When you just don’t feel the holiday spirit.
If there’s one time of year that’s the most trying for police officers (and their families), it’s the holidays. All your friends are well and truly in leisure mode, enjoying their two (or more) weeks off. The kids are off school for a couple of months, and the social invites are pouring in.
And because you have to say no to a large portion of them or, at least, watch your family go alone, you feel bad. Guilt is an issue that officers have to deal with year-round, but especially when your people have time off work.
While they all respond, “it’s okay, I know you have to work”, that doesn’t make the feeling of guilt subside. It’s important to recognise that it’s normal to feel this way and communicate your concerns with your loved ones. While nothing can make up for the sadness you might experience missing out on these special catch ups and Christmas Day, there are strategies that can help you cope.
Your ‘guide’ to surviving the Christmas season.
From the stress of your ‘off’ days becoming social activities and the financial burden of compensating (with gifts) to manage guilt and planning for the year ahead, there’s a lot of moving parts that make Christmas time a challenge for police officers.
Your mates are hanging at the pub and your family is doing activities without you. And the days you do have off, you feel you have to maximise to ‘make up’ for lost time. This can exacerbate these negative feelings, simply because you’re not putting your health first.
If we have one piece of advice, it’s this: look after yourself. If you’re starting your shifts already tired and not feeling your best, it’s going to become way more challenging.
Know your ‘why’… and be grateful for it.
This is a great time to revisit why you got into the force in the first place. To help others, to become an advocate for your community, and to fight injustice. Even taking 15 minutes at the start of each day is a great way to ‘check in’ with yourself, think about anything you’re struggling with, or resisting, and to empower yourself.
We know that one of the simplest things you can do to increase your happiness is to show gratitude. There have been thousands of studies about how gratitude can change your perspective and, in turn, your life. In the long list of scientifically-proven benefits, gratitude improves psychological and physical health, increases empathy (and reduces aggression), and boosts your self-esteem. People who show daily gratitude also sleep better and are open to developing more connections – two extremely important tools for healthy police officers.
Plan your very own Christmas.
We started with focusing on you first for a reason – and it’s not just because you step into a community-service role every day. By ensuring you’re in a good headspace through a daily practice of gratitude and ‘you’ time, you can start to break down society’s ‘rules.’
If you let your mind run in circles every time a friend asks you to meet up but you’re working, you’ll find yourself fall into victim mode. ‘Why do I always have to miss out on all the fun events’, you’ll think to yourself. Showing gratitude will help mitigate this, so you can realign your thoughts positively.
Ask yourself, why do I need to miss out on Christmas, just because I have to work on the 25th. You don’t and to help you realise this, make plans. A day is just a day – it’s the Christmas spirit you’re really yearning for. So, round up the family (and close friends), and make your own celebrations. Simply by replacing the day won’t change the energy of the season.
Communication is your key for getting through this. Encourage your partner and kids to talk about their feelings and concerns. Ask them what they’d like to do and what they miss the most about you working on Christmas Day. Sit your kids down and explain to them the reasons why you have to work during Christmas. Even if they’re too young to understand, there are ways to do this – with a little police vs. ‘bad guys’ role play, for example.
And, you’ve got a secret wild card that you can pull out: the double Christmas. What kid doesn’t want to celebrate Christmas twice? Your partner and kids can enjoy the 25th with the extended family and then have a second one at home, with you there.
This is a great way to do it because no one misses out and this will reduce any feelings of guilt. While you might have to reschedule those big group catch ups, you can see your close friends one-on-one.
Grief (tangible & intangible) & depression.
Christmas takes our minds down memory lane. It can resurrect negative emotions and make us feel alone, especially if you’ve recently lost a loved one. The holidays can remind us of how great this time of year was when certain people were in our lives. Maybe you’ve recently lost a parent or are going through a divorce.
Depression and coping with feelings of loss (both tangible and intangible) are common at Christmas time. When they return, it’s important to stop and regroup. Take steps to prevent this lull and learn to recognise your triggers. They could be personal demands, financial pressures or feelings of loneliness.
We suggest trying these strategies.
- Acknowledge your feelings: If you’ve experienced a recent loss, understand that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. Don’t be afraid to express your feelings and reach out for support. You don’t need to force yourself to ‘be happy’, just because it’s the holiday season. Seek out community for support and companionship.
- Be realistic: Families grow and change, so do traditions and rituals. Some will always be close to your heart, but make room to creating new memories.
- Set aside your differences: Do your best to accept family members and friends just as they are (like you’d expect them to do for you). The holidays tend to increase our stress, so understand if others are upset or out of character.
- Stick to a budget: It’s easy to spend a lot during this time of year. The presents, food and drinks, and regular catch ups can blow out your usual budget. Plan to spend a little more this season but know what you can afford. Avoid the avalanche of gifts.
- Don’t abandon healthy habits: We know, it’s easy to do. But, being conscious about your health during the busiest times of year will help avoid overindulging (and the stress that always follows it). Make sure you have healthy snacks close by, get plenty of sleep and incorporate regular physical activity into each day.
Healthy tools to cope with your emotions (and what you witness on the job).
The tragedies you might experience during the holidays carry a heavier weight. Christmas is a time when families unite in love and appreciation for one another. So, nothing will soften the impact for arriving at the scene of a fatality that involves young children. Even more so, at this time of year.
It’s critical for officers to learn what coping tools you can tap into to help you process these levels of emotions. Alcohol can seem like a quick resolution, especially as it’s a time where we can consume it more often. But, a liquid substance will only serve as a temporary distraction and an artificial solution, to a deeper problem.
There are various coping strategies that you can adopt that will differ from person to person. For example, some coping tools include educating yourself about PTSD, finding supportive connections, and spending time with people who love you. As for emotional and physical strategies, you can practice mindfulness, exercise, keep a journal, and see a counsellor.
Recognise your triggers, both internal and external, as well as your lifestyle risks. The tips that usually work for everyone include:
- Avoiding drugs & alcohol
- Getting enough sleep
- Exercising everyday
- Eating a balanced, nutritious diet
- Limiting caffeine
- Reducing screen time (particularly social media)
- Keeping good company (not isolating yourself).
As a member of the Police Health community, you have direct access to mental health staff, such as counsellors. You can tap into these professional resources anytime you need.
Carving out time for self-reflection and planning ahead is a useful exercise, too. Despite the uniqueness of this year, write a list of everything you’re proud of achieving in 2020. You’ll be surprised how long that list will be. Then, look ahead and map out your New Year’s resolutions. Set realistic goals for 2021 to continue to become the best version of yourself. Forget the external comparisons and push yourself to evolve, year after year.
With a little planning (and positive thinking), you can experience that heart-warming holiday joy.
Cover like no other
Police Health understands the unique health needs of the police community, because we’ve been looking after them for over 85 years. Whether you’re already a member, or interested in becoming one, call us to find out how to get the most out of our cover and benefits. We’re here to help.
Please note: some articles on this website are compiled from material obtained externally. Although we make every effort to ensure information is correct at the time of publication, we accept no responsibility for its accuracy. Health-related articles are intended for general information only and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please consult your doctor. The views expressed in articles are not necessarily those of Police Health.