Being a public safety officer or first responder is one of the most stressful jobs there is.
In addition to threats to their own physical safety, police officers, firefighters, and other public safety officers are regularly exposed to conflict, trauma, injury, pain, and death.
Add long hours of work, unhealthy eating, poor sleep habits, smoking, and overuse of alcohol and you have a perfect recipe for stress, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and even suicide.
One study estimates that 30% of first responders develop some type of behavioral health condition, compared to 20% of the general population.
In Connecticut, a bill has been proposed to provide more support to police officers and firefighters suffering from PTSD, which would allow for one year of workers’ compensation coverage.
In the meantime, if you’re a police officer or firefighter experienced job-related stress, depression, or anxiety, it’s a good idea to get help from the available resources, but there’s also an easy, proven, do-it-yourself method of improving your mood and warding of depression: exercise.
Almost any type of exercise—from running to yoga—has been shown to be beneficial in reducing stress and anxiety and guarding against depression, and every little bit helps. According to a recent study published in JAMA Psychiatry, jogging as little as 15 minutes a day or doing an hour of low-impact exercise like walking or gardening can protect you from developing depression.
And exercise can also help if you already have depression. In a different study, aerobic exercise had a large antidepressant effect on people diagnosed with major depression. In some cases, regular exercise has been as effective at combatting depression as therapy or medication.
So the next time you’re feeling down, do yourself a favor—get help, then get moving!