By Matthew Loux, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice at American Military University
Editor’s Note: A similar version of this article originally appeared on Online Career Tips.
Being a law enforcement officer is stressful. Officers respond to volatile and often dangerous situations on a regular basis.
Throughout my 20-year career in law enforcement, I’ve managed stress by incorporating exercise and eating right into my daily regimen. While working out and good nutrition have been extremely beneficial, I found myself looking for additional ways to reduce my stress levels.
[Related: How CrossFit Helps First Responders Improve Their Physical Health]
After doing some research, I decided to try meditation as a way to improve my mental fitness. If you are like me, meditation is something you’ve heard about, but never really tried. Since I started meditating a few months ago, I have experienced an increase in my mental focus. I also have less stress and an overall sense of well-being.
Meditation involves mentally concentrating on an object or a time in your life that brings you peace in order to achieve a state of calmness. The main goal of meditation is to help the mind slow down and let go of distractions.
Various techniques increase one’s ability to perfect meditation and the calming effects it brings. There are six meditation techniques that can be performed by law enforcement officers: spiritual reflection, mindfulness, movement, focus, visualization and chanting.
[Related: 5 Reasons First Responders Should Take Yoga Seriously]
The simplest form of meditation involves sitting in a comfortable chair or lying on a bed or couch. Some people choose to close their eyes.
Breathe normally and naturally. If you try to control your breathing, then you are focusing more on the breathing and not on clearing your mind.
Feel your body moving with each inhalation and exhalation. While doing this type of breathing, some people repeat a chant or a mantra either out loud or silently in their mind. Others place a candle in front of them and focus on the flame.
The key to meditation is not paying attention to noise or other distractions and simply letting your mind go while you breathe in and out. When thoughts come into your head, as they surely will, allow them to come in and gently leave your mind.
Do not allow yourself to focus on them, but don’t work too hard to block your thoughts either. Always return to your breathing.
Meditation Has Multiple Benefits
There are several major benefits of meditation that can substantially improve the life of law enforcement officers including:
- Stress Reduction: The first and most well-known benefit of meditating is reduced stress. Using meditation techniques, such as focusing on one object or image, helps officers relax their mind, which helps stress fade away.
- Increased Happiness and Elevated Mood: When feelings of anxiety are relieved through meditation, individuals feel happier. They are less likely to become angry and short-tempered whether they are on or off the job.
- Improved Brain Power and Improved Concentration: Meditating helps the mind let go of distractions and provides enhanced focus. This helps officers feel mentally prepared to take on the tasks ahead.
- Physical Health Improvements: Meditation can increase cardiovascular performance, boost immunity, slowdown the aging process, and lead to an overall healthier lifestyle. This can be one of the greatest benefits for officers since they have physically demanding jobs.
- Self-Awareness and Self-Acceptance: Mediation focuses on the practice of self-awareness and an increased feeling of self-acceptance. Self-awareness is the conscious knowledge of one’s own character, feelings, motives and desires. When someone is self-aware, he or she is better able to cope with a stressful job and knows when to take a step back if they are feeling overwhelmed. Individuals who practice meditation are also more accepting of themselves. They understand their strengths and weaknesses, and they do not cause themselves additional stress by striving for unrealistic goals.
Meditation Apps for Mobile Devices
Some people find it difficult to start practicing meditation on their own. I used two different apps to help guide me in the process. One is Stop, Breathe Think.
This app has been downloaded over two million times and is very highly rated. It takes only a few weeks to create your personal place of calmness through the app.
Another mobile app is Headspace. It walks users through various levels to enhance the meditation process. The first level introduces basic meditation in easy 10-minute sessions.
Finding Time to Meditate
You might say you don’t have time for meditation, but shouldn’t your health be a priority? I use the Headspace app for my meditation and it easily fits into my busy schedule.
I find the best time to meditate is before breakfast so I can start my day with a feeling of peace and a sound mind. Even just five minutes in the morning is beneficial.
The time needed to meditate and clear the mind of stress depends on the individual. For most beginners, it is recommended that you set aside five to 15 minutes in the morning or whenever you have time.
Whether you are in law enforcement, the fire service, the military or another stressful profession, take a little time for yourself every day to meditate. The mental and physical rewards are well worth the time you spend on meditation.
About the Author: Matthew Loux has been in law enforcement for more than 20 years and has a background in fraud and criminal investigation, as well as hospital, school and network security. Matt has researched and studied law enforcement and security best practices for the past 10 years.
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