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Managing stress and looking after your mental health

April is Stress Awareness Month, an event that aims to raise awareness of the "causes and cures for our modern stress epidemic".

For police officers and staff, it's an opportunity to think about a health issue that's always been a consideration in this line of work, but is more significant than ever right now.

Being on the frontline of the battle against COVID-19 has a number of mental health implications for police officers, from worrying about exposing yourself to the virus and possibly bringing it home with you, to simply not knowing when this unprecedented situation will come to an end.

Long hours, health worries and depleted workforces will all be taking their toll on serving officers and staff, so what can you do to protect your mental health and manage stress?

Keep talking

Craig Haslam is a non-executive director at Metfriendly and former Chief Superintendent in the Metropolitan Police, whose career experience included leading 'the Taskforce', a specialist command comprising divisions like the Met's Territorial Support Group and the Marine Policing Unit.

His advice is to make sure you're sharing your thoughts and talking to people - not only your loved ones, but colleagues and fellow officers who know exactly what you're going through.

"I think we [the Met] have gone a long way as an organisation, since I joined over 30 years ago, in terms of that willingness to sit down and talk, and not bottle up any of the stress and pressures that are going on in your own head," Craig said.

"The main thing is just to keep talking with your colleagues and sharing your experience and what you've found difficult."

He also pointed out that officers know each other inside out, so you should go with your instinct if it's telling you one of your colleagues is struggling and needs some support.

The Met offers a number of formal channels and resources that officers and staff can use to get help if they need it, including professional counselling, occupational health services and a dedicated chaplain.

Focus on the basics

Craig's advice was echoed by the chair of the Metfriendly board, Joanna Young, who was also a Chief Superintendent in the Met. Joanna stressed the importance of communication, and also focusing on the basics, like getting enough sleep, eating healthily and finding ways to switch off at the end of a long shift.

"Your immune system is going to be stronger if you're eating healthily and getting decent sleep," Joanna said. "Focusing on your breathing and using mindfulness and relaxation techniques, even if it's for two minutes, can be really important.

"And the other thing is communication - communicating with your colleagues, communicating with your loved ones, talking about how things are for you, as well as listening to how things are for someone else."

Stress Awareness Month may be limited to April, but stress is an issue that police officers and staff have to deal with all the time. If you're finding things difficult, don't hesitate to make the most of the help available from your colleagues, your loved ones, and from the Met itself.

Upcoming webinars

At Metfriendly, we're always looking for ways to provide practical support to members of the Police family and we'll be running some webinars over the coming weeks to address some of these issues. Click here to register your interest.

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