In this episode of Correctional Nursing Today, Sharen Barboza, PhD, CCHP-MH, joins Lorry to talk about a real occupational hazard when working in the criminal justice system – correctional stress. Dr Barboza is a consultant for correctional behavioral healthcare and the Vice President of Clinical Operations, Mental Health with MHM Services. She has a long history working in the correctional setting and has dealt with the effects of practicing behind bars.
Jails and prisons can be dehumanizing environments with bad smells, loud noises, and crude incivilities among inmates and staff alike. Many of our patients carry extremely painful and disturbing histories that can lead to vicarious trauma in health care staff working with them. In the course of our day-to-day work lives we can see and hear upsetting, even shocking, things.
Correctional stress is a term coined to describe the ongoing strain of working in the criminal justice system. It is easy to deny this work hazard or feel that acknowledging the stress is an indication of weakness or inadequacy. Instead, those of us working in this specialty should consider correctional stress as an occupational hazard to be aware of and work to manage.
Signs of Danger
Chronic stress can lead to many negative outcomes. Watch for these signs of decompensation that indicate a need to take action to effectively cope with correctional stress.
- Physical: Muscle tension, decrease immune system response, increasing blood pressure, poor blood glucose management
- Cognitive: Memory lapses, Indecisiveness, difficulty making decisions, poor judgment, negative interpretation of events
- Emotional: Anxiety, irritability, moodiness, anger, feeling overwhelmed or helpless
- Behavioral: Withdrawal, impulsiveness, insomnia, unhealthy eating and exercise habits
- Spiritual: Loss of meaning, deflation, loss of hope, alienation
If you see any danger signs of correctional stress in your thoughts, feelings, or behaviors, take action pronto. Here are a some suggested interventions from Dr. Barboza.
- Remind yourself that you are not alone in having these reactions
- Develop mindful self-awareness and choose positive interpretations of events whenever possible
- Acknowledge your emotions and limits
- Don’t confuse others’ emotions with your own; think of yourself as a screen door rather than a wall
- Eat healthy, exercise regularly, get enough sleep, and drink in moderation
- Make time for family, friends, and socializing- schedule it in
- Take up or renew a hobby
- Laugh every day
Have you experienced correctional stress? Share your thoughts in the comments section of this post.