A new study shows that practicing mindfulness—focusing one’s awareness and attention on the present—significantly lessens law enforcement professionals’ stress and anger.
Police officers face unique challenges everyday: departmental politics, pending litigation, irregular shifts. And on the street, they come face-to-face with criminals, violence and death, and situations that threaten their own safety. This stress is often experienced with excessive hostility, which impairs officers’ well-being and can negatively impact their behavior with the public. This stress is also reflected in depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, and suicide —in higher rates than in the general population.
Mindfulness-Based Resilience Training for law enforcement is now coming to light with the first empirical research on the program. “The practice of pausing, coming into awareness, breathing, and gently responding can dramatically alter the way we (police) respond to stress and anger,” says Aaron L. Bergman, coauthor of the study.
“Police officers are often left to manage stress and anger in a cultural context that does not support help-seeking behavior and that encourages maladaptive coping mechanisms,” Bergman and his team write. The researchers note that many law enforcement professionals try to maintain tough demeanors and shun seeking assistance. To cope, many lean on unhealthy behaviors.
Findings indicate that mindfulness-based practices offer expanded self-awareness and self-compassion. “Self-awareness is the cure for bias. We will never overcome our biases if we aren’t even aware of them,” Oregon police officer Richard Goerling states. Officers can become aware of and change deeply ingrained, unconscious judgments that affect their attitudes and behaviors towards others. Mindfulness offers a new set of skills to help police de-escalate volatile situations, improve community relations, and better handle the demands of their jobs.
Aaron L. Bergman, Michael S. Christopher, Sarah Bowen, “Changes in Mindfulness Predict Stress and Anger Outcomes for Police Officers,” Mindfulness, August 2016, Volume 7, Issue 4, 851–858, http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs12671-016-0522-z.
Jill Suttie, “How Mindfulness Is Changing Law Enforcement,” Greater Good, May 18, 2016, http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_mindfulness_is_changing_law_enforcement.
Jenn Knudsen, “Mindfulness Reduces Stress and Anger in Police,” Greater Good, August 6, 2016, http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/mindfulness_reduces_stress_and_anger_in_police.
Student Researcher: Amber Yang (San Francisco State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Kenn Burrows (San Francisco State University)