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Fortifying resilience: How to harness the mental toughness unleashed by the vacation experience

By following actionable steps before, during and after a vacation, officers can embrace the therapeutic power of detachment

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In pursuing a well-balanced and fulfilling life, law enforcement officers must recognize the significance of disconnecting from work and embracing a well-deserved vacation.

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Article highlights

  • Regular vacations are associated with improved physical health, including reduced blood pressure and improved heart health, and enhanced mental health, reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  • Disconnecting from work during vacation can strengthen family relationships, providing opportunities for quality time, meaningful conversations, and the creation of lasting memories.
  • This article emphasizes the importance of disconnecting from work during vacation for law enforcement officers and discusses the numerous benefits to physical and mental health, as well as family relationships.
  • It provides actionable steps to disconnect from work during vacation, including mental preparation, planning ahead, setting a technology detox, creating an emergency plan, and maintaining boundaries.
  • Disconnecting from work can improve mental toughness, resilience and decision-making skills, and provide a fresh perspective on professional challenges.

For the first time in 18 years, I completely disconnected from work on this year’s family summer vacation. Disconnecting from work might seem foreign or even uncomfortable for law enforcement officers who have dedicated their lives to protecting and serving their communities. However, taking a well-deserved vacation and intentionally detaching from work can profoundly benefit your physical and mental health and relationships with family members.

My wife and I decided to take our family to visit her parents in Idaho. Due to the distance and the fact that we do not see them as often as we would like, we decided to stay there for three weeks. Our vacation was filled with hikes in the tree-filled mountains and a lot of time on the lake. Usually, I would tow my department-issued cell phone with me, checking my emails every time it would ding to alert me of a new message, and I would answer every call and text, no matter what the family and I were doing. The phone was a distraction to me and my family and friends.

I would always tell myself that I needed to be available “in case the world ended,” but honestly, what would I have done for my agency in Southern California from Northern Idaho? During some self-reflection, I decided I was suffering from FOMO (fear of missing out) and that the agency would function just fine without me.

I know we all do it, but why?

This article explores actionable steps you can take before, during and after a vacation to maximize the benefits of disconnecting, discuss the positive impacts on health and relationships, and highlight how embracing detachment fosters mental toughness.

The importance of disconnecting from work

In today’s hyper-connected world, work-related stress has become pervasive, affecting millions of individuals, including law enforcement officers. A study by the American Psychological Association found that chronic stress can lead to various health problems, including anxiety, depression and cardiovascular issues. Exposure to high-pressure situations can result in cumulative stress for long-serving law enforcement officers, making disconnecting even more critical.

Actionable steps before, during and after a vacation

In pursuing a well-balanced and fulfilling life, law enforcement officers must recognize the significance of disconnecting from work and embracing a well-deserved vacation. However, the process of detaching from work might initially seem daunting and unfamiliar to the demanding duties of law enforcement. To ease this transition and ensure a seamless experience, it is crucial to have a well-thought-out plan in place.

Below are actionable steps that can be taken before, during and after your vacation, providing you with the tools and guidance to make the most of your time off. By implementing these strategies, you can fully immerse yourself in the therapeutic benefits of disconnecting, safeguarding your physical and mental well-being, and fostering stronger relationships with your family members.

Let’s review actionable steps to pave the way for a truly rejuvenating and transformative vacation experience:

  • Prepare mentally: Before embarking on a vacation, you mentally prepare for the detachment process. Set clear boundaries with colleagues and subordinates, informing them of your absence and delegating responsibilities accordingly. Inform trusted colleagues, whom you know would not abuse your time, of my emergency contact information in case of urgent matters.
  • Plan ahead: Create a comprehensive checklist of tasks that must be completed before your vacation. Ensure you have addressed any pending cases, reports, or paperwork to prevent work-related thoughts from intruding during your time off.
  • Set a technology detox: Establish a “technology detox” plan before your vacation. Inform work contacts that you will not check emails or take work-related calls during your time off. Switch off work-related notifications on your devices to minimize temptations.
  • Create an emergency plan: Designate a colleague or supervisor who can handle any critical situations that may arise during your absence. Clear instructions on handling emergencies will allow you to relax without worrying about work.
  • Maintain boundaries: While on vacation, actively resist the urge to check work emails or take work calls. Instead, engage in activities that help you unwind and connect with loved ones.

The health benefits of disconnecting

Disconnecting from work and taking a well-deserved vacation offers many health benefits that can profoundly impact the overall well-being of law enforcement officers. Over 18 years in service, the accumulation of stress and mental fatigue has taken a toll on my health, making the need for detachment all the more crucial. By stepping away from the demands of work, law enforcement officers can experience a significant improvement in both physical and mental health.

Studies have shown that regular vacations are associated with reduced blood pressure, improved heart health, and a decreased risk of cardiovascular diseases. Additionally, disconnecting from work allows the mind to recharge, reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. The positive impact of vacations on health is further reinforced by research indicating that individuals who take breaks are more productive and creative when they return to work.

Let’s delve deeper into the health benefits of disconnecting, shedding light on the remarkable transformations that await those prioritizing their well-being and embracing the therapeutic power of a truly rejuvenating vacation:

  • Improved physical health: Disconnecting from work can positively impact physical health. Studies have shown that taking vacations is associated with reduced blood pressure, improved heart health, and a decreased risk of cardiovascular diseases. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition, Health, and Aging found that regular vacations are linked to lower levels of stress hormones, which contribute to overall well-being.
  • Enhanced mental health: Vacations are an opportunity to reduce mental fatigue and prevent burnout. A study conducted by the Marshfield Clinic in Wisconsin found that taking vacations helps reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, enhancing overall mental health.
  • Increased productivity and creativity: Detaching from work recharges the brain and enhances cognitive function. Research from the Harvard Business Review shows that individuals who take regular breaks and vacations are more productive and creative when they return to work.

Stronger family relationships

The relentless commitment to duty can sometimes take a toll on family relationships; for officers who have devoted their lives to serving and protecting, nurturing these bonds through meaningful connections becomes increasingly important. Disconnecting from work and immersing oneself in a vacation experience provides a unique opportunity to strengthen family relationships. Quality time spent together during the vacation allows family members to engage in shared activities, fostering deeper emotional connections and understanding. Meaningful conversations and experiences will create lasting memories contributing to your children. By prioritizing family time and detaching from work-related stressors, law enforcement officers can build stronger family relationships and create a foundation of support and love that extends far beyond the boundaries of a vacation.

Let’s explore how embracing detachment from work during a vacation can catalyze, rekindle, and solidify the bonds that matter most, leading to a more fulfilling and harmonious family life:

  • Quality time: Disconnecting from work enables law enforcement officers to spend quality time with their families, strengthening bonds and fostering more profound connections. Engaging in shared activities and conversations can enhance emotional intimacy.
  • Communication and understanding: Stepping away from the demands of work provides an opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations and better understand each family member’s needs and desires. This is very crucial when it comes to your relationship with your children.
  • Building memories: Vacations create lasting memories for families. Studies have indicated that shared positive experiences are crucial to family cohesion and happiness.

Mental toughness through disconnecting

Mental toughness is vital for law enforcement officers, forged through years of challenging situations and demanding responsibilities. Yet, even the most mentally tough individuals can benefit from disconnecting from work and taking a well-deserved vacation. Stepping away from the pressures of law enforcement allows officers to develop and foster mental toughness in various ways. Individuals can build resilience and develop healthier coping mechanisms by detaching from work-related stressors. Vacations provide an environment conducive to reflection and self-assessment, allowing officers to gain perspective on their professional challenges and long-term career goals.

Moreover, the mental clarity gained during a vacation contributes to better decision-making skills, especially in high-stress situations. Research has shown that regular breaks from work improve cognitive performance, further reinforcing the importance of disconnecting for building and strengthening mental toughness.

Let’s look at how embracing detachment during a vacation can enhance mental toughness, empowering law enforcement officers with the resilience and clarity needed to thrive in demanding roles:

  • Resilience and coping skills: Taking time off from work allows law enforcement officers to develop resilience and coping skills. Stepping out of the daily pressures enables individuals to assess their emotional responses and build healthier coping mechanisms.
  • Gaining perspective: Detachment from work can offer a fresh perspective on professional challenges and help prioritize long-term career goals.
  • Strengthening decision-making: Mental toughness acquired through disconnecting can lead to better decision-making, especially in high-stress situations. A study by the University of Konstanz found that regular breaks from work lead to improved decision-making and cognitive performance.

Things to do while on vacation

While on vacation, law enforcement officers can maximize the benefits of disconnecting by engaging in various rejuvenating activities. Taking advantage of this precious time off allows officers to focus on self-care and overall well-being, enhancing the therapeutic effects of the vacation experience.

Here are some essential things to do while on vacation:

  • Physical fitness: Embrace the opportunity to stay active and engage in physical activities that promote well-being. Whether working out in a gym, hiking in nature, swimming in the lake, or simply going for long walks, physical exercise releases endorphins that reduce stress and promote a positive mood.
  • Healthy eating: Use the vacation to enjoy wholesome and nutritious meals. Savor local cuisines that offer a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, and nourishing dishes. A balanced diet during the vacation will contribute to increased energy levels and overall health.
  • Mindful activities: Practice mindfulness through activities like yoga or meditation. These practices help reduce stress, promote relaxation, and enhance mental clarity, allowing for a deeper connection with oneself and the vacation experience.
  • Cultivate hobbies: Explore and indulge in hobbies that may have taken a backseat during work demands. Whether painting, photography, reading, or playing musical instruments, pursuing hobbies can be incredibly fulfilling and stimulating.
  • Digital detox: Disconnect from electronic devices as much as possible. Limit screen time and resist the urge to check work emails or social media constantly. Embrace the freedom of being present in the moment without digital distractions.
  • Bonding with family: Strengthen family relationships by engaging in activities together. Participate in games, share stories, or plan excursions that create lasting memories and deepen emotional connections.
  • Explore local culture: Immerse yourself in the local culture and traditions of the vacation destination. Visit museums, historical sites, or attend local events to understand better the place you’re visiting.
  • Rest: Prioritize relaxation and adequate rest during the vacation. Allow yourself to unwind, nap, or laze around in a hammock by the beach. Sufficient rest is essential for rejuvenating both the body and mind.
  • Journaling: Consider keeping a vacation journal to record your experiences, thoughts, and feelings during the trip. Reflecting on the journey can be a cathartic exercise and provide meaningful insights.
  • Gratitude practice: Practice gratitude by acknowledging the positive aspects of the vacation and expressing gratitude for the opportunity to disconnect and recharge.

By incorporating these activities into your vacation, you can make the most of this valuable time away from work, fostering a sense of renewal, self-discovery, and overall well-being.

As a law enforcement officer dedicated to service, taking the leap to disconnect from work might seem daunting. However, the physical and mental health benefits, the positive impact on family relationships, and the development of mental toughness make it worth considering. After my three-week vacation, I remained off my devices. I did have a couple of work-related calls or text messages, but compared to previous vacations, it was a vast improvement toward disconnecting. Returning from this vacation left me feeling rejuvenated and ready to return to work.

By following actionable steps before, during and after a vacation, law enforcement officers can genuinely embrace the therapeutic power of detachment, leading to a more fulfilling and balanced life on and off duty.

NEXT: 23 wellness tips for law enforcement officers in 2023

Lieutenant Jarrett Morris began his career at the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office (California) in 2005. He has worked multiple assignments throughout his career, including custody operations, patrol operations, gang investigator, narcotics investigator, coroner’s detective sergeant, K9 unit coordinator, mobile field force leader, and peer support coordinator. Jarrett has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice administration from Union Institute and University.

Currently a Lieutenant, Jarrett serves as the Sheriff’s Adjutant and manages the Coroner’s Bureau. He oversees the agency’s wellness and peer support programs and works closely with the Major County Sheriff’s of America (MCSA).

Jarrett is the founder and CEO of Dose of Ethos, LLC. He is dedicated to helping law enforcement officers build a resilient lifestyle through wellness, fitness, nutrition, discipline, and a positive mindset. His ultimate goal is to be a better spouse, parent, and law enforcement officer. At www.doseofethos.com, you will find content to make you a more resilient cop, along with life coaching services and classes.


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