The cumulative negative consequences that a corrections career can sometimes have for a person’s personality, health and functioning in general are referred to as corrections fatigue. When I attended training on the subject, I was initially skeptical about whether corrections fatigue applied to me. My initial thinking was focused on the most serious consequences that the stress of the job can have on a person. Those of us in the class who did not think that we had been seriously affected by our work experiences were somewhat dismissive of the impact that it could have on us personally. However, it soon became apparent that corrections fatigue exists on a continuum that can range from mild stress anxiety to depression, PTSD or even posing a threat to oneself or to others.
As corrections fatigue signs emerge, we may begin to suffer from complications in areas such as our job performance, personal relationships, physical and psychological health, ability to enjoy our non-work time, taking care of dependents and personal responsibilities. Symptoms may range from projecting our frustrations on family and substance abuse issues to physical health issues such as weight gain, sleep disorders and high blood pressure. In the most severe cases, staff may experience suicidal thoughts or urges, or act out on those thoughts or urges.
Although correctional officers are constantly exposed to work situations that can put them at risk for corrections fatigue, here are some ways that staff can manage the negative impact of job stressors. The self-care ABCs include:
Awareness: Self-awareness is vital so that people understand what works well in their lives and what gives them joy. Individuals should assess themselves to understand what they are thinking and feeling at any given time. This includes awareness of when something can act as a traumatic trigger and when there may be a need to process particularly emotionally distressing situations.
Balance: Staying well requires that people find balance in their lives. Balance is achieved when you do things and experience things that are positive and offset the stressors of the job. Enjoying hobbies, time with family and even exercise can serve as an outlet and assist staff in finding that balance between work and play, stress and fulfillment.
Connections: It is important that those working in corrections build and maintain personal relationships that create a healthy support network. These connections built through our relationships with family, friends or church, or through community activities, help to sustain those supportive relationships, which are a primary source of happiness and satisfaction with life.
Discipline: Discipline is also a crucial component in positive change. Individuals need self-discipline in order to hold themselves accountable in learning to be aware, maintaining a healthy balance and making necessary connections. Having a commitment to being well and the discipline to take the steps to do so is a vital part of getting from corrections fatigue to a level of fulfillment.
Many occupations are stressful, and it is difficult to say with any certainty that one job or occupation is any more or less stressful than another. We do know, however, that there are certain elements of a career in corrections that are innately stressful and uniquely challenging. It is important to understand these unique stresses and challenges if we are going to effectively deal with them and ensure that we are as productive in our jobs and as happy in our work and personal lives as we want to be. Effective management of stress will help assure that employees are healthy and well while effectively maintaining the safety of the public, other staff, the offenders and themselves.
There is much more to effectively dealing with and preventing the stress caused by working in corrections than can be captured in a single article. Attending “From Corrections Fatigue to Fulfillment” training will help corrections staff understand the signs and symptoms of corrections fatigue and how to best cope.