11 Mindfulness Considerations for On-Duty and Off-Duty Officers
In a recent feature on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Law Enforcement Blog, three Ph.D. researchers with backgrounds in law enforcement offered perspectives on their research into so-called “mindfulness training” – defined by the article as a process enabling officers “to become fully aware of the current moment while acknowledging and openly accepting their thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations.”
The researchers note a number of tests of mindfulness training in law enforcement contexts, including a program in which “staff members taught 62 officers how to increase their attention to everyday activities and practice situational awareness of their breathing and bodily sensations during work-related stressful events. Participants experienced fewer health issues, including sleep problems, occupational and general stress, fatigue, and burnout.”
The article also notes programs targeting senior police trainers, with the goal of incorporating mindfulness techniques into training curricula, including one practice in which, within a sample of 193 police officers, “researchers demonstrated that an increased ability to maintain mindful, nonjudgmental awareness while on duty significantly resulted in fewer symptoms related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Trauma-exposed individuals may cope by avoiding thoughts, feelings, and experiences that exacerbate post-traumatic distress—this often paradoxically intensifies symptoms.”
The researchers offer eleven steps officers can consider within both On-Duty and Off-Duty contexts:
- Take a few deep breaths or pause for a moment to breathe naturally and follow the air going in and out. You may want to say “in” and “out” to better concentrate.
- Observe your experience just as it is, including thoughts, feelings, and sensations. You can reflect on your thoughts. Notice that they are neither facts nor permanent. Focus on any feelings, such as job-related stress, and how your body expresses them. Do not apply negative labels, such as “bad” or “weak,” to your thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Rather, accept them without judgement.
- Complete the technique with something that will help you stay in the moment. For instance, you may talk to a colleague or check your bodily sensations (e.g., those resulting from standing up or sitting in the patrol car).
You may use certain cues (e.g., wristbands or smartphone message indicators) as reminders to apply mindfulness techniques during your shift. In addition, right before, during, and just after exposure to critical incidents, you can apply step 1 and, briefly, step 2 as time limitations permit.
- Stop what you are doing, and put things down for a moment. Sit on a chair with your legs uncrossed and put your arms in a comfortable position on your armrests or thighs, palms up. You may have your eyes closed or opened.
- Imagine your breath flowing to each part of your body as your focus gently moves up. Concentrate on your breathing and notice how the air moves in and out.
- Direct your attention to the toes of your left foot. Notice the sensations while remaining aware of your breathing. Imagine each breath flowing to your toes. You may ask, “What sensation do I have in this part of my body?” After focusing on your left toes for a moment, move your attention to the arch and heel of your left foot and hold it there for a minute or two. Continue to concentrate on your breathing. Notice the feeling on your skin and the weight of your foot on the floor. Imagine the air flowing to the arch and heel of your left foot and ask, “What sensations can I feel in this area?”
- Follow the same procedure as you move to your left ankle, calf, knee, upper leg, and thigh. Repeat with the right leg, starting with your toes.
- Move through your pelvis, lower back, and stomach. Focus on the rising and falling of your stomach as your breath goes in and out.
- Concentrate on your chest, left hand, left arm, left shoulder, right hand, right arm, right shoulder, neck, chin, tongue, mouth, lips, lower face, and nose.
- Notice your breath in and out of your nostrils. Then, focus on your upper cheeks, eyes, forehead, scalp, and top of your head. Next, concentrate on and scan your body altogether.
- Complete the technique with something that will help you stay in the moment. For instance, talk to a family member or friend or enjoy a nice meal or refreshment (e.g., tea).
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