Author: Jessica Terrizzi
Published: May 2 2022
Last Edit: May 2 2022
(7 min read)
Have you ever finished a meal and realized that you barely remember eating it? Maybe you were too distracted, or thinking about the stress of the day, and were not paying attention to what you were doing. We often get caught up in the hustle and bustle of our lives and forget to pay attention to the little things that we experience in the moment- such as eating. It’s important for our wellbeing that we take a step back, and try to focus on what we are experiencing in the present. Instead of going through the motions, it is healthy for us to remain aware of what we are doing, and to take in our experiences as they come. This is called mindfulness.
This term has become quite the buzzword for mental health recently, and almost seems to have become a bit of a trend. I have noticed posts on social media referring to mindfulness, or wellness campaigns promoting the use of mindfulness, but I often wonder if people understand what this word truly means. This term has also been brought up a couple of times in previous posts related to police officer well-being and resilience (see our police suicide post, compassion fatigue post, and wellness post), and I think it’s important to further describe this skill, and explain how to use it.
Instead of going through the motions, it is healthy for us to remain aware of what we are doing, and to take in our experiences as they come.
In general, mindfulness is a great way to take a step back, relax, and re-calibrate yourself. There are many different definitions of mindfulness, but this term typically refers to being present in the moment, and being non-judgmental. In other words, the purpose of mindfulness is to take a break from thinking about the past, or the future, as this can lead to distress. While this concept seems relatively simple, it takes practice and can sometimes lead to frustration. That’s where the non-judgmental aspect comes in. If you are trying to be present in the moment, but find yourself getting distracted, the goal is to not get upset with yourself. Being non-judgmental allows you to accept this frustration, and continue practicing this skill.
As a clinician, I strongly believe that mindfulness is a simple and effective way to improve mental health, and to decrease distress. For police officers, research suggests that mindfulness-based interventions can influence various aspects of their well-being, including anger, stress, and PTSD symptoms (Bergman et al., 2016; Chopko et al., 2013). Grupe et al. (2021) suggests that by using mindfulness-based interventions, police officers are given a culturally-fitting way to address their stress/anxiety.
Due to its many benefits, various mindfulness training programs have been created, and some have even been tested on police officers in specific. These programs are designed to teach individuals how to be more aware of what they are feeling both physically and mentally, and how to be more aware of what they are thinking. Specifically, these programs use interventions such as meditation, self-reflection, and group conversation to allow participants to become more mindful (Grupe et al., 2021). There are a variety of adaptations of mindfulness-based training, including mindfulness-based resiliency training (MBRT), mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT).
For police officers, research suggests that mindfulness-based interventions can influence various aspects of their well-being, including anger, stress, and PTSD symptoms.
Mindfulness is particularly useful because it is something that can be practiced anywhere and at any time, which, for busy police officers, is perfect. In fact, even certain breathing practices can be described as mindfulness–and what is easier to practice than that? Mindfulness can also be used no matter how you are feeling. It is effective whether you are particularly stressed and overwhelmed, or even when you just want to relax and take some time for yourself. Overall, mindfulness is an important tool, as it facilitates both positivity and healing in those who practice it (Kabat-Zin, 2015).
Overall, mindfulness is an important tool, as it facilitates both positivity and healing in those who practice it.
While many mindfulness exercises are relatively simple, there are also more structured and guided forms of engaging in this practice, such as virtual reality (VR). Evidence suggests that VR is an excellent tool to help individuals practice this skill. This is especially true for people who do not have time to participate in psychotherapy, or those who simply are not ready to take this step (Nararro-Hall et al., 2016). It also gives police officers a great way to take a step back and take care of themselves while they are at work.
To demonstrate VR’s usefulness, Chandrasiri et al. (2019) found that it is an effective way to enhance one’s mindfulness practice. Specifically, they discovered that VR helped individuals to decenter, meaning that they were better able to focus on their inner experiences, rather than on their environment (Lau et al, 2006). Other benefits that have been found for VR mindfulness training include: providing a structured environment that allows the participant to be more present, giving users a choice in their audio and visual anchors, and influencing the content of one’s thoughts when their mind wanders (Seabrook et al., 2020).
Due to these benefits, VR based mindfulness training is an important part of the ACPD’s wellness program. Specifically, we are using a program called Healium, which provides mindfulness training in an innovative and evidence based way. The ACPD will be provided with VR headsets, as well as access to the Healium app. When using this program, officers will engage in mindful thinking through both visual and auditory prompts, and will be provided with bio-feedback based on brainwaves. For example, if an officer starts losing their calm/mindful state, their virtual environment may start to change visually as an indicator of this shift. This bio-feedback allows officers to train themselves to more easily achieve a state of mindfulness, and consequently, relaxation.
Other benefits that have been found for VR mindfulness training include: providing a structured environment that allows the participant to be more present, giving users a choice in their audio and visual anchors, and influencing the content of one’s thoughts when their mind wanders.
Mindfulness is a great and simple way to improve police officer well-being. It has several benefits for police officers in specific, including its time efficiency, its ability to be done anywhere, and the relaxation opportunity that it provides for officers while at work. Through technology such as Healium, officers are given a unique tool to use this skill and to improve their overall mental health, and should take advantage of its many benefits!
Jessica Terrizzi, M.A.
Ph.D Student in Counseling Psychology
Jess is a 4th year doctoral student at the University of Akron. She has a strong interest in law enforcement due to her family’s extensive background in policework. Through experiences with family and friends who are in this field, Jess has recognized a need for applying psychology to law enforcement through both research and the development of wellness programs. Jess also has an interest in researching both masculinity and trauma, and plans on working with police officers in the clinical setting.
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