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When a person experiences anxiety, it can feel like nervousness or fear. Anxiety involves anticipating some kind of danger or negative event, either real or imagined. Anxiety can lead to physical reactions like an increased heart rate, shallow breathing, and/or muscle tension. It is an emotion that can be experienced both in the moment and over longer periods of time. When anxiety endures, it may indicate  a more serious health concern that you may not be able to resolve or overcome on your own.

If you are experiencing significant worry or anxiety that interferes with your day-to-day life (e.g., work, relationships, sleep, or other important parts of your life), it is recommended that you consult your health care provider.

Activity: Identifying aspects that can shape PSP family anxiety


Please attempt this activity first, then read about the topic. Drag from A all that you think contributes to PSP family anxiety and drop in B.

The unpredictability of PSP work

PSP families learn to expect the unexpected, but it is not easy to do. Anxiety is a response to something that is on our mind but has not happened. There are many factors associated with PSP work that can heighten worry, tension, and fear. We must understand the sources of our anxiety before we can think about strategies to manage these emotions. Below are a few of the factors that can cause anxiety in PSP families.



PSP family members may learn about an incident in real time. When they cannot get updates or reach the PSP family member, worry and anxiety can surge.


PSP work can be high-risk. Family members can worry that physical or mental injury could happen at any moment.

Media and public perception

Families can be worried and stressed by reports from media and social media. The public can react to particular events or sectors in ways that can create anxiety for PSP and their family members.


PSP work is unpredictable and there is always a possibility of danger. An individual PSP can react in a variety of ways to different incidents. There is always uncertainty about how someone will react to trauma or trauma exposure.

Unexpected absence

PSP can get unexpectedly called into work or be required to work overtime. At other times, they are unable to leave their shift as planned because of shift overruns or personal debriefings. SSOs may have to explain why PSP family members aren’t at family events and celebrations.

Return home

After an incident at work, PSP can feel a range of emotions. They may not be able to be emotionally present when they return home. It is difficult to predict whether they will want to talk, or need some quiet time. Families can experience anticipatory vigilance and feel like they need to ‘walk on eggshells’.

What is catastrophic thinking?

  • When we don’t have all the information about something, we can fill in the blanks. When we fill in the blanks with worst-case-scenario possibilities, we experience catastrophic thinking.
  • The unpredictability of PSP life can lead to anxiety and anxiety can easily lead to catastrophic thinking. For example, if a PSP is late coming home because they are filling in paperwork, anxiety could lead a family member to think that their PSP is hurt or dead.
  • While it is completely normal for PSP family members to have these fleeting thoughts, what is important is that they have ways to work through them. For practical suggestions on how to reframe catastrophic thoughts, please visit PSPNET Families Wellbeing Hub.

Need Something More?

Check out our self-directed Spouse or Significant Other Wellbeing Course.

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References for this page (click to expand)

American Psychological Association. (2022). APA Dictionary of Psychology. American Psychological Association. Retrieved July 18, 2022, from https://dictionary.apa.org/ 

Bochantin, J. E. (2010). Sensemaking in a high-risk lifestyle: The relationship between work and family for public safety families. PhD Thesis. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.  

Cox, M., Norris, D., Cramm, H., Richmond, R., & Anderson, G. S. (2022). Public safety personnel family resilience: a narrative review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(9), 5224. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19095224  

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Helfers, R. C., Reynolds, P. D., & Scott, D. M. (2021). Being a blue blood: A phenomenological study on the lived experiences of police officers’ children. Police Quarterly, 24(2), 233-261. https://doi.org/10.1177/1098611120964954  

Karaffa, K., Openshaw, L., Koch, J., Clark, H., Harr, C., & Stewart, C. (2015). Perceived impact of police work on marital relationships. The Family Journal (Alexandria, Va.), 23(2), 120-131. https://doi.org/10.1177/1066480714564381 

Landers, A. L., Dimitropoulos, G., Mendenhall, T. J., Kennedy, A., & Zemanek, L. (2020). Backing the blue: Trauma in law enforcement spouses and couples. Family Relations, 69(2), 308-319. https://doi.org/10.1111/fare.12393  

Miller, L. (2007). Police Families: Stresses, Syndromes, and Solutions. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 35(1), 21-40. https://doi.org/10.1080/01926180600698541  

Watkins, S. L., Shannon, M. A., Hurtado, D. A., Shea, S. A., & Bowles, N. P. (2021). Interactions between home, work, and sleep among firefighters. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 64(2), 137-148. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajim.23194