After more than 10 years as a Police Officer’s Wife I often forget how different our lives are compared to others.
The way we live seems so common practice to me now that I often forget that others truly have no idea what our life is like. Though every once in a while I am reminded.
First Responder’s Families Lives Are Different
Like the other day when I was talking with a group of friends who are also moms that run successful businesses. They asked me how my week was, so I told them without thinking much of it. It was only after their jaws started dropping one by one that I was reminded once again how different the situations and stresses are in our lives as opposed to most others.
Yes, it was a tougher week than usual because in the middle of my husband’s 7 x 10 hr shifts, extra man power was needed for a large festival in our city, so every officer worked 3 x 12 hours in the middle of their block of 7. My husband got the 6pm to 6am shift.
With 11 shootings, one just as my husbands shift was ending, lots of OT was seen by many.
For my husband there were a few 14 and 15 hour shifts in a row as he ended up having to stand guard at a hospital. One guy was shot and my husband was there to make sure that the other guy didn’t come back and finish the job. Turf wars…
So needless to say, I slept alone and woke to an apology text message saying that he would not be home on time, but was ok.
Added stress on both ends…
Up pops the feelings of guilt, frustration and exhaustion on his end, and when I read the text, my stress level goes up and I instantly start activating my plan b. You know…the one in the back of your mind on who to call for help with the kids so you can make it to your meeting, or get both kids to different locations for their activity.
So, I shuffled my plans with my business and kids in order to make sure he had a quiet house to sleep. He had little time between his shifts and he needed sleep so he could be as safe as possible on his next shift. Shuffling things also helped make my meeting possible.
When the frustration kicks in over the job I have to remind myself that he is making a difference in people’s lives. It’s not his fault. Not always easy, but it really isn’t his fault…
One of my friends spoke up and said they’d never thought of what Officers have to go through when there are festivals and events in the city. They’ve always thought of them as lots of fun and great income generators for the city. My friends had no clue how I kept it together and didn’t go crazy worrying about my husband’s safety.
But we do. It’s who we are.
Being the spouse of a First Responder comes with a big responsibility
It’s not always easy. I mean, life itself is tough enough to navigate with kids, a house to tend to, and work, with only 24 hours in a day. Regular events and routines are never guaranteed, with shift schedules, OT and court thrown into the mix. As I’m sure you experience as well, we are frequently solo at social events and asked over and over again where our spouse is.
And we often sleep alone, so that others can be kept safe.
All of these things we can work around.
The toughest part is knowing how and when to help your spouse.
It’s tough watching them come home after long shifts absolutely exhausted. We know that they probably did not get to eat for large blocks of time and now when they finally get home, don’t have enough time to get a decent sleep before their next shift starts.
How To Support Your Spouse
To start off here, I want to acknowledge that there are different stages that your partner may be at. Here are some that I see in my 911 Stress Management Group.
- Sleeps great and has energy after waking
- Can’t fall asleep on shift, waking exhausted
- Struggling to sleep all the time, so exhausted and can’t recovery on days off
- Struggling to help around the house, shorter with kids and spouse, withdrawing
- Digestive Issues kick in (this can be at any stage)
- Night Terrors and other PTSD symptoms
My area of expertise is in the physical signs of stress/burnout and before. Which is everything on the list before night terrors and PTSD, anxiety and depression can be a gray area. (I’m continually adding to this list of PTSD referrals if you need)
There are so many things that can be done as a spouse as well as the First Responder to help one another. Today I am going to be talking about things you can do as a spouse to help your partner when they get home from a long shift for the physical signs of stress.
My goal is to figure out how I can help
My goal is to figure out how I can help my husband have the best sleep possible in order to stay safe on his next shift and recover quicker; which ends up helping me because I get a break when he is off.
- If I know that he did not have enough food, or time to eat I have a meal that consists of a good fat, lean protein and veggies as soon as he gets home. This helps to balance his blood sugars. Getting this regulated helps him to stay asleep longer.
- On the counter I always have some vitamins that help relax his mind and help his body while he sleeps. We use Magnesium biglycinate and fish oil. (check with your doctor for daily requirements first if you would like to try this)
- He has a shower which helps him fall asleep easier. He will often rub some lavender essential oil mixed with fractured coconut oil to the base of his neck to stimulate the body to increase the sleep hormone, melatonin.
- The bedroom has black out blinds and black out curtains to keep the room dark.
- I turn the house temp a bit cooler if he is sleeping in the day, as our bodies sleep best when the air is cooler. To assist with this we also have a ceiling fan in his room to circulate the air.
- I turn on the HEPA filter that filters out the particles floating around, so he has clean air to breathe.
- Add essential oils to the diffuser for sleep. If I know there is something going around at work, I will add oils that aid in preventing colds and flus.
- In a calming practice, he breathes slowly in and out through his nose until he falls asleep.
Build a routine other than the one dictated by the clock
Having a good sleep routine such as this one helps teach his body when it needs to release sleep hormones. Over time his body learns that these steps mean to turn down wake hormones. He has to put in the work to counterbalance the effects his crazy shift work schedule as on his body.
Depending on which stage of burnout your spouse( or yourself) is in, will determine if they fall asleep like a baby the first night after adding this routine, or not…
I have some First Responders in my group where this was all they needed, but others require more support for their stress management system first, in order to get the hormones responding to the cues you are giving them.
If you have any questions about this free free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Hardest Part Of Being A First Responder Family
The hardest part of being a First Responder family is that others do not understand what you are going through. When you need someone to talk to or support at home or for you or your spouse it can feel isolating.
Which is why I created 911 Stress Management.
This is a group full of motivating and supportive First Responders and their spouses who understand your life. It’s a space where you can ask questions and not feel like an outsider.
If you are a First Responder or spouse of one you are more than welcome to join.
And you may also be interested in these other articles I’ve written about First Responder families.
The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.
About the author
Andi Clark is a mom, wife of a Police Officer and the founder of 911 Lifestyle.
Andi has a background in athletics including a 25+yr career as a personal trainer, nutrition and mindset coach to athletes and stressed out high end executives.
Being healthy and active was what she lived for. Until her body started waking absolutely exhausted, workouts become something to push through instead of enjoy. A short fuse crept in, motivation left and injuries seemed to be a part of life. All of this added up to the point that she had to stop all activity altogether.
Doctors, specialists and prescriptions were never able to fix the problem.
Once Andi realized she had a genetic stress condition that puts her body into an increased stress response state all the time (similar to what Police Officers and First Responders experience when they put on their uniform and have to mentally prepare for whatever may happen in their day) was she able to figure out what was happening and how to reverse it.
Through years of research and studying, Andi formulated a completely different way to thrive when your body is always functioning at higher than usual stress levels. One where it is possible to reverse and prevent an officer from getting to a point where they struggle to get through their days by taking a preventative approach instead of a reactive one. And one that reduces the negative effects of shift work on the body.
Her husband’s career as an officer her focus has been on preventing burnout, exhaustion and a tanked immune system that she knew can result from high levels of stress that are out of your control.
As she watched his co-workers struggle with everything from sleep, exhaustion and anger leading to divorce, PTSD and even suicide it became apparent how LIFE-SAVING the foundations she was laying down for her husband actually were, because not only was he tolerating the shiftwork lifestyle, he was thriving in it.
Andi created 911 Lifestyle once she realized the strategies her husband was using MUST become available to all Police Officers and First Responders so they can peak during crisis, recover quickly after, have energy left over for their families and become the Elite First Responders that they were born to be.