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6 things police officers can do every shift to stay mentally fit

These action items can help officers incorporate mental fitness strategies into their daily routines

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Implement these six practical self-care strategies to manage stress and maintain mental fitness.

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Serving in the police force is a profession that often comes with high stress and intense demands. As you increase the expectations you set for yourself, it becomes increasingly vital to put a premium on self-care and the management of stress. It’s critical for those in law enforcement to consistently practice stress management techniques and uphold a healthy lifestyle. While there’s a significant emphasis on seeking professional help, peer support, or participating in stress debriefing, it’s equally important to consider regular actions anyone can take daily to maintain their own mental fitness.

Here are six measures you have immediate access to and can incorporate into every shift from this day forward.

1. Concentrate on what you can control

Many everyday work situations can cause stress and frustration if you focus too much on how things should be or what could happen. The key is to focus on what you can control in challenging and frustrating situations. For example, if you’re frustrated with a supervisor’s decision, instead of worrying about things you can’t control, like how they got their position or their motives, focus on what you can control, like your reaction, attitude and what actions you can take.

Action item: Create a daily journal or reserve quiet time for reflection at the end of each shift. Reflect on stressful situations of the day and identify what aspects of the situation are within your control. This could be your actions, your responses, your attitude, or your choices. What you cannot control are the actions or reactions of others, unforeseen circumstances, or the past. Some things are just beyond your control, and you’ll want to practice acceptance of that fact versus fighting it.


Journal writing can serve as a therapeutic tool, helping to clarify thoughts and feelings, reduce stress, and enhance self-awareness and personal growth.


Police1 resource: 5 alternatives to journaling if you don’t like to write

2. Move your body

Engaging in routine physical activities, be it hitting the gym during or after your shift or just making more of an effort to move, is crucial for maintaining mental health. Regular exercise can help handle the mental fatigue that often comes after a high-alert shift, it aids in lessening anxiety, managing stress, and decreasing symptoms of depression. Allocating time for physical activity isn’t a luxury, but an essential requirement for remaining mentally fit!

Action item: Schedule short, regular exercise sessions during or after your shift. This could be a 15-minute brisk walk, a quick gym session, or stretching exercises. Use reminders on your phone, an accountability partner, or a planner to stay committed.


To maintain consistency in your fitness routine, schedule brief, regular exercise sessions during or after your shift, using phone reminders, an accountability partner, or a planner for commitment.


Police1 resource: How to workout SMARTer, not harder

3. Connect to your purpose

You have an amazing purpose, and that’s clear from the job you’ve chosen and the service you provide to our community. However, daily stress and problems often make individuals lose touch with their purpose. But being part of something bigger than us, like our purpose, can help us tackle problems in a new way. It gives us a different viewpoint and keeps us thinking about the overall goal that cannot be touched by everyday issues. So, before you start work, or maybe even before you go home, depending on your purpose, take a moment to remind yourself of who you want to be, why you’re here, and how you want to act, even if the next few hours might be stressful.

Action item: Keep a small note or a picture in your pocket or workspace that reminds you of your purpose. Before starting your shift, spend a few moments looking at it to reconnect with your purpose and motivation.


For police officers, regularly reflecting on the core mission of their role can be vital for maintaining mental health and resilience, fostering a sense of purpose and direction amidst challenging circumstances.

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Police1 resource: 8 reasons to keep a law enforcement scrapbook

4. Vent about the things that matter

Sharing your current stress, challenges and worries with someone who genuinely cares about you, even if they can’t solve the problem, helps you handle stress and feel less isolated. Having a reliable support group is crucial for staying mentally fit. This group can be made up of family, friends, or coworkers who understand the specific stress and difficulties that come with police work. They can offer emotional help, guidance and a safe place to talk. If you have this support, don’t hesitate to use it beyond the usual surface complaints.

Action item: Identify someone you trust and feel comfortable talking to. Make intentional efforts to arrange regular check-ins with them, whether in person, over the phone, or through texts, to share your feelings and experiences.

Man comforting his sad mourning friend

Opening up about your stress and challenges to a supportive group of family, friends, or coworkers, especially those who understand the unique pressures of police work, can greatly aid in managing stress, reducing feelings of isolation and maintaining mental fitness.

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Police1 resource: How therapy can help law enforcement officers

5. Prioritize sleep

Sleep significantly affects your mental state. Insufficient sleep can harm our mood, response speed, critical thinking abilities and overall mental health. It can even increase your risk of developing symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Therefore, it’s crucial to make high-quality sleep a priority whenever possible.

If you’re having difficulty sleeping, don’t ignore it or dismiss it as “I’m just not a good sleeper.” Sleep is a necessity for everyone. It physically aids in the restoration and rejuvenation of our bodies. You can immediately commit to developing a good sleep routine and try all the simple recommendations out there for getting the best quality sleep, no matter what time of day your shift is. If these are not working, then contact a qualified professional who can help. It’s worth it!

Action item: Develop a sleep routine. This could include setting a consistent bedtime, creating a pre-sleep ritual like reading or meditation, and ensuring your sleep environment is comfortable and conducive to rest. Use sleep tracking apps to monitor your sleep quality.


For police officers, prioritizing high-quality sleep is essential as it profoundly impacts mood, response speed, critical thinking and overall mental health, while reducing the risk of post-traumatic stress symptoms.

Police1 resource: Do you have a sleep disorder?

6. Actively choose positive

Keeping a positive attitude can be difficult when you’re continually confronted with challenges and negativity on the job. An important part of this is being aware of when you’re feeling intense negative emotions and choosing to do something that will likely help you overcome them. You can use gratitude, deep breathing, mindfulness, go on a walk, view a beautiful photo of someone who makes you happy, watch a funny video, or something else. There are endless options for you to choose from, think of a couple that will be immediately available to you on shift, and commit to using them when you notice you’re in a negative state.

Action item: Create a “positivity toolkit.” This could include a playlist of uplifting music, a collection of funny videos or jokes, and photos of loved ones or happy memories that act as reminders for what you’re thankful for. Turn to this toolkit whenever you need a quick mood boost during your shift.


Maintaining a positive mindset is crucial for police officers as it can significantly improve their mental wellness, helping to mitigate stress and enhance resilience in the face of challenging and often negative work environments.


Police1 resource: Why our brains fixate on the bad (and what to do about it)

The role of a law enforcement officer is undoubtedly challenging, often marked by high stress and rigorous demands. As you strive to meet these high expectations, it’s even more essential to prioritize self-care and effective stress management techniques. Regularly practicing these techniques and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is crucial for those in law enforcement. While professional help and peer support are highly valuable, remember that day-to-day actions can significantly contribute to managing stress and help you maintain your mental fitness. So, make these practices part of your routine and use them as tools in your self-care arsenal for a healthier and more balanced work-life experience.

Dr. Rachelle Zemlok is a licensed clinical psychologist in California, specializing in work with first responder families. She serves as the strategic wellness director at Lexipol, supporting the content and strategy related to first responder mental health and wellness, with a special focus on supporting spouses and family members through the Cordico Wellness App. Prior to joining Lexipol, Zemlok founded First Responder Family Psychology, which provides culturally competent therapy to first responders and their family members. She is the author of “The Firefighter Family Academy: A Guide to Educate & Prepare Spouses for the Career Ahead.” For more information on Dr. Zemlok or to connect with her please visit her website.