Resiliency and the Mind-Body Connection

By Julie Rumrill, M.S., and Eric Murray, Ed.D

A stock image of two police vehicles with lights on.

In a January 2020 FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin article, Dr. Murray discussed the significance of implementing strategies to develop psychological capital (PsyCap) in the public safety workforce.1 PsyCap comprises the four constructs of hope, efficacy, resiliency, and optimism — referred to as the HERO model.

This related article will focus specifically on the resiliency component of PsyCap. It will explore how mindfulness attention training can increase officer resiliency, which, in turn, sharpens mental acuity during stressful events and supports recovery afterward. Mindfulness is an innovative and underutilized tool that has an important place in law enforcement wellness programs.

Impact of Stress

Stress triggers a complex neurobiochemical cascade that instantaneously activates the sympathetic branch of the nervous system (SNS). Ideally, when the threat passes, the parasympathetic branch will bring the nervous system back into balance. However, when stress is chronic, the nervous system stays in SNS mode, and the ability to manage emotions and respond deliberately is compromised.

Under the habitual effects of highly stressful events, many law enforcement officers unknowingly suffer from a shallow lung breathing pattern that makes them more susceptible to chronic physical and mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.2

Persistent adrenaline surges brought on by chronic stress can damage blood vessels and arteries, increasing blood pressure and raising the risk for a heart attack or stroke. Elevated cortisol levels contribute to the buildup of fat tissue around major organs and to weight gain.

The key to better stress management is to bring the nervous system back into balance and practice recovery between stressful events. Although there are many approaches to mental wellness, mindfulness seems particularly effective.


Pillars 5 and 6 of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing recognize officer mental health and suicide as nationwide issues. The report calls for training innovation hubs that influence curricula nationally. It points out that officers in poor mental health endanger the community and themselves and that “supervisors would not allow an officer to go on patrol with … an unserviced duty weapon … but pay little attention to the maintenance of what is all officers’ most valuable resource: their brains.”3

Julie Rumrill (2024)

Ms. Rumrill is an instructor of mindfulness-based stress reduction and an adjunct faculty member at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven.

Eric Murray (2024)

Dr. Murray, retired commandant of the Connecticut State Police Academy and graduate of FBI National Academy Session 273, is president of a private training firm.

With the introduction of modern technology and equipment, policing is more complex and demanding than ever.4 Training, particularly geared toward mental health, must advance at a comparable pace to prepare officers to meet those demands.

For too long, the emphasis has been on reactive management of stress, while high standards in policing relate the holistic wellness of officers within their agency, especially regarding resilience.5 It seems ironic that one of the most effective solutions to such a complex problem could be as simple as paying attention in the moment — or mindfulness. Yet, this is supported by decades of research.


Mindfulness is an approximately 2,500-year-old contemplative practice rooted in Buddhism and one of many related to meditation. At its core, mindfulness involves sitting in stillness and training the mind to intentionally focus on an anchor — usually the breath — in the present moment and without judgment.

Since 1974, when groundbreaking research highlighted the physiological effects of practices such as breathing control and meditation, it has become recognized that these approaches reduce blood pressure, heart rate, and stress levels because of the mind-body connection.6 More recent research underscores the role of mindfulness-based practices in developing key aspects of emotional intelligence. As the core elements of emotional intelligence are strengthened, so is resilience — the key to expanding our range of stress tolerance and shortening the recovery time after a stressful event.

Stress has been a central mediating process in police officer behavioral problems such as alcoholism, substance abuse, and suicide. The main impediments to stress interventions are stigma, concerns with confidentiality, and lack of trust in department administrators.7 Therefore, evidence-based interventions that put the officer in a central role of managing and effecting their own treatment seem ideal. Mindfulness-based interventions (MBI) meet both of those criteria, and departments have incorporated them within innovative holistic wellness programs with some success.8


A longitudinal study published in 2010 found that police recruits with emotional intelligence and mindful habits more likely make a workplace transition characterized by fewer depressive symptoms and better mental health.9 Once on the job, according to a study of first responders, mindfulness training improves officers’ capacity to make effective decisions during a crisis.10

Research has also shown that mindfulness-based training in law enforcement cohorts may lead to short-term improvement in psychological health, aggression levels, and stress reactivity.11 The most recent studies indicated that the benefits of MBIs persisted for at least three months post-study, indicating the potential to offset long-term consequences of chronic stress.12 These results show that significant rewiring of the stress response is possible, and the underlying science explains why it is necessary.

“[M]indfulness attention training can increase officer resiliency, which, in turn, sharpens mental acuity during stressful events and supports recovery afterward.”

Implementation of Training

Leaders and others of influence are critical to successful and lasting implementation of new initiatives. To this end, a report highlighting best practices provided details for 11 comprehensive and innovative wellness programs that may serve as models for agencies to follow. Many of those included mindfulness-based practices in their offerings.13

For example, the Dallas Police Department partnered with the Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas at Dallas to create the Power of Mindfulness for First Responders Program.14 It is based on existing research and tailored to meet the unique needs of law enforcement professionals.15 Data gathered over seven sessions of the course showed a reduction in mind wandering, alcohol use, negative mood, and organizational stress.16

In March 2020, Dr. Murray, then commandant of the Connecticut State Police Academy in Meriden, collaborated with the Yale Stress Center. Their partnership piloted the integration of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) practices into the Connecticut State Police recruit training program. MBSR was intentionally chosen because its efficacy with respect to stress management is supported by decades of peer-reviewed scientific studies.

Select academy instructors completed the eight-week MBSR course. These trained instructors incorporated the practices of attention training into each block of several core academy subjects: leadership, health and wellness, and safety and survival. Diffusing mindfulness practices through these core subjects spanning the 28-week cadet program gave recruits the opportunity to develop proactive habits supporting mental wellness across curricular content in both structured and unstructured settings.

Although the results of the attention training initiative in this case study are anecdotal, it is worth noting the academy class had the lowest attrition rates in decades despite having been conducted during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Informal inquiry resulted in positive feedback from the class participants, whereas cadets reported the mindfulness training helped them focus during high-stress events, including physical confrontation, firearms qualification, and preparation for exams.

With its important benefits, mindfulness is finding its way into more wellness programs. In a recent conversation with the authors, the chief of the Tewksbury, Massachusetts, Police Department (TPD) described his commitment to improving officer recovery and resilience.17

The TPD allows officers to work out on duty, is looking to implement rest periods for personnel working the overnight shift, and has created a room exclusively for meditation and yoga. Also, officers who participate in mental health check-ins can earn wellness days. This has been a popular offering — 93% of the TPD’s officers who completed a workplace survey remarked that they have or will seek a mental health check-in.18

“The key to better stress management is to bring the nervous system back into balance and practice recovery between stressful events.”

Among its more innovative components, the department sent six officers to a grant-funded officer wellness pilot program at a farm. As part of the Caring for the Caregiver Equine Program for First Responders, hands-on experiences with horses allowed the officers to engage in mindful self-reflection, practice self-awareness, and relieve compassion fatigue and burnout from chronic workplace stress.19

As a result of these ongoing efforts, the TPD chief remarked, “I have seen an increase in people being open about issues they need help with, which is vital in this field.” Initiatives like those in Dallas, Meriden, and Tewksbury are making a difference.


By developing officers’ resiliency through deliberate mind-training practices, they will be less susceptible to the negative impact of post-traumatic stress and will more likely experience post-traumatic growth.20 Although several mental health programs have good intentions and some promising outcomes, the broader picture points to a deficiency in implementation, specifically in regard to improving officer resiliency through promotion of self-awareness and self-efficacy.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police has put a comprehensive array of links to mental health and wellness offerings on its website, including mindfulness practices.21 However, structured, evidence-based mindfulness programs have yet to be widely embraced or integrated as mental health interventions by the police community.22 Yet, agencies cannot create healthy communities if officers and their leaders are facing significant mental health challenges. Officers must have the guidance and support of their leaders to learn effective self-care techniques, including those in mindfulness-based stress management.23 Understanding, key implementation, and consistent support are critical.

Excellent leadership has never been more important. According to the Tewksbury chief, “We see some of the most horrific things a person can see, yet we are expected to just show up and go to the next call. We must take better care of our people and create an environment where leadership proves to everyone that the organization will be there to help them. We owe that to our people.”24

The foundation of officer well-being should not be at the whim of regime changes and political appointments. To make lasting change, agencies’ efforts need to be informed, evidence-based, deliberate, and, above all, mindful.

“[A]gencies cannot create healthy communities if officers and their leaders are facing significant mental health challenges.”

Ms. Rumrill can be reached at and Dr. Murray at


1 Eric Murray, “Building Police Officer Psychological Capital to Mitigate Stress,” FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, January 14, 2020,
2 Kevin M. Gilmartin, Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement, rev. ed. (Casas Adobes, AZ: E-S Press, 2021).
3 President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing (Washington, D.C.: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, 2015),
4 Daniel M. Blumberg et al., “Incorporating Psychological Skills in Police Academy Training,” in Police Psychology, ed. Paulo Barbosa Marques and Mauro Paulino (Cambridge, MA: Academic Press, 2022), 47-62.
5 Samuel L. Feemster, “Addressing the Urgent Need for Multi-Dimensional Training in Law Enforcement,” The Forensic Examiner 19, no. 3 (2010): 42-47,; and Richard J. Goerling, “Police Officer Resilience and Community Building,” Proceedings of ASBBS 19, no. 1 (2012): 394,
6 H. Benson, J. F. Beary, and M. P. Carol, “The Relaxation Response,” Psychiatry 37, no. 1 (1974): 37-46,
7 Dominic G. Lucia and Michael J. Halloran, “An Investigation of the Efficacy of Programs to Prevent Stress in Law Enforcement Officers: A Program Manager’s Perspective,” Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology 35 (2020): 35-47,
8 U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Programs: Eleven Case Studies, Colleen Copple et al. (Washington, D.C.: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, 2019).
9 Virginia Williams, Joseph Ciarrochi, and Frank Patrick Deane, “On Being Mindful, Emotionally Aware, and More Resilient: Longitudinal Pilot Study of Police Recruits,” Australian Psychologist 45, no. 4 (2010): 274-282,
10 John F. Flynn, “Mindfulness Training: Worthwhile as a Means to Enhance First-Responder Crisis Decision Making?” (master’s thesis, Naval Postgraduate School, 2016),
11 Michael S. Christopher et al., “Mindfulness-Based Resilience Training to Reduce Health Risk, Stress Reactivity, and Aggression Among Law Enforcement Officers: A Feasibility and Preliminary Efficacy Trial,” Psychiatry Research 264 (June 2018): 104-115,
12 Daniel W. Grupe et al., “Mindfulness Training Reduces PTSD Symptoms and Improves Stress-Related Health Outcomes in Police Officers,” Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology 36 (2021): 72-85,; and Daniel W. Grupe et al., “The Impact of Mindfulness Training on Police Officer Stress, Mental Health, and Salivary Cortisol Levels,” Frontiers in Psychology 12 (2021): 1-13,
13 Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Programs: Eleven Case Studies.
14 Ibid.
15 Office of Media Relations, “Center for BrainHealth Programs to Help 500 Dallas Police Officers,” University of Texas at Dallas, February 28, 2017,
16 Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Programs: Eleven Case Studies.
17 Chief Ryan Columbus, Tewksbury Police Department, interview by the authors.
18 Ibid.
19 Robert Mills, “Tewksbury Police Department Participating in Grant-Funded Officer Wellness Pilot Program at Strongwater Farm,” John Guilfoil Public Relations, June 12, 2022,,while%20building%20the%20confidence%20to.
20 For additional information on post-traumatic growth, see Victoria Stokes, “Post-Traumatic Growth: How to Start Healing,” Healthline, May 26, 2021,
21 “Officer Safety and Wellness,” International Association of Chiefs of Police, July 1, 2020,
22 Matthew W. Rebuck and E. Paul Bertrand, “Positive Policing,” FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, August 6, 2020,
23 Ibid.
24 Chief Ryan Columbus.