10 Ways to Recover from a Critical Incident as a Officer or LEO Spouse

After a critical incident, there are some key ways that law enforcement officers or police spouses and Police wives can help themselves to heal. These 10 things can make a huge difference in the way you heal after a critical incident.

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After a critical incident, there are some key ways that law enforcement officers or police spouses and Police wives can help themselves to heal. These 10 things can make a huge difference in the way you heal after a critical incident.

As an officer or spouse of a law enforcement officer, you know there is a possibility that someday there may be a critical incident or event.  Much of the time officers focus on relying on their training and their fellow officers, knowing that if needed the training will kick in and the back-up will be there.  Spouses push the anxieties out of their minds, relying on the fact that there have been days, weeks, months, and years of their officer coming home safe.  The threat of safety feels different in this moment of protest, riots, hate speech, and blame.  The fear of safety and injury has presented itself in a different way and has broken many bubbles of safety in the LE community.

 Critical incidents have the potential to cause not only physical injuries but also emotional and psychological injuries.  These psychological injuries are not only felt by officers but also spouses.  With law enforcement being more of a target, critical incidents may come to include the psychological injury that can occur from enduring hours of people yelling hateful words at you.  Seeing someone you love being verbally battered for hours on end would be deemed abuse if it were a relationship which would leave emotional and psychological scars.  Spouses are on high alert due to not only media coverage but live streams from events, watching to see if their officer is safe or in danger, or neighbors speaking against police or writing derogatory messages against police on their cars.  This creates a fight or flight reaction in spouses as well.

Resiliency matters.  Whether you are recovering from a critical incident that involves physical violence or verbally beatings, what we do during and after can positively impact our brain’s recovery.  If you know tools to use and implement after a critical even, both you and your spouse will not be as deeply impacted in the long term.

Here are 10 ways to help yourself, spouse, or family members move through a critical incident.

1.      Drink Water.  Yup.  Lots and lots of water.  Remember that cortisol is being released into your system during the event and then for a while after the even when your brain is trying to synthesize it.  Water helps to flush out your system.  Without water, your body will store the cortisol which will cause weight gain and will also prevent your body’s natural sewer system from operating.

2.     Sleep.  The cortisol and stress are taxing on your body and your body needs to recover.  When you sleep, not only will your brain be able to process the incident and information, it cleans your brain.  Your brain has sewer system, the glymphatic system, which cleans out the waste and toxins in your brain while you sleep, toxins that are caused from experiences from the day.  Flushing these toxins can also help when healing from a traumatic event.  If you find yourself lying in bed awake, get up for a while and read a book, write, or do a chore and then return back to bed.  Sleep when you can.  There are several natural and homeopathic remedies that can be used to assist with sleep which you may want to consider.  Try to stay away from prescription medication if possible.  You can also try apps to help such as Calm or Breethe.

3.     Exercise.  Move your body.  Do yoga.  Walk.  Run.  Bike.  Row.  Swim. Surf. Have a silent disco party with your headphones.  When you move your body, you will release some of the body/brain’s desire to take action.  It will see the movement as you take action.

4.     Breath.  One of the few ways we can control the fight or flight response is with our breath.  If you slow down your breath, specifically your exhales, your heart will slow, and your brain will be signaled that there danger has gone.  One method is box breathing which was developed by the Navy Seals.  In this method, you breath in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, breath out for 4 seconds, and then hold for 4 seconds.  Another method I teach is to use a cocktail straw or a coffee stirrer.  Breath in slowly and deeply.   Hold for 4 seconds.  Then, breath out through the straw.  THAT will slow your breathing down.

5.     Give Permission.  You will probably handle the situation different from your spouse.  That needs to be ok.  It also needs to be ok if your spouse handles it differently.  Some people need to process verbally and talk about it.  Other people process internally and just sit and think.  Your emotions about the situation are ok.  There is no right or wrong way to feel about the event.  Emotions or struggling with the event does not make you weak.  It is simply different.  Be kind to yourself and give yourself and your spouse permission to feel and maybe grieve in their own way.  Own the feelings you have and stop judging them.  If you are scared, you are scared and talk about it.  When we hide and judge our own feelings, it turns into shame not only because of our self judgement and the fear of judgement but because we are now hiding those feelings.  Shame lurks in the dark.  It cannot live in the light.  You want to work toward healing and not creating more pain.

6.     Talk to Each Other.  As a couple, it is great if you can talk to each other.   Officers, there is no weakness in sharing of emotions or fear.  Spouses, you don’t have to “be strong” all the time either.  When you share with each other, its import to comfort and NOT fix.  Validate the other person’s feelings.  It can feel so good sometimes when you hear someone else say, “this is hard and it sucks”.

7.      Talk to Others.  If you are an officer, it is common to talk to other’s that were at the incident to help to process the event.  Make sure you are also sharing with your spouse.  Do not leave them out of the loop about how or with whom you are sharing.   Spouses, it’s important that you have a trusted person that you can process through with as well.  Find someone who is willing to let you vent or cry that can be understanding.  Many times the more we verbally process, the more our brain can become desensitized to the event.    The first several times you talk about it, all the emotions will come up.  As you continue to talk about it, it won’t be quite as emotional, and you might even tire of talking about it.  [Note: There are times when I see emotional affairs pop-up with officers or spouses when they start leaning on someone that could potentially be a romantic partner.  Make sure you have your boundaries clear and you are being transparent with conversations.]

8.     Don’t Feed the Gremlin.  This may be an old reference from the movie Gremlins.  In the movie, the cutest little creature, Gizmo, multiplied if he got water on him and turned into a Gremlin if you fed him after dark.  Gremlins were nasty creatures that wreaked havoc on everything.  The same goes for your brain.  Remember, your brain is there to keep you safe not make you happy.  We are WIRED for fear.  We don’t need to feed it more fear-based thoughts.  Be aware of how much time you are thinking about the “what ifs” and shut them down as quickly as possible.  Stay focused on the hear and now.  Focus on what you can do in that moment instead of focusing on the past or the future.

9.     Tell You Brain to Stand Down.  Think of your brain and your mind and 2 different things.  If your brain is keeping you safe, it may be trying to warn you about something.  This is actually where our anxiety comes from.  The fact is that sometimes our brain tries to alert us to situations that just isn’t necessary.  Let’s take split milk.  Our brain hears the glass land on the table and causes you to jump sometimes out of your seat.  Sometimes our brains react verbally and say things like, “Pay attention. Oh MY GOSH!”  Eventually, we realize… it’s just milk.  Our brains are going to react to the milk many times the same way as if there was a real threat.  You can tell your brain to stand down.  The best phrase that I learned was from Olivia from Yoga for First Responders.  In the class, she had us hold a pose until we were straining and then say, “This is a challenge NOT A THREAT”.  She explained by putting us in the challenging poses and then saying the phrase, we were teaching our brain to stand down.  That the situation was challenging, but not threatening.  Try it out for yourself when you start to feel anxious, overwhelmed, or your thoughts start to wander.

10.   Gratitude.  The practice of gratitude can help to combat the brains natural negative way of thinking.  Anytime you find yourself slipping into the negative or feeling anxiety, think of things for which you are grateful.  You can find gratitude just about anywhere.  Find something you are grateful for.  At the moment of writing this, I’m grateful for my ceiling fan, a glass of sweet tea, a fly swatter, and my dog snoring away.  Just writing that brings me a little lift and a moment of “ahhh” in my life.  Gratitude helps you find those cracks of sunshine and thus, hope in dark moments.  It is a necessary part of the resilience you need to heal from the event.

If you apply these 10 principles you will have a great start to your recovery from a critical incident as an officer or the spouse of an officer.

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10 Ways to Recover from a Critical Incident as a Officer or LEO Spouse

After a critical incident, there are some key ways that law enforcement officers or police spouses and Police wives can help themselves to heal. These 10 things can make a huge difference in the way you heal after a critical incident.

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Share:

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