Lehrmaterialien für Modul 9 (Polizei)

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Relaxation techniques

Breathing exercises are the simplest path to inner calm. Practicing 15 minutes a day can achieve a significant reduction in your stress-related symptoms. Breathing is one function controlled by both the voluntary and involuntary nervous system, forming a bridge between our inner and outer selves. To use the technique, take several deep breaths and relax your body further with each breath.

Diaphragmatic breathing

By performing this exercise, you engage the diaphragm (the most important muscle of breathing), which increases airflow in your lungs.

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Square breathing

Also known as box breathing or 4×4 breathing. This technique is the simplest form of mindful breathing and aims to return breathing to a normal rhythm in only a few minutes.

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Progressive muscular relaxation

One of the most popular and easy-to-use methods to relax is by doing progressive muscular relaxation. This approach is useful for relaxing your body when your muscles are tense. The key is to become aware of tension and its corresponding state, relaxation, in each of the body’s muscle groups. First, tense a group of muscles so that they are tightly contracted. Hold the muscles in a state of extreme tension for a few seconds. Then, let the muscles relax normally. Next, consciously relax the muscles even further so that you become as relaxed as possible. By tensing your muscles first, you will find that you are able to relax your muscles more than you could if you simply tried to relax your muscles directly.

Experiment with this method by forming a fist and clenching your hand as tightly as you can for several seconds. Relax your hand to its previous state, then consciously relax it again so that it is as loose as possible. Following this practice, you should feel deep relaxation in your hand muscles.

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The following video shows how stress affects our body:

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Learn more about how stress affects the brain in particular in the following video:

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The following video explains what happens to our body and brain when we skip sleep:

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The following video explores the stages of how our memory stores information and how short-term stress impacts this process:

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Learn more about burnout in the following video:

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Vicarious trauma

What is vicarious or work-induced trauma? This video introduces vicarious trauma and its possible effects on work and personal life. It also offers some techniques for addressing work-induced stress and trauma.

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Case study: Self-care in the police when dealing with cases of domestic violence

Tom is an experienced police officer who regularly deals with cases of domestic violence. He has developed a tough exterior to cope with the demands of his job and has learned to suppress his own emotions. He sees himself as a strong protector who must maintain control over his environment.

At work, Tom focuses on keeping situations under control and maintaining calm. However, he cannot prevent the constant exposure to violence and suffering from affecting his emotional well-being. He tends to suppress his feelings and rarely talks about the stresses of his job.

Tasks for reflection

(1) What challenges does Tom experience in practicing self-care in his role as a police officer working with victims of domestic violence?

(2) Why might frontline responders like Tom struggle to engage in self-care practices? What factors might help Tom recognise his need for support, and how can he be encouraged to seek and accept help?

(3) How does neglecting self-care, such as not discussing stress at work, impact the performance and well-being of a frontline responder?

(4) What steps could Tom take to improve his self-care and accept support?

(5) How could the work environment be improved to help frontline responders like Tom enhance their self-care?

(6) What resources and support mechanisms could be helpful for frontline responders in similar situations to improve their self-care?


(1) Tom faces several challenges in practicing self-care, including:

  • Emotional suppression: Constantly suppressing his emotions to appear strong and in control.
  • Exposure to trauma: Regular exposure to traumatic situations which can lead to emotional and psychological stress.
  • Stigma: The potential stigma within the police force regarding expressing vulnerability or seeking help.
  • Lack of awareness: Possibly lacking awareness of the signs of emotional strain and the importance of self-care.

(2) Frontline responders like Tom might struggle with self-care due to:

  • Perceived weakness: Fear of being seen as weak or unfit for the job.
  • Working culture: Workplace culture that discourages showing vulnerability.
  • Time constraints: High demands of the job leaving little time for self-care.
  • Lack of resources: Insufficient access to mental health resources or support.

Factors that could help Tom recognise his need for support include:

  • Education and training: Training on the importance of mental health and self-care.
  • Peer support: Encouragement from colleagues who also engage in self-care practices.
  • Visible leadership: Leaders within the force demonstrating self-care behaviours.
  • Access to resources: Easy access to mental health services and resources.

Tom can be encouraged to seek and accept help through:

  • Normalise help-seeking: Promote a culture where seeking help is seen as a strength.
  • Confidential support: Provide confidential counselling and support services.
  • Regular check-ins: Implement regular mental health check-ins with professionals.

(3) Neglecting self-care can significantly impact Tom’s performance and well-being, including:

  • Physical health issues: Stress-related health problems such as high blood pressure.
  • Mental health issues: Increased risk of anxiety, depression, and burnout.
  • Decreased performance: Reduced ability to perform job duties, potentially endangering oneself and others.
  • Poor decision making: Impaired judgment and decision-making abilities.
  • Strained relationships: Increased conflict and reduced empathy in both professional and personal relationships.

(4) Steps Tom could take to improve his self-care and accept support include:

  • Regular counselling: Engage in regular sessions with a mental health professional.
  • Peer support groups: Join or form support groups with colleagues.
  • Mindfulness practices: Incorporate mindfulness and relaxation techniques into his routine.
  • Physical exercise: Maintain a regular physical exercise routine to manage stress.
  • Open communication: Begin to openly discuss his experiences and feelings with trusted colleagues or friends.
  • Setting boundaries: Ensure a clear separation between work and personal life to allow rest and recovery.

(5) Improvements to the work environment could include:

  • Training: Regular training sessions on mental health awareness and self-care practices.
  • Supportive leadership: Leaders actively promoting and participating in self-care.
  • Flexible schedules: Providing more flexible scheduling to allow a better work-life balance.
  • On-site resources: Having on-site counsellors or mental health professionals available.
  • Peer support programmes: Establishing formal peer support programmes.

(6) Helpful resources and support mechanisms could include:

  • Counselling and support services: Providing access to counselling and support services.
  • Mental health hotlines: Confidential hotlines for immediate support.
  • Workshops and seminars: Regular workshops on stress management and resilience building.
  • Online resources: Access to online self-care tools and resources.
  • Family support programmes: Programmes to support the families of frontline responders, recognising the impact of the job on home life.
  • Professional development: Opportunities for professional development focused on mental health and self-care.

All sectors include different case studies. Visit Module 9 for the health sector, social sector and legal sector to find out more.

Überprüfung des Kenntnisstandes – Quiz

Quiz: Self-care

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Weitere Lehrmaterialien
Difficult situations in the context of domestic violence

Frontline responders play an important role in providing emotional support to victims, improving their safety, and providing legal assistance, but they routinely encounter unpredictable and complex situations and confront a range of challenges while providing support to victims.

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Strategies on how to improve self-care

The following strategies are recommended to improve self-care at work.

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Self-assessment tool: Self-care

Self-care activities are things you do to maintain good health and improve well-being. You will find that many of these activities are things you already do as part of your normal routine.

In this self-assessment you will think about how frequently, you are performing different self-care activities. The goal of this assessment is to help you learn about your self-care needs by spotting patterns and recognising areas of your life that need more attention. There are no right or wrong answers on this assessment. There may be activities that you are not interested in, and other activities may not be included. This list is not comprehensive but serves as a starting point for thinking about your self-care needs.

Rate yourself, using the numerical scale: 5 = Frequently, 4 = Occasionally, 3 = Sometimes, 2 Never, 1 = It never even occurred to me

How often do  you do the following activities?

Physical self-care
  • Eat regularly (breakfast, lunch, and dinner)
  • Eat healthfully
  • Exercise, go for walks, garden, workout at the gym, lift weights, practice martial arts
  • Get regular medical care for prevention
  • Get medical care when needed
  • Take time off when you are sick
  • Get massages or other body work
  • Do physical activity that is fun for you
  • Take time to be sexual
  • Get enough sleep
  • Wear clothes you like
  • Take vacations
  • Take day trips or mini-vacations
  • Get away from stressful technology (e.g., smartphones, email, social media)
Psychological self-care
  • Make time for self-reflection
  • Go to see a psychotherapist or counsellor
  • Write in a journal
  • Read literature unrelated to work
  • Do something at which you are a beginner
  • Take a step to decrease stress in your life
  • Notice your inner experiences (e.g., dreams, thoughts, imagery, feelings)
  • Let others know different aspects of you
  • Engage in a new area (e.g., go to an art museum, performance, sports event exhibit, or other cultural event)
  • Practice receiving from others
  • Be curious
  • Say no to extra responsibilities sometimes
  • Spend time outdoors
Emotional self-care
  • Spend time with others whose company you enjoy
  • Stay in contact with important people in your life
  • Treat yourself kindly (e.g., by using supportive inner dialogue or self-talk)
  • Feel proud of yourself
  • Reread favourite books, watch favourite movies
  • Identify and seek out comforting activities, objects, people, relationships, and places
  • Allow yourself to cry
  • Find things that make you laugh
  • Express your outrage in a constructive way
  • Play with children
Spiritual self-care
  • Make time for prayer, meditation, and reflection
  • Spend time in nature
  • Participate in a spiritual gathering, community, or group
  • Be open to inspiration
  • Cherish your optimism and hope
  • Be aware of non-tangible, nonmaterial aspects of life
  • Be open to mystery, to not knowing
  • Identify what is meaningful to you and notice its place in your life
  • Sing
  • Express gratitude
  • Celebrate milestones with rituals that are meaningful to you
  • Remember and memorialise loved ones who are dead
  • Nurture others
  • Have awe-filled experiences
  • Contribute to, or participate in, causes you believe in
  • Read inspirational literature
  • Listen to inspiring music
Professional self-care
  • Take time to eat lunch
  • Take time to chat with colleagues
  • Make time to complete tasks
  • Identity projects or tasks that are exciting, growth promoting, and rewarding
  • Set limits with colleagues and clients
  • Balance your caseload so that no one day is “too much”
  • Arrange your workspace so that it is comfortable and comforting
  • Get regular supervision or consultation
  • Negotiate for your needs
  • Have a peer support group


Stress can occur in different areas of our lives. These may include:

Please click on the crosses to get more information.

The following illustration shows the progression of a stress curve from too little stress to burnout:

Callidu. 2024. Stress Curve. https://www.collidu.com/presentation-stress-curve

Too little stress

  • Inactive: In this phase, stress levels are very low. Individuals might feel bored, disengaged, and lack motivation. There is insufficient pressure to stimulate action or focus.
  • Laid back: As stress levels increase slightly, individuals may feel relaxed but still lack the drive to perform. There is minimal urgency or challenge to spur productivity.

Optimum stress

  • Fatigue: When stress reaches a moderate level, individuals begin to experience increased energy and focus. This phase is marked by heightened alertness and motivation, leading to high performance. This is the zone of optimal performance where stress acts as a positive force.

Too much stress

  • Exhaustion: Beyond the optimal point, stress levels become too high, causing performance to decline. Individuals may experience physical and mental exhaustion, leading to decreased productivity. The stress starts to take a toll on the body and mind, making it difficult to maintain high performance.


  • Anxiety/Anger/Panic: At this stage, prolonged high stress leads to severe emotional and psychological effects. Individuals may experience anxiety, anger, or panic, significantly impairing their ability to function.
  • Breakdown: Finally, chronic stress results in a complete breakdown. This phase is characterised by physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion, where individuals are unable to perform or cope with stress. It may manifest as severe fatigue, depression, or total withdrawal from activities.
Vicarious trauma

The following checklist contains more signs to be aware of. The things on the list do not necessarily mean that you are suffering from burnout or vicarious trauma. An answer of “yes” to any of the questions can alert you to the need to speak to someone to receive support.

Checklist for burnout and vicarious trauma
  • Are your relationships with close friends, family, children, or partners changing for the worse?
  • Are you finding yourself irritable, anxious, agitated or “snapping” more frequently than usual?
  • Are you worried about your work performance?
  • Are you avoiding, or getting anxious about engaging with work, clients, or patients?
  • Do you notice mood swings or feel your moods are sometimes out of your control?
  • Are you feeling flat, sad, lacking energy, overtired for no reason, or as though you are “spacing out” from things around you when you are stressed?
  • Are you getting run down or catching more colds or infections than usual?
  • Do you feel unsafe or overly anxious about your safety?
  • Are you self-soothing in ways that might be numbing or can cause you increased stress later, such as mindless eating, alcohol or substance use, or smoking?
  • Do you feel you have lost hope, or that there is little “goodness” in humanity?
  • Do you have nightmares, poor sleep, intrusive thoughts, or images that are upsetting?
  • Check your breathing throughout the day — is it more often than above 15 breaths per minute? Or below seven? Is this linked to thinking about work, or other stress triggers?