledged that progressive stress can do serious harm; one of the most dangerous consequences of work stress is burnout. Burnout is a psychological syndrome developed in reaction to work-connected stressors. Burnout is a sturdy, negative, work-connected frame of mind of an ordinary normal individual that is originally featured by inanition, followed by distress, a feeling of lowered efficiency, reduced motivation and the evolvement of dysfunctional position and conduct at work. This state of overtiredness is regarded as an extreme antiperistasis to stress. Burnout leads to individual’s inability to achieve work-connected objectives or perform his or her duties due to the lack of energy and attention. Being physically functional, such officers merely perform the required routines and are absolutely engaged in their occupations. They are less probable to make a valuable contribution to the organizations they work in. Thus, stress and anxiety can have numerous negative impacts on law enforcement officers’ job performance.

Health-Related Issues Associated with Stress and Anxiety

Stress among law enforcement officers is connected with a plenty of health-related problems and consequences incorporating dipsomania, backache, cardiovascular disease, depression, early mortality, gastrointestinal disorders and ulcerations, migraine, sleep disorder, insomnia and even suicide. On the one hand, situational stress can frequently lead to a condition known as post-traumatic stress disorder, during which flashbacks, hypervigilance and night terrors are widely spread. Both situational and chronic stress can provoke police officer to commit suicides. Generally speaking, suicide rate for law enforcement officers is much higher compared to the general populace. Nevertheless, some of the recent data demonstrates that the rate of police suicide gradually declines, which might be explained by more sophisticated and scholarly-grounded employment practices, stress control and treatment seminars, higher quantity of police psychologists operating in urban departments, etc.. Nonetheless, numerous studies maintain that law enforcement officers over the age 40 depict a higher 10-year hazard of a coronary event on the contrary to medium national norms. In addition, approximately 70 percent of female officers and 40 percent of male officers demonstrate higher-than-endorsed cholesterol levels. Moreover, law enforcement officers as a category have higher-than-medium pulse and level of diastolic blood pressure. Numerous researches illustrate that shift work has hazardous effects on police officers, causing stress, suicide and cardiovascular disease. On the other hand, the results of the studies analyzing shift work indicate that suicidal thoughts are higher for female officers operating during the day shifts and for male officers operating during the afternoon and night shifts. The results demonstrate that 24 percent of male officers and 26 percent of female officers have suicidal thoughts, which is more compared to the general populace (14 percent). Some studies state that suicide rate is three times higher in police officers compared to other municipal workers. Female officers working during day shifts explain that they feel more anxious and stressed as this time provides more possibilities for dealing with conflicts and negative environments. On the other hand, male officers working during midnight shifts have suicide thought, which is associated with stronger requirement to be a strong constituent of social coherence related to coworkers in the police organization. A study on stress and blood vessel reactions concluded that female officers demonstrate higher cortisol levels after awakening, and these levels remain high throughout the day. Typically, cortisol has the highest level in the morning and decreases to the lowest point in the evening. Constantly elevated cortisol level is connected with lowered arterial elasticity, which is known to be the major hazardous factor for the development of cardiovascular disease. Thus, numerous researches vividly prove that stress and anxiety can seriously undermine law enforcement officers’ health, lead to suicide ideas and even cause death.

Effects of Anxiety and Stress on the Family

A police officer’s level of emotional exhaustion, stress and anxiety is connected to depersonalization and marital distress. Extended occasional hours, the necessity of constant post-positioning on call, security concerns and hostile public opinion are all been stipulated to be causes of the marital adversities endured by law enforcement officers. These causes give minor understanding of the particular alterations in family patterns, which appear in return to above-mentioned disruptions. Thus, stress and anxiety can affect the stability of family relationships. Fiscal quarrels, separations and divorces are the major symptoms of pressure and burdens of policing. The “portrait armor”, which law enforcement officers evolve as a defense technique, operates highly effectively for the officer’s survival and dealing with stress. Nevertheless, this image frequently leads to failed marriages, negative relationships with children and family violence. Thus, the features that make a person a professional police officer do not inevitably make him or her a perfect spouse or parent. The statistics demonstrates that 70 percent of police officers get divorced within the first five years on the job. Job stress is known to be a great obstacle to the plausibility of a successful marriage because emotional depletion and emotive suppression accompanying the work of police officers can aggravate interaction within the family. Job stress typically reminds a “freeze” response that comes from fear and is frequently demonstrates during the days of elevated job anxiety. Police officer’s spouse and children typically cannot understand why police officer refuse from emotional communication, thus the family members blame themselves for this. The police officer demonstrates psychological withdrawal from work and personal life, which appears as a reaction to excessive stress. It makes him/her change attitude from empathy to apathy. In addition, police work can also instill fear for the security of the loved ones. Moreover, the rotating schedules of a patrol officer’s “around-the clock” hours of duty entangle family logistics. Stress and anxiety make police officers become more comfortable with anger and black humor, less comfortable with softness and demonstrations of affection. Stress frequently makes them replace “requests” with “demands”. For example, an officer may order his/her child to “buckle up the seat belt or we’re not going anywhere.” The motivation of this anger is obvious. Emotive depletion caused by stress hinders the officer to retell child stories of dead children pulled from car wrecks. The officer is unable to explain the level of fear at the thought that this could happen to his/her child. Thus, officers are more inclined to order, command, control and guide, and less likely to debate, ask or suggest in regards with their family. They expect to have the last word during family discussions and are highly critical. Officers’ spouses frequently complain that an officer often communicate with them as if they were criminals. On the other hand, children regard their parents-officers to be detached, reserved and uncomprehending. Police officers frequently become overprotecting parents who forbid their children simple things, including parties, travelling, dating, etc. Stress and anxiety do not allow officers to leave their job at work, which makes them transfer their police officer role to their families. Thus, stress and anxiety among police officers can negatively influence and even ruin their families.

Steps to Reduce Police Officers’ Anxiety and Stress

There are numerous managerial approaches aimed at law enforcement officers’ stress management. Police managers have executed numerous activities, manipulations and implementations to react to the issues of police officers’ stress. They typically incorporate detection, analysis and provision of incentives created to detract the level of anxiety or elevate managing and dispatching capacities in officers. It is obvious that the recent years have seen an elevation in the psychological and consultancy facilities and attendances approachable to police, combined with projects designed to lower stress and anxiety.

Nevertheless, police officers can adhere to particular steps, which can seriously assist in coping with stress and anxiety. Particular individual features and subjective habits can lower the quantity of stress experienced by law enforcement officers. Appropriate diet and consumption habits may perform a crucial role in lowering the effect of stress and anxiety. While police officers are frequently called unexpectedly into action, it might be complicated to eat at a calm pace or consume healthy foods. As a result, they are likely to have a high fat and high sugar content diet. In addition, physical exercises can lower stress and elevate an officer’s capability to conform to organizational stress factors. The statistics demonstrates that police officers working in the departments that executed specific physical exercise programs showed a solid decrease in sick-leaves and operational complaints. In addition, such techniques as meditation and relaxation are also viewed as highly beneficial in dealing with stress and anxiety. It is known that police officers frequently depend on harmful, detrimental or counter-productive techniques for dealing with stress. Thus, approximately 30 percent of police officers utilize alcohol to deal with stress despite the fact that this technique increases stress level over time and is highly dangerous. Officers should learn to control their response to stressful accidents and recognize that fatigue has an immediate effect on individual stress levels. Officers are able to response to stress and anxiety the way they have been trained only if they are healthy and alert and have enough rest.

There are special training programs developed particularly for police officers to help them manage stress and anxiety. The first step of these programs regards stress recognition. Police officers usually ignore the signs of stress and attempt to adapt to it even though the stress affects their work, health and family. Recognition of such signs as difficulties in concentrating, muscle rigidity, head pain, fatigue and sleep issues help to understand that a police officer suffers from stress and anxiety. The second step concerns healthy lifestyle. Although long in-line-duty hours can make police officers feel too tired to exercise or eat properly, development of a healthy lifestyle can actually help them feel more energetic. Therefore, it is highly recommended to work out on a regular basis and eat healthy. It can assist not only in dealing with stress/anxiety but also in preventing it. The third step regards the development of appropriate coping skills. It helps in dealing effectively with stressful situations, including shootings, hostage, car chases, etc. An elevation of coping mechanisms helps to lower negative reactions during and after the stressful occasions. The fourth step concerns the determination of unconstructive attitudes. Law enforcement officer might react to the strained situations with his/her feelings, ideas, emotions, and attitudes. It is highly important to learn to define individual negative responses to such situations, which will facilitate law enforcement officer’s ability to cope with stress and anxiety. The fifth step regards development of communication capabilities. Ineffective communication typically causes or elevates the level of stress in life. The creation of healthier work and individual relationships by evolving communication capacities helps to reduce stress and anxiety for police officers. The final step might be the most complicated one as it regards time off. Many police officers take additional shifts or work off-duties in order to have additional costs or to cover their stressful state. However, this makes it more complicated (almost impossible) to deal with stress and can ultimately lead to burnout. Therefore, it is recommended to relax and use time for socialization with friends and family or for exercising.


It is obvious that police officers undergo exceptional stress factors, which eventually lead to a wide variety of minor and serious physical and psychological issues. Stress and anxiety can negatively affect occupational performance, making police officers neglectful, lead to their burnout and dismissal. Stress can also result in numerous health-related issues, including cardiovascular diseases, choric pains, ulcers and even suicides. Stress and anxiety can ruin police officers’ families as they are supposed to live under constant danger, adjust their lives and family holidays, vacations and events to shift hours and undercover duties. Nevertheless, the credence and conviction that policing is the most stressful occupation cannot be regarded as accurate. There are numerous techniques and even managerial approaches that can assist police officer in dealing with stress, anxiety and reasons leading to these conditions. Police officers should lead healthier lifestyles, abandon alcohol and fast food, do exercises and activities and dedicate more time to their families.